What goes on my notecards?
What does a notecard look like?
Xeroxed notes as an alternative to notecards
What kinds of notes are there?
How do I avoid taking worthless notes?
How do I avoid plagiarizing by taking good notes?

What goes on my notecards?

A standard notecard has five areas that must be completed. If any are missing, the notecard is seriously flawed and may be rejected by your teacher. Your teacher will tell you whether you should use 3 x 5 cards or 4 x 6 cards. 

1. Bibliography card number: Write the number you have assigned to your source in the upper right hand corner of the notecard. This is the same number that appears in the upper right hand corner of the bibliography card for this source.

2. Sequence number: Usually, you will be taking multiple notecards from each source. To indicate the sequence of notes from each source, assign your first notecard the number "1" and put it in the upper right hand corner of your notecard after the bibliography card number. Separate the two numbers with a dash. Your next notecard from this source will be assigned the number "2," and so on.

3. Individual title: Assign some kind of title to each card. This is not a formal title; it is merely a few words you will use later to organize your information. The title should summarize the content of the card.

4. Notes/quotes: This is the body of the card. Most of your notecards should be pretty much filled with notes from top to bottom. But don't write notes on the back, and try not to mix totally unrelated information on the same notecard. It will make sorting your cards later a real pain.

5. Page number: This is simply the page number on which you are working. If you take notes on the same card from more than one page, just write "pp. 25-26" or "p. 25, 27." If you are working from a source without page numbers (ex. television, personal interviews, Internet), leave this blank.

What does a notecard look like?

What kinds of notes are there?

Direct quotation
Personal Notes

1. Outline:

When should I outline when I'm taking notes?
•If your source provides an overview of your topic;

•If your source contains lists of major points or major facts.

How do I outline?

•First, isolate the key points from the source.

•Then, present them on you notecard in parallel form. It is not necessary to use formal outlining procedure. A dash or number before each entry is fine.

2. Paraphrase:

What is a paraphrase?
With reference to taking notes, a paraphrase restates original complex language in easy-to-understand terms or "layman's terms." For this reason, a paraphrase is usually longer than the original.

When should I paraphrase when I'm taking notes?

•If your source presents complex ideas;

•If your source presents technical information;

•If your source contains poetic language.

How do I paraphrase?

•Make sure you understand what the author is saying, then rewrite it in your own words in a simple and direct way.

3. Précis:

What is a précis?
With reference to taking notes, a précis is a restatement of the main points from your source in your own words. Accuracy, clarity, and keeping your opinion out of it are all vital when you are summarizing your source in your notes.

When should I use a précis when I'm taking notes?

•When you need to reduce the bulk of the original to a useable length;

•When the original is a description, narration, or lengthy presentation of background facts.

How do I do a précis?

•Carefully read the passage.

•Then, keeping the author's tone but not his/her words, summarize or restate the information you need for your paper.


4. Direct quotation:

When should I use direct quotation when I'm taking notes?
When a unique point of view is well expressed by the author, direct quotation may be best.

How do I do direct quotation?

•Copy the passage word for word from the source.

•Make absolutely sure that you put quotation marks around the quote on your card. Failure to do this is the most common reason for accidental plagiarism.


5. Personal notes:

When you are writing a paper, you'll be writing lots of personal notes. Perhaps you'll be writing these notes in a spiral notebook or on looseleaf paper or perhaps in a more formal research journal.

Remember that a research paper is not a collection of facts and information from sources; instead, it's your ideas supported by material from sources. So your personal notes are the heart and soul of your paper.

Personal notes will be kept apart from notes from sources through the use of the following rules:

•nothing in your personal notes comes from your sources;

•a personal note can be a summary of an idea, or a complete sentence or two on some aspect of your topic.

•a personal note can be a rough sketch of your ideas expressed in sentence fragments or even diagrams.

•a personal note must include a label saying something like "my idea" or "my note" so that you can tell it apart from a source note.

What if I'm allowed to use xeroxed notes

as an alternative to notecards?


Some students are being allowed to use one or both of the following instead of notecards:

•pages xeroxed from printed sources;

•printouts of web sites.

If you are one of these students, remember that these copies must contain the following information:

•page numbers from the source that the notes are taken from, if page number exist;

•clear highlighting of the information you are planning to use in your paper.

How do I avoid taking worthless notes?

Taking worthless notes is one of the most common problems in the research paper project. It makes more work for you, so obviously you'll want to avoid it. How?

1. Don't start taking notes until you know you have a workable topic (check here to make sure you're on track). Then don't take any notes that don't directly deal with your topic.

2. Don't start taking notes until you have a thesis your teacher has accepted (check here to make sure you're on track). Then don't take any notes that don't directly support your thesis.

3. Evaluate your source carefully before deciding to use it. Is it

Up to date?

From a reliable source? Lots of web sites are not reliable. In general, it is better to use scholarly journals rather than general interest magazines, and better to use scholarly books rather than trade books and encyclopedias.

Written by a person who is an acknowledged expert in the field? This is the problem with the Internet -- lots of the "academic" material is written by grad students who couldn't get their work published in a reputable journal if their lives depended on it. Consider checking biographical lists such as Who's Who or book reviews (ask a librarian for help) to figure out if the author is reputable or some kind of weirdo with an axe to grind.

•A primary source? Before you take notes from an encyclopedia, find out whether your teacher accepts this kind of information.

Ready to move on? Proceed to step #6: "How Do I Avoid Plagiarism?"