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School for Professional Studies: Taking Notes & Getting Organized

This Guide was created specifically for students enrolled in the School for Professional Studies (SPS) at Centenary University.

Paper Notetaking

Taking good notes is the easiest way to stay organized, understand your sources, and write a good research paper. As you read sources, pay close attention to main concepts and themes.

Ask yourself:

  • Do the main ideas of the source relate back to the main idea of my topic?
  • What are some key points or good quotes?
  • How and where can the source be used in my research paper?

If you like taking notes with paper and pen, the Cornell Method of Note Taking is an efficient methodology that makes writing your notes (and reviewing them later) simple and easy.

Divide your piece or pieces of paper into several sections, taking the bulk of your notes in the largest column on the right hand side, writing main ideas and concepts in the smaller column on the left, and summarizing in the footer. Don't quote directly from the text, speaker, or video; use your own words and try to use abbreviations! Watch the video below for a helpful visualization.

Digital Notetaking

Try one of these methods if you like typing your notes and keeping track of everything electronically.

Word Processor. Using a word processor like Microsoft Word or a Google Doc --as opposed to writing on paper -- can be a huge time saver. Most people type faster than they physically write, which potentially allows for more time to review, annotate, and understand the notes after they have been taken. You can keep one document for each of your sources or one large document with all of your sources notes included. It all depends on which way is the most effective for you.

Email. Using your email to send yourself documents, articles, website links, etc. is useful if you find yourself working on different computers or devices throughout the research process; it brings everything to the same place and automatically acts as a back-up for your work.

Microsoft OneNote. OneNote, an application of the Microsoft Suite, can be described as a "digital notebook" that allows you to collect and capture text, images, recordings etc. and organize them into folders that make sense to your research process. You can even import Excel spreadsheets and add links to other helpful documents and websites.

Time Management Tips

It is easy to become overwhelmed by your course load. Developing time management skills directly related to researching skills will not only help you now, but also in the future.

As a college student, it can be challenging to navigate and successfully balance a full work, school, and social life. Remember that all three are important and giving all your time to any one thing for too long can lead to boredom or burnout. Managing your time effectively is one way to prevent anxiety and stress.

Here are some tips to help:

  1. Set goals and be confident. Take the time to think about what you want to get out of each task you do and how it relates to your long-term goals. Figuring this out can help you stay grounded when you are feeling fidgety or experiencing writers block.
  2. Write things down as soon as you can. Use planners, diaries, calendars, or a digital notebook (OneNote, iPhone, etc.) to keep track of all your important assignments, meetings, presentations, and other engagements.
  3. Focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking quickly drains your mental resources. Believe it or not, you will actually get more done by focusing your energy on one task at a time. This is called singletasking!
  4. Don’t spend too much time on one thing. It might seem like a good idea to spend all day writing a research paper, but this is unnecessary and will result in extra stress and less time to concentrate on the quality of the writing. Carve out time in your schedule dedicated to several smaller writing sessions.
  5. Stay organized.  Keeping your class materials and notes all in one place makes studying and doing homework easier and less stressful.
  6. Don't procrastinate. It is really easy to get distracted, so it is important to be able to pay attention when it really counts and you need to get a task done. Practice ignoring your phone when you get a text or a new email and give yourself little breaks as rewards for not putting off tasks.
  7. Learn material the first time around. If you don’t understand something, don’t just assume you’ll learn it later. Taking the time to ensure you really learn it the first time can help you to more easily understand related concepts and make connections. Doing this eliminates having to waste time revisiting information that you should already have learned.
  8. Control your study space. Go to the library, put on headphones or do whatever it takes to keep yourself engaged. Don't work against yourself by working at the kitchen table if you know your family will be a distraction.