I once had a history teacher in high school who concocted a note-taking system so extensive that we students were essentially copying the textbook verbatim while organizing it according to theme. I don’t recommend this. Plus, what was tedious with a high school history textbook would be near impossible with the sheer volume of reading that Wesleyan courses require.
Still, taking notes while you read is important. Extremely important. You’re going to feel pretty foolish if you sit down to write a paper only to waste away hours scouring hundreds of pages of reading searching for that quotation that you are positive was in there somewhere. (Believe me, it happens. It’s not pleasant.) To avoid this potential for a complete mental breakdown, simply take notes as you read! Come across a few paragraphs you have a hunch you might want to use in a paper later? Write down the page number! Taking the time now to save yourself the headache later.
Stay tuned for a future post on different note-taking strategies. (Or, if you’re curious, head over to the Peer Advisor Blog’s section on note taking for some tips.) For the moment, lets focus on your method for taking notes. It’s worth your while to come up with your own method and plan stick to it: after all, if you bounce between methods, it could take ages for you to find what you’re looking for. Consider the following ideas:
Highlighting. Simple and effective. You can even consider using different colored highlighters and coming up with a system where each color represents something different (a theme, paper topics vs. discussion points, etc.). This is a particularly useful method when combined with writing notes in the margins. Jotting down your thoughts about the reading will ensure that you never struggle to remember why exactly you felt a particular section was noteworthy. These are great strategies for those who prefer physical books to reading on the computer screen. However, if you are planning on selling back your textbooks at the end of the year, you should carefully consider how much you want to mark them up.
If you want to keep your books looking fresh, try using sticky notes. With sticky notes, you can keep your notes on the same page as the actual text (always useful) while still keeping your book in tip-top shape. You can use smaller ones that stick out the edge of the book, or even use the bigger square ones and write more extensively on them.Of course it can get a bit annoying when your sticky note is constantly blocking huge sections of text, but they are generally easy to move. If you prefer, though, you can always go the standard route of taking notes by hand in a separate notebook. It’s simple, old-school, and effective so long as you keep everything well-organized!
Personally, while I would love to take all my notes by hand, I find that it slows my reading down to a crawl. When I’m not writing directly in my book, I type up my notes in my word processor. One benefit to typing your notes is that you if you’re trying to find a specific quotation but all you can remember is that it referenced Marx, you can search for the keyword “Marx” in your documents.
While your standard word processor (e.g. Microsoft Word) should be perfectly sufficient for storing your notes, there are some other excellent, more high-tech options for note taking. I recommend EverNote, software that allows you to create separate folders and tags and search through your notes. You can also synch EverNote to multiple devices (like your iphone) to carry your notes with you everywhere you go!
Skim is another great resource. It’s a free, open-source PDF reader and note-taker. What’s great about Skim is that you can effectively take notes in the margins of electronic readings without having to print them out! Unfortunately, Skim is only available for Mac at this time.
This list really only scratches the surface of all the different note-taking options. Take some time before classes start to consider what will work best for you!