Effective Reading and Note-Taking

GENERAL notes on reading:

  • Genre matters: reading strategies will vary depending on what type of publication you're reading. Here, we will be addressing academic materials, including textbooks, academic articles, presentations, and more, but not including novels, poems, and visual content.
  • Must I read every word? No - the goal of reading and note-taking are grasping key concepts; there will doubtlessly be less significant information contained therein. Follow the below steps to determine what you should read closely and what might be peripheral.

WHAT should you read?

  • Consult your syllabus for the breadth of reading assignment. Aim to concentrate on the material assigned.

  • Get an overview. If a textbook chapter is assigned, read the summary and conclusions first for a big-picture view. If an article is assigned, read the abstract, introduction, and conclusion, as these will contain the main points. Be sure to make note of the main topics, as you will want to build more elaborate notes on these while you read the piece.
  • Make note of section titles. Chapters and articles will be broken down by content or theme; make note of these. Again, build more elaborate notes on these while you read the piece.
  • Test your understanding. Textbook chapters often include a "test your understanding" portion at the end of each chapter. If your notes don't already contain the answers to these questions, go back and take additional notes on any key concepts you might have missed the first time around.

WHAT notes should you take, based on your reading?

  • Big ideas: what main ideas are reflected in the introduction, conclusion, abstract, and section titles? Be sure to record all relevant details of the big ideas in the text as you read the entire piece.
    • Follow visual cues: main ideas will often be bolded, italicized, bulleted, set in different font sizes, color, and/or spacing. Additionally, illustrations, figures, tables, charts, diagrams, and the corresponding captions elaborate on key ideas. Use these to determine the significance of concepts, and to take notes accordingly.
  • What's repeated: concepts, formulas, facts, and processes mentioned more than once in the piece are likely significant.

HOW should you take notes? 

Your optimal style may include the following:

  • Dating your notes, and provide a heading that describes the piece's overall content.
  • Numbering the pages of your notes.
  • Paraphrasing instead of writing verbatim - writing in your own words, except for formulas, definitions, and specific facts (i.e. involving dates), which should be recorded exactly as in the text.
  • Using consistent abbreviations and symbols.
  • Developing an ideal organizational format, like an outline, map, table, or notecards, depending on content.
  • Leaving room in the margins for additional thoughts or questions.
  • Typing your notes, which can be used for exam-studying, once you have clarified any ambiguities.