Drills: taking notes and reading — I

“Why did you walk around with crab apples in your cheeks? Yossarian asked again. “That’s what I asked.” 
“Because they’ve got a better shape than horse chestnuts,” Orr answered. “I just told you that.” 
“Why,” swore Yossarian at him approvingly, “you evil-eyed, mechanically-aptituded, disaffiliated son of a bitch, did you walk around with anything in your cheeks?” 
“I didn’t,” Orr said, “walk around with anything in my cheeks. I walked around with crab apples in my cheeks. When I couldn’t get crab apples, I walked around with horse chestnuts. In my cheeks.”
Catch 22

Asking the right questions and looking for the answers in the right places, is a vital way to start any research project.

How does one do that though?

How does one perfect their note-taking to such an extent that asking the right questions and getting the answers you want, happens as a consequence?

I hadn’t really considered that you could learn a skill such as taking notes from articles.

Taking notes is one of the areas that fills me (used to fill me) with trepidation because it seems to take so much time. You have to read the article (5000 to 6000 words), understand it, take notes, see what you think of the notes, and then try to remember it all as you move on to your next article and then the next 100 or 1000 or more.

Sometimes I worry that I’ll only get around to about one article a week but that’s not many when the main advice is to read ‘a lot’. At uni, I would print out the articles and read and underline the parts that seemed significant. I would then write down notes from the highlights and keep my pages. At the top of each page in my notebook I would write the author and the page number.

With electronic files, one tip I was told by a fellow student, who’d completed a diploma in information studies, was to label my article file names as follows: Author surname first name (year) title. You could then easily find it and sort your articles in prep for a lit review as well.

Here are some more tips.

  1. Helen Kara (professional researcher and author of many books on how to research) & Galvan, J and M;

Preselect your articles: read the abstract, introduction and conclusion. You’ll then know whether this article will be useful to you. If not, move on.

2. Vanessa Corcoran (PhD graduate and adviser):

  • Read a lot and take notes on the following:
  • What was the author’s main argument?
  • Kinds of sources?
  • How does this book fit in with the current scholarship?
  • What areas did you take issue with?

3. Scott Young (author and researcher on ultralearning)

Save the articles or papers in a folder. After each article, leave a few blank pages to take notes and recall information afterwards when revising. Recall is a way of learning as well.

4. Time, place, and author — Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques By Jill Jesson, Lydia Matheson, Fiona M Lacey

  • When were the studies conducted?
  • What is the earliest study in relation to the theory in that field?
  • Where were the studies conducted?
  • Who is the author? How many times have they been cited?
  • Who are the key authors in the subject?

“One aspect of time to take into consideration is the original date of publication of the work of a key author. Knowledge is incremental. What we know now has been built up over centuries in some academic fields.”

“When writing, it is customary to mention the study which was published first, to give credit to the author who made the initial argument, theory or finding.”

“You should, of course, try to take a look at the original works if they are available and make your own interpretation.”

5. How to take notes in college (link)

The structured method — The Outline

Choose four or five key points that will be covered in your lecture. Beneath those points write some more in-depth sub-points about each topic as they are covered.

For Review: The Cornell Method

Divide your paper into three sections: notes, cues, and summary.

Your notes section is for the notes you take during class. You can structure them however you like, but most people like to use the outline method.

Write your cues section either during or directly after class. This section can be filled out with main points, people, or potential test questions. Use this section to give yourself cues to help you remember larger ideas.

You can write your summary section directly after class, or later when you’re reviewing your notes. Use this section to summarize the entire lecture.

In Depth: The Mind Map

Start with a concept in the middle and then add notes to depict key ideas. For revision, proceed to add sub-nodes. See further information about Mind Maps from Tony Buzan. I’m using Mindmup.

Holistic: Flow Notes

The point of flow notes is to treat yourself like the student you are, and not a lecture-transcribing machine.

Jot down topics, draw arrows, make little doodles and diagrams and graphs. Go crazy. Engage with the material. Try to actively learn as you’re writing.

Easy: Writing on Slides

Get the slides from the lecture and then use these to take further notes and jot down things you remember.

For articles, you could use the headings and subheadings as visual cues for remembering and jotting down notes.

Visual: Bullet Journaling

When you write in your bullet journal, you turn a blank page into a beautiful representation of your thought process. Try using it to combine different aspects of other note-taking styles. You can have one page that’s dedicated to mind maps, another that’s dedicated to your flow notes, and even sneak in a class schedule or a doodle of Sonic the Hedgehog in somewhere. It’s your bullet journal. I don’t know, do what you want! It’s your journal!

The lesson from these last six tips is to work at taking notes and learning. Taking notes straight to a laptop is not as useful for making connections and being able to internalise the points from the article.

Galval, J author and Galvan M (ed) write about Conducting a Literature Review:

First, attempt to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date review of the topic.

Second, try to demonstrate that you have a thorough command of the field you are studying.

Students writing a literature review chapter frequently ask, “How many research articles must I cite?” In addition, they ask, “How long should I make the review?” Some students are frustrated when they learn that there is no minimum either on the number of research articles to review or on the length of a review chapter.

Some questions that the Galvans pose in relation to reading articles and taking notes, are as follows:

  1. Are there any obvious sampling problems? Explain. (Do not just read the section under the subheading “Sample” because researchers sometimes provide additional information about the sample throughout their reports, especially in the introduction, where they might point out how their sample is different from those used by other researchers, or near the end, where they might discuss the limitations of the sample in relation to the results.)
  2. Are there any obvious measurement problems? Explain.
  3. Has the researcher examined only a narrowly defined problem? Explain.
  4. Did you notice any other flaws? Explain.
  5. Overall, do you think the research makes an important contribution to advancing knowledge? Explain.


I have listed a few methods of note-taking while being conscious of the fact that there are undoubtedly more out there. However, while researching notes I wasn’t writing any of my own so that has to be a priority. When I discover new techniques, I’ll come back and update this page.

The purpose of this post was to look at which skills I could ‘Drill’, i.e. practise over and over until I improved. I am a step closer to that.


College Info Geek https://collegeinfogeek.com/how-to-take-notes-in-college/

Corcoran, V. (2018) What I wish I knew before starting grad school https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2018/10/31/advice-about-grad-school-phd-holder-looking-back-decade-later-opinion

Galvan, J.L, & Galvan, M.C. (editor) (2017) Writing Literature Reviews; Taylor & Francis.

Kara, H. (2015) Starting Your PhD https://helenkara.com/writing/know-more-publishing/

Published by Joanna

A collection of fleeting thoughts that tend to focus around Bristol, food, movies, music and photography.

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