Effective Notemaking from Written Text

As a tertiary student, it is essential to develop effective note-making skills to ensure that you get the most out of the time that you spend reading.

Jotting down notes on a reading in the margins and/or highlighting important sections can help you to better understand a text. As your reading requirements become more extensive, it is worthwhile learning to write effective notes - this will save you valuable researching and writing time.

Good note-making can also help you to keep a record of what you have read and help you locate information. There is nothing worse than having to spend time tracking down information that you have previously read and now require for an assignment!

How to organise effective notes for academic writing

The following split-page method may be a useful way to help you organise your notes and assist you to develop some of the above skills that are so essential for successful academic study.

Bibliographic details

Make sure that you note down the appropriate bibliographic details. They may include the surname and initial of the author or editor, the title of the book/ article, the title of the journal, the publisher, the place of publication, the page numbers of the article, website details, including the URL etc. Also include the library catalogue item number so that you can easily relocate the source if you need to.

Page layout

Divide your page into 3 columns.

The first column should be for your notes based on the reading. This section may include paraphrased information from the original text, (paraphrasing means to rewrite somebody else's ideas in your own words); or direct quotes. Ultimately, most of your notemaking should paraphrase or summarise the key ideas of the author(s). Use direct quotes sparingly in assignments and only in situations where they seem to be the most appropriate way of expressing something.

The second column is used for the page number on which you have found a particular piece of information. This is essential for two reasons. Firstly, when directly quoting you must acknowledge the page number(s) on which you located information. Secondly, if you need to clarify your notes, you need to be able to quickly locate the information.

The third column is used for your comments on the text. Your comments are vital because they can give context—how you see this information in relation to your own ideas—or be simple notes clarifying why you thought an idea was useful. You can acknowledge similarities and differences with other authors, or identify where your knowledge needs further developing. This is the section that encourages you to think critically about the text, to question what the author is saying and to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the author’s ideas. It is where you start making links between the various authors that you have read as well as to consider where and how your ideas are positioned in the research, and how they may be validated or questioned.

Template for setting out and writing effective notes from a reading

Remember to use a new page for each new reading.

(see more/less) 


Paraphrased notes

Summaries of important information
(see more/less) 

Direct quotes

Page number

Always include the page number

Comments on information
(see more/less)