How do I take better notes?
August 19, 2008 8:00 PM   Subscribe

I need help modernizing my note-taking methodology.

I was never good at note taking and the last rubric I used was circa 5th grade and involved a stack of index cards with subject titles. Now, 20 years later, I want to tackle a research project. I need to modernize my note-taking skills -- what resources (books, articles, methods, software (OS X/*nix), &c.) would you recommend to someone who needs a basic refresher and then some?
posted by sonofslim to Education (7 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I would suggest the conceptual outline for a research project (what I've been doing for my thesis), but obviously there are multiple ways to take notes, some with fancy names.

What I suggested here was to "condense every paragraph into a single conceptual sentence in the outline, for instance, and that will force you to not only read, but digest it. Outlines are great for studying, and most school subjects facilitate outlining. Even better, write it out by hand, then go back and type it up. This will avoid the whole Internet thing and force a "twice-over," making the content stick even more."

With peer-reviewed works, you can often tackle data and concepts separately because of the way quantitative research papers are laid out. With textbooks, outlining by chapter/heading/concept is very easy.

I don't know about note-taking resources, but I'm sure a Google search on domains would lead to initial tips.
posted by Ky at 8:07 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Try this, it's not the one I was looking for, though it can give you templates to go by. A lot of methods say leave space at the bottom to go back while reading to add more notes/addendums. Some will leave wide margins to write in extra also.
posted by uncballzer at 8:22 PM on August 19, 2008

Lifehacker featured the Cornell Method some time ago. I've never tried it but it might just look interesting enough to give it a test this coming semester.
posted by PixelatorOfTime at 9:03 PM on August 19, 2008

I realize I might be completely off in my interpretation of this, but I find 'research project' and 'notes' pretty vague, so I'm sorry if this isn't helpful.

Well, this is mainly useful for massive projects with many, many primary sources, and it costs money, but Filemaker and its sister-program Scribe were invaluable to me when working with thousands of records. Can't remember the last name of the Mary who possible had five kids, or the Mary who had the doll burned in the fire? You can search! Sweet glorious search. One record per source (not per subject, although you can link records to accomplish this).

Filemaker is farless useful for notetaking that involves prior scholarly works. For that I'd suggest the Cornell method, as given above, with really consistent page numbering and bibliographic treatment.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:42 PM on August 19, 2008

It's not perfect, but out of a similar frustration (and the need to have my notes always with me), I'm trying to transition to zotero as my bibliographic organizer, keeping electronic copies of things when possible, and notes attached to each of them. The idea being that the note is attached to the bib information. It's not thoroughly intuitive, and they haven't yet rolled out online backup/sync, but I think it's a great and worthy project.
posted by Mngo at 1:48 AM on August 20, 2008

The way that I take notes, that's really worked well for me in research, is in the form of outlines and mind maps. I don't use lined paper, I use blank or graph paper.

Start with an idea or topic and branch out from there. Draw arrows showing how topics relate to each other. If you choose outline form, it's easy to see visually how various ideas/topics are subsets of a particular theme. I use a lot of arrows.

I'm an extremely visual person and having my notes organized this way makes it easy for me to SEE when I go to write a summary of what I read and how my ideas related to the various themes.

(An outline, for instance of this question would be:)

* Note taking
- needs improvement
- new methods
---> AskMe!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:43 AM on August 20, 2008

Scrivener for Mac OS X is awesome and reasonably priced. Even better if your final product from all the research is going to be produced in some sort of written manner.
posted by webhund at 8:52 AM on August 20, 2008

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