So let’s take a quiz and let’s see how you do. Tick the responses as they apply to you:
1) I write straight from articles into my thesis
2) I only start to record my references when I am done with an essay or a thesis
3) I take the words from articles word for word
4) I make notes for my Introduction with the same thinking I apply to Literature Reviews
5) I do not group concepts and ideas from different articles together
So the search for articles to write your thesis can leave you a bit confused. You collected about thirty relevant papers and yet you don’t know how to start any of your sections. Another scenario may be each time you read a different article and open your Microsoft Word, you write a paragraph or two but realize that the sentences do not build each other and the paragraphs do not flow. If you, the reader of this blog, and took the mini-quiz above, you may realize that some aspects of note-taking may be missing during your thesis write up. If you answered “yes” to any of the 5 questions, then you need to make some changes in your approach.
Methods of Note-taking
There are a number of methods to make notes while writing your thesis. Some of these include:
i) Using note cards. On cue cards, the salient points found in each article are written down. On the top, one can make a note of the reference source. These include the author name, title name, publisher (journal name etc), URL and date found. Use one cue card per article for sorting and grouping concepts.
ii) Using print outs and highlighters. Articles may be printed and the attributed lines to the thesis may be highlighted. Additionally, in the margins, sentences may be coded by themes to identify overall concepts. This helps to make grouping concepts easier in the writing phase.
iii) Sheets of paper. Using your pen and paper, Microsoft Word or Google Docs, individual notes can be made for each article. Leave margins on the left or right to put in the main theme or topic of each paraphrasing. Reserve spacing for making summary notes and recording the references.
I have a preference for using pen and paper. Before printing any documents, however, I skim the articles I find. I make sure that they are relevant to the topic. As I collect articles I create an informal coding system for each article. Then when I think I have collected as many articles as I can, I pull notes from each article and print them out. From there, I sort themes on the print outs and then write!
Create Your Own Methods
It’s your choice of method of note-taking. Find a system that works for you and allows you to become highly familiar with the material.
Make sure to do the following
i) For any direct quotes make sure to record the page and paragraph of the used sentences.
ii) Leave space to make your own comments or thoughts and to create links to other articles. Remember that your thesis is supposed to represent your thought process as well, so look for the links and disconnects and make a note of it.
iii) Before saving any document to make notes, skim the article to make sure that it is relevant to your thesis topic.
What not to do!
There are a number of approaches that you must avoid:
1) Never rewrite any sentences or phrases ad verbatim from source articles. This will result in plagiarism. For most tertiary institutions plagiarism is not tolerated. Some schools offer Turn-it-In to evaluate your essays before submission. If Turn-it-In is not accessible, there are many free online plagiarism checkers. The free services, however, may not be as efficient as the paid services. Given that Turn-it-In does not offer their product to single users, a very good alternative is Write Check. See their website: http://en.writecheck.com/
2) Do not write your notes excessively. The objective of note-taking is to reduce the vast literature you collected into a summarized and clear story. So practice your summarisation skills.
3) Do not make notes for concepts not relevant to your topic.
4) Do not use notes for the Literature in the same way you use notes for Literature Review or Discussion. Remember the intention of each section when writing from notes.
If you want to know more about my informal coding system and anything more about note taking, Message!