Category Archives: Note-Taking

The art of annotations

by Samantha Bronkar

Have to read an article for a class? You could just read it—but what if you could have a conversation about it instead?

Often, we can expand our own thoughts and ideas when we talk about them out loud. You can think of annotating an article as having a conversation with the author. If you are reading an article that appears dense or uninteresting, physically taking notes on the article (along the margins) helps you to actively engage with the article.

When you annotate, you can (and should):

  • Ask your own questions
  • Paraphrase or summarize what the author claims
  • Take note of your own thoughts
  • Underline or highlight key phrases, quotes, individuals, dates, and ideas*

*Tip: You may find it helpful to color-code your annotations. For example, you can use an orange pen to note questions you have, a blue pen to note the author’s claims, a green pen to note your own thoughts, and a red pen to underline key dates, figures, etc.

Rather than reading text and trying to absorb it as you progress, annotating gives space for pausing, reflecting, questioning, and connecting ideas or themes you notice. This space can help readers learn, understand, and remember.

The beauty of annotations is that they give you permission not to understand something the first time you read it. I repeat: it is okay to not completely understand something, especially the first time you read it. In fact, having questions is a sign that you are critically assessing what you are reading, and that’s great!

As you read, take notes in the margins about things that confuse, interest, and inspire you. That way, you can easily locate those ideas in class or when studying in order to discuss them in greater detail. It’s also a good tool if you need to revisit a source when writing a research paper: your annotations will help you remember and work with a source you haven’t read in a while.

Happy annotating!

Samantha Bronkar is a junior majoring in English and will be participating in the Prague abroad next fall. She will be dearly missed.

“I don’t get it”

by Shannon Naylor

“I don’t get it” is a sentence I used a lot as a student. Sometimes it was uttered in exhausted frustration after hours of striving to understand a challenging text. But more often than not, I said it reflexively when I encountered something new, and it became shorthand for “I don’t want to make an effort.” When I said “I don’t get it,” I refused to engage with the material, so I never had any hope of gaining understanding, and I risked doing poorly in those classes.

The trick I developed for getting past that roadblock-type thinking was to tack one little word to the end: “I don’t get it…yet.” Yet is a promise that there is hope, that there’s an opportunity for change. But the material wasn’t going to suddenly make sense all on its own. I had to change how I approached it.

So how do you make the change happen? Here’s one method: Ask questions.

  • When you encounter difficult material that you “don’t get,” start by writing questions.
  • Keep reading or listening to see if they get answered. If they do, jot down the answers.
  • Identify questions you can answer for yourself: words you can look up definitions or key concepts you can Google or find in an encyclopedia.
  • Find questions you can puzzle through or make a hypothesis about, based on what you do know and understand.
  • If it’s appropriate, ask a peer or your professor any questions left unanswered.

This is a simple way to engage with difficult material. You move past the generic, dismissive “I don’t get it” and start to identify the gaps in your knowledge and understanding. Once you know where the gaps are, it’s a lot easier to begin to fill them. This doesn’t mean that it the material suddenly becomes easy and you don’t have to actively work at learning it. It will probably remain a challenge, but I hope that this strategy will make the work seem less daunting.

Shannon is the CTL post-graduate intern.

The bibliographic research journal

by Shamus Jarvis

As any scholar who has composed an extensive paper can attest, the research process plays an essential role in developing a thought-provoking and original piece of scholarship. Effective research methods include not only identifying appropriate sources, but also properly documenting those sources so that one can utilize the information gleaned from various books, journals, etc. when it comes time to write the paper.

A bibliographic research journal is one such method of documentation that is less formal than a complete annotated bibliography, but is nonetheless an exceptionally helpful tool to use when engaging in a project that will necessitate extensive research. Comprised of three essential elements—1) a proper citation, 2) a summary of the source, and 3) notable quotations—a bibliographic research journal allows one to record an author’s main thesis and identify other key ideas in an organized manner.

While you should format your own bibliographic research journal in a way that best suits your research needs, I will offer my personal format preferences as a guideline for what the journal might look like.

  1. The first piece of information included for each journal entry should be a properly formatted citation. Be sure to consult your professor as to which citation style he or she expects you to use (MLA, Chicago, APA, etc.).
  2. Next, create a summary of the source. What is the author’s principal thesis? Does he or she articulate any especially innovative ideas within the source? Be sure to include only summary information; do not comment on whether or not you agree with the author. This section should be roughly one paragraph long and only contain the author’s ideas.
  3. Thirdly, include quotations from the source. This is an appropriate section in which to jot down your initial reactions to a particular idea or the source as a whole. Do you mainly agree or disagree with the author? Does the source seem credible? Does the author reference any sources that you have already investigated? All of these are reasonable questions to ask yourself when examining a source.

If you anticipate analyzing a significant number of sources (e.g., fifty or more), it might be wise to include a slightly abbreviated summary section in order to save yourself some time. Again, a bibliographic research journal is entirely for your own benefit, and as you become a more proficient researcher, you will undoubtedly develop your own note-taking style that suits you well.

Shamus Jarvis is a senior theatre and English double major. He will direct a one-act play and present his postcolonial reading of Lord of the Flies later in the semester.

Do not read all the text

by Katya Rivers

So you are in college, you are having the time of your life, and then Sunday comes around and you have a paper due Tuesday. You haven’t even gotten to the point of opening Word and writing your name and the date. And the worst part is that right next to you is a stack of books, journal articles, and essays that you haven’t even looked at. You estimate the pages of dense reading that await you—well over a thousand—on this gloomy Sunday afternoon. It’s okay. We’ve all been there. You aren’t doomed.

Sure it’s doable to read all of that information, but it’s not necessary! That’s right…you do not need to read all the text. You are saved. The important thing to realize in this situation is that there is a way to get through all of that reading material and write one heck of an essay. Let’s get started.

My Perfect Strategy—from a senior who finally figured it out.

  • Read the title—Help your mind prepare for what you are about to read and digest.
  • Read the introduction and/or summary and the conclusion—Gather the most important points.
  • Take notice of boldface headings and subheadings—This helps create a structure in your thought to organize the information you are receiving and absorbing. This will help you deal with the details to come.
  • Make sure to take full notice of graphics—Charts, maps, diagrams, pictures, etc. are there to make a point. DO NOT OVERLOOK THEM (take it from someone who’s done it too many times and suffered).
  • Notice reading “clues”—Italics, bold face, print, clearly stated objectives.
  • Question—Develop your own questions as you read. This is where your thoughts begin to connect to the text in front of you, and you begin to form your own opinion on the topic or issue. This is also where magic happens, and these questions may become the birth of your thesis.
  • Always annotate and make notes, highlights, symbols, etc. —This is for future reference when you are actually writing your paper. It will help you find and reference your information and quickly access major points you related to. This is also your way of contributing to the scholarly discussion you’re in college to join.

Remember good writing always starts with good reading. Have fun!

Katya Rivers is a senior majoring in religion.

 

Conquer the exegesis process (Part II)

Here is the second half of the instructions on how to conquer the exegesis process. Created by Katie Hynd, the Post-Graduate Teaching Intern for the Religion Department in the fall of 2013, these images were taken to help as you start the exegesis process. Good luck, and have fun!

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After discussing how both the various translations and the research of a word have affected your understanding of your chosen passage, it’s time to check out the dictionaries and commentaries! All the books in my arms are various dictionaries. They define words and concepts from the Bible. In contrast, a commentary is specifically about the book your passage is found within. After studying my passage, which is Luke 10.38-42, I decided I wanted to learn more about Martha and Mary. Therefore, I looked up their names in various dictionaries and analyzed them. You get to decide what interests you. The commentaries and dictionaries will help you write these sections: Literary Context, Social and Historical Context, and the Theological and Ethical Reading of the Passage. Get ready to research! Read the commentaries’ introductions and outlines. 
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If you find something you want to learn more about, then it’s time to do more research. Go to the stacks! Most of the texts you will use are  on the third floor of the library (call number starts with BS) closest to the big windows looking toward the concourse.
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Want even more information? Check out the online database ATLA! After entering your search terms and being specific in your search terms, make sure the text you are interested in states “PDF Full Text” at the bottom. If you can’t access the article, then you can’t access the article.
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Don’t forget to think and develop your own thoughts about the passage you are researching. This is your project, and you get to write about your own connections when you write the Conclusion and Application section. Also, when you write your introduction, you get to speak to your reader about how this text impacted you. Have fun with it.
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The bibliography. This is the most important section of your paper.  Don’t let it scare you. You get to tame the bibliography. We are using the SBL style, and the “Principia College Biblical Studies Citation Guide” will become your best friend. Read it before you ask for help, but also be sure to ask for help if you are confused. This style uses footnotes, like Chicago style. Remember to keep track of your sources as you write. I suggest creating the bibliographic citations for each source you use AS YOU USE IT. That way you don’t have to search for your sources the night before each section of your paper is due.
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Now that you’re done, put all your sources on the shelving cart. Leave the shelving to the library workers. It doesn’t help anyone if you shelve a book in the wrong section. Also, the library likes to know how often books are used, and when they shelve the books you have used, they check them “in.” That being said, if you can’t find a book, ask the circulation desk about it. They may not have processed the book you want. Last note: do not leave reference materials in your study carrel. Even if you are going to dinner and plan on being back in half an hour, reference materials are for everyone, and there may be someone who only has that half our of time to work on their exegesis. You will probably be writing your paper with lots of others doing the same assignment.

Now you’re done! (At least with learning about the research process.)

Taking notes like a pro

by Meg Andersen

Learning how to take notes effectively is one of the best skills to master in college. Whether you prefer taking notes with pen and paper or using programs such as Evernote or MS OneNote, here are a few strategies to help you retain the right information when taking notes in class:

Be organized.

Have separate notebooks (physical or digital) for each class. Whether you organize your notes by chapter, topic, or date, be consistent about how you store your notes. You will be glad you did when it is time to study for the test! One advantage about using Evernote or MS OneNote is that you can search your notes for keywords. Being able to quickly find something in your notes can make studying much more efficient.

Do the reading.

This may sound obvious, but coming to class prepared makes taking notes much easier. It’s hard to recognize the most important points of a topic that you aren’t prepared to discuss. Being prepared might take more time, but you’ll feel less stressed and more confident about engaging in the class. And you’ll learn more.

Listen for cues.

If you’re listening to a lecture and feel lost as to what you should be jotting down, try listening for some basic cues. First, listen for the big ideas. What is the main topic of the lecture? Professors generally emphasize points by

  • repeating them,
  • giving specific examples, or
  • summarizing them at the end of their lecture.

If you are viewing a PowerPoint, it’s okay to politely ask if the PowerPoint will be available on Blackboard. If the presentation will be viewable later, spend more time listening and less time writing down everything on every slide. If the presentation will not be on Blackboard, don’t worry—just record the key points. They are probably headings or in a bolder typeface.

Separate ideas.

When taking notes, most students prefer the rough outline format. With any format, be sure to leave space between points so that you can add other ideas later on, if needed. Taking notes in a slightly more spread out format can also leave room for jotting down questions that you think of during the lecture which can be asked at an appropriate time.

These are just a few ideas that have been helpful in my experience! I recommend checking out Evernote or MS OneNote if you haven’t tried them, and do what works for you!

Meg Andersen is a business administration and global perspectives double major, and she plays on the tennis team.