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About this book

This practical, pocket-sized guide takes students through the dos and don’ts of making notes and helps them to develop effective reading and note-making strategies. It breaks down the process into clear stages, from understanding assignment titles and fine-tuning sources to using different note-making formats and software. Packed with tips and examples, it will help students to gain confidence in reading for academic purposes and achieve the best marks they can for their work.

Its succinct and accessible style makes it an ideal resource for undergraduates and postgraduates of all disciplines. It would also be a valuable text for mature students who are returning to academic study and looking to brush up on their reading and note-making skills.

Table of Contents

Now You are at University …

1. Active reading and note making

Abstract
Below is a table that summarises the differences in approach between reading and making notes at school/college and degree-level reading and making notes.
Jeanne Godfrey

2. Different reasons to read

Abstract
Studying effectively involves having a clear purpose before you start reading or making notes. You might think that the main reading purpose at university is to understand information in order to use it directly in exams and assignments, but, happily, things are not as dull or as simple as that. There are many different reasons why you might want to read, including for interest and enjoyment.
Jeanne Godfrey

3. Different reasons to make notes

Abstract
As outlined in Chapter 1, active note making means thinking about why you want to make notes and what you want to do with them afterwards. Notes include any type of jotting down, pictures, scribbles, drafts or other forms of rough writing you produce.
Jeanne Godfrey

Reading for Assignments

4. What your lecturers are looking for

Abstract
Producing an excellent assignment is a bit like building a house — first you need to understand your design brief (your assignment title) and then you must build your house brick by brick, using good quality materials (reliable sources) and good workmanship (good quality thinking and appropriate writing style).
Jeanne Godfrey

5. Understand your assignment title

Abstract
Understanding your assignment title is fundamental. Don’t make the mistake of reading the title quickly, assuming you know what it means and then plunging into unfocused reading. Not understanding the title properly is a common cause of low assignment marks.
Jeanne Godfrey

6. Take control of your reading list …

Abstract
Now that you have analysed your assignment title, you can approach your reading list in a purposeful way and decide what you want to read rather than letting your reading list control you. Your tutors do not want you to read everything on the reading list — they want to see that you can discriminate between sources (i.e. make good judgements) and to see an ‘… ability to select appropriately …’.
Jeanne Godfrey

7. … and go beyond it?

Abstract
If you think you have a good range of suitable sources already, trying to find more just for the sake of it will be a waste of time. Stick to the rule of only searching for something if you have a clear idea of what you are looking for and why. Remember that your tutors want to see ‘evidence of ability to select appropriately’.
Jeanne Godfrey

8. Use reliable and academic sources

Abstract
Let’s now look at reliability. At university it is your responsibility to check the reliability of your sources — in other words, you need to check that you can trust what your sources say. Make sure that:
  • you know who wrote something and that they are anauthority on their topic. Anonymous sources are much more likely to be of poor quality and/or contain incorrect information.
  • your sources are up to date (current). You will want to read older sources, but check that you also have the most current information on the topic.
  • the source is likely to be accurate and balanced and that you are aware of possible bias. For example, political reports and newspaper articles may not give a balanced and objective view.
  • you are aware of what ‘reliable’ means for the type of information you need. For example, if you need information about public opinion on a topic, then opinion polls, newspapers and TV programmes will be reliable sources for this information.
Jeanne Godfrey

9. Fine-tune your selection

Abstract
This is an important stage that will save you a great deal of time. Collect your selection of sources and give each one a job interview. Does it have the correct expertise, qualifications and experience for what you want it to do?
Jeanne Godfrey

10. Write down the essentials

Abstract
Keep a record of the source titles and when and how you found them. The reasons for doing this are many: to build up your personal research database, to be able to reference sources properly in your assignment and avoid accidental plagiarism, to compile reference lists and bibliographies, to show and discuss sources with your tutor, to be able to easily find the source again if you need to, to share a reference with other students and so on.
Jeanne Godfrey

Decide how you are Going to Read

11. Three different ways to read

Abstract
Before plunging into reading, take a few minutes to think about the best order in which to read your texts so that you keep things as motivating, interesting and time-effective as possible. For example, an effective order for reading is shown in the picture here.
Jeanne Godfrey

12. Plan the time to read

Abstract
One of the main reasons why students get low marks in assignments is simply because they haven’t spent enough time on all three parts of the process: reading, thinking and writing. You need to care about your reading, so give it a high priority.
Jeanne Godfrey

