Make better notes
The best way to improve your paraphrasing, summarising and quoting skills is to learn how to make better notes. Good note making will also enhance your knowledge and understanding of the material.
Although it can be tempting to copy chunks word-for-word from a text when making notes for an assignment, you should avoid this for three reasons:
- it can increase the risk of accidental plagiarism
- it can mask the fact that you do not fully understand what you have read
- it is a passive technique and does not help you to learn.
The following tips will help you write effective notes and avoid plagiarism. Click on the headings below for more details.
Record the bibliographic details of the source (e.g. author name, year of publication, title, page number) that you need for your reference list or bibliography on the same page or app that you are using to record your notes. This saves you having to search for the details later and makes it clear where the content originally came from.
As you read, ask yourself: What is the key message of each paragraph or section? Record the main points without the detailed explanations or examples that accompany them.
Do not rush through the process. Take the time to understand what you are reading. When you are able to express the key information presented in the original text briefly in your own words, you are ready to make paraphrased notes. If you can’t do this, you probably haven’t understood the text and need to re-read it.
Consider: Is this information relevant? Remember that you are making notes for a specific assignment. It is unlikely that everything you read will be useful, so be selective. As you make notes, include brief comments on their relevance to the assignment.
Remember that these are notes - they do not have to be complete sentences. Use dot points, symbols, diagrams and other graphic representations. This way you’ll naturally use your own words when writing the assignment.
If you do write in full sentences, be sure to use your own words, not those in the original text. Of course, this doesn’t apply to discipline specific or technical terms which must be used as they appear in the original source. Always check spelling, dates, numerical values, etc.
Not looking at the original text while making notes will assist you to take notes in your own words and avoid plagiarism. However, after taking notes, compare your notes to the original text to make sure you have retained the original meaning.
Include page numbers beside your notes. This will save you time later if you need to double-check information or need a quote. Some referencing styles require page numbers for paraphrasing as well, so it is important to have them available.
As you gather information for your assignment, you may have questions related to the concepts, arguments or study that you are reading about. Include these in your notes so you can follow them up later.
It is important to connect the ideas presented in different sources to each other and to your assignment. Record your own comments about how each author's research supports or contradicts the work of other researchers you have read, or what you have learned in lectures. Be careful to clearly distinguish your ideas from those of the author.
To help you keep track of information, you can put your own thoughts, ideas and questions in a different colour or font so they are easily distinguishable from the ideas of the researcher that you have recorded.
After you have taken notes from your different sources, organise them into groups or categories to match your research questions.
When planning and writing your assignment, use only your own notes which are written in your own words. This will help you avoid plagiarism.
Check your understanding View
Are the following statements about note making true or false?