Taking notes well is a highly underrated skill. If you take notes well, your writing process will flow much more smoothly than if you take notes with an erratic and incomplete system. In addition, a good note-taking system makes it much less likely that you’ll have to backtrack to find missing information or clarify unclear information on your cards.
You want to avoid the following scenario:
After several weeks of painstaking research, you’re finally ready to start drafting parts of your paper. You pull out your reams of electronic or handwritten notes or notecards and start arranging the materials you’re most likely to use first. You start drafting a section; suddenly, you remember running across a really perfect set of data that clearly supports the point you’re arguing. Excited, you draft the paragraph making the point, find the card with the data you need, and write the following: “An experiment that clearly documents this trend was conducted at….” You look all over the card or paper and discover that you forgot to write down the specifics of whose experiment this was. You also forgot to write down in which journal and article the experiment was reported.
Now you have some choices to make:
- Retrace your research steps and try to find the article again.
- Replace the perfect data with information from another experiment you read about that doesn’t support your point quite as well and leaves you with a weaker argument.
- Abandon that part of your argument altogether.
Obviously, choices two and three are highly imperfect, but choice number one may take you several hours. What do you do?
The following pages in this section on note-taking will provide you with some guidelines to help you avoid this kind of situation altogether.