13. Create the right environment

Abstract
Before you start a reading session, deal with your current distractions and worries as best you can. Writing them down and deciding what actions you will take to deal with them will help unclutter your mind.
Jeanne Godfrey

Understand, Question and Evaluate what you Read

14. Approach the text actively

Abstract
Part 4 concentrates on what you need to do in order to analyse and evaluate what a text says. This reading purpose is central to academic study and requires that you understand the text fully and accurately.
Jeanne Godfrey

15. Find the key message

Abstract
Let’s look at features present in most types of text that can help us understand them, using two real text extracts as examples.
Jeanne Godfrey

16. Make up your own mind

Abstract
  • ✔‘… willingness to engage critically with the literature and ability to go beyond it …’
  • ✘‘… does not go beyond the assertion of points derived from the literature’
  • ✔‘… ability to analyse materials and their implications’
Jeanne Godfrey

17. Get the wider picture

Abstract
  • ✔‘… mindful of other interpretations …’
  • ✔‘… clear understanding of the nature of the material’
  • ✘‘… lack of awareness of the context of the material’
Jeanne Godfrey

18. What to do if you get stuck

Abstract
Reading means learning new things, and feeling a bit nervous and confused can in fact be a sign that your brain is absorbing, learning and fitting in the new information with the old — a good and normal process! New learning and understanding takes time. Even professors find some texts difficult and have to re-read them, look up words they don’t know and use other techniques to help them get to grips with new material.
Jeanne Godfrey

The Essentials

19. Why bother making notes?

Abstract
In Part 1 we looked at how university study requires active learning, and how making any type of notes will help you to activate your thought processes. In terms of making notes from reading, the mental and physical activity of noting down thoughts and questionsbefore you read, making some noteswhile you read (although you may prefer not to take any notes while reading) and then adding further notes, comments and reflectionswhen you have finished reading will all help you to engage critically with the texts.
Jeanne Godfrey

20. Key features of effective notes

Abstract
Whatever the purpose of your notes and whatever form they take, they should make sense to you and be fairly brief while still providing you with an accurate, clear and complete picture.
Jeanne Godfrey

21. Useful strategies and tips

Abstract
Try reading the text first without making any notes and then summarise it in your mind or out loud. Make notes without looking back at the text and then go back to it if you need to check anything.
Jeanne Godfrey

22. Examples of good and poor notes

Abstract
Here’s an example of some good linear notes from the text extract on pp. 68–9 Notice that the student has not copied down any quotations but has used mainly their own words. They have also used a separate column for their own comments and thoughts, which makes clear which points are information from the report and which are the student’s own ideas.
Jeanne Godfrey

Match Your Method to Your Context

23. Different note-making formats

Abstract
You probably already use a particular note-making style but you might find it useful to spend a little time experimenting with one or two different formats. Remember also that it is sometimes a good idea to vary your note-making style according to your purpose, the subject matter and the type of material from which you are making notes (book, video, lecture, podcast etc.).
Jeanne Godfrey

24. Making notes from lectures and audio-visual material

Abstract
It can be difficult to listen and/or watch a lecture and simultaneously make notes. Listening to a face-to-face lecture is hard because you have no control over speed and can’t go back or continually ask the speaker to repeat something (some lectures are easier to understand than others!).
Jeanne Godfrey

25. Tools, technology and note-making software

Abstract
It’s worth thinking about the pros and cons of the different physical mediums and tools you use to make notes. There is one important point to note: regardless of which tools you use, they should not be a replacement for good quality reading, thinking, selecting and note making. The act of note making and the use of tools can give you the illusion of thinking and studying effectively — but it is how deeply you think about things and the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of your notes that is most important, not the pen, paper or software you use.
Jeanne Godfrey

Make the Most of Your Notes

26. Review and rework your notes

Abstract
Always review your notes. Research shows that students who look back over their notes to check for clarity and meaning, and who reflect on their notes, are more successful learners. Research also shows that the sooner you review your notes the better, so try to do this within a day of making them.
Jeanne Godfrey

27. Things to be careful of when using your notes

Abstract
  • Collaboration is when you are explicitly required to work with others. Keep a record of what you have shared with the group and make sure that your final assignment clearly states what collaboration took place.
  • Collusion is when you work with others in a hidden way and is a form of cheating. Be careful not to accidentally take part in collusion — don’t lend your notes or other written work to other students if you are supposed to be working individually.
Jeanne Godfrey
Additional information