Efficient Note-Taking Practices for Your Doctoral or PhD Research
Although taking notes may seem to some doctoral candidates rather old school, and certain PhD dissertations will require a lot less note taking than others, taking notes remains an excellent means of recording information from sources of all kinds and thinking through concepts and problems. The wide variety of methods available for taking notes in the early twenty-first century is a bold testimony to the fact that the art is far from dead: notes can be typed into computers, tablets, e-book readers and smart phones; they can be dictated into voice memo apps as well as old-fashioned cassette recorders; and they can be handwritten into software programs with a stylus or, most traditional of all, recorded on paper with a pen or pencil. Whatever method works best for you should be fully exploited as you consult the sources you plan to use in your dissertation, because notes taken while reading sources are a valuable time-saving resource when you need to cite and quote those sources in your writing.
The first concern when consulting sources is to ensure that you have the complete bibliographical information for every source you plan to use in your dissertation. If you are able to obtain a copy (via photocopying, scanning or a digital file) of a source, it may well already contain that information, but do be sure to check. If your copy does not contain bibliographