How to Write a Research Paper: Take Notes

A step-by-step guide.

Work Cited Card

Notecard

Notetaking Tips

Here are some important tips for notetaking:

  • Use index cards or RefWorks to track sources of information used in your paper.
  • If using index cards, create numbered Work Cited cards for each information source.  If using RefWorks, pull all of the relevant sources you find into your RefWorks database.  Keep all of the sources you'll be using for your paper in an appropriately labelled RefWorks folder.
    • If using index cards, include all of the citation information (i.e., author, title, publisher, date, page numbers, etc.).
    • If using index cards, put the citation information in appropriate (MLA, APA, etc.) format.  When it comes time to write your Works Cited page, it will be easier to organize your sources alphabetically.  Since RefWorks formats your citations automatically, this will not be a worry if you're using RefWorks.
  • On each notecard:
    • Use only one side to record notes.
    • Record only one idea, fact or quote from one source on a notecard. It will be easier to rearrange them later when it comes time to organize your paper.
    • Include a heading for the topic of the card. 
    • Include the original source of the information. If you have created numbered Work Cited cards for each source, you will only need to include the source number.  If you're using RefWorks, you can use the RefWorks ID Number.
    • Include the page number where you found the information.
  • Take notes:
    • Use abbreviations, acronyms, or incomplete sentences to record information (as long you will understand them later). This will speed up the notetaking process.
    • Do not write down everything. Extract only the information that answers your research questions
    • Use one of the following notetaking forms:
      • Summarize the main idea of the article, then outline its main points.
      • Paraphrase or record notes in your own words.
      • Quote the information--copy the quotation exactly as it appears in the original source. Enclose the quote in quotation marks and note the name of the person you are quoting.
    • Use symbols, diagrams, charts or drawings to simplify and visualize ideas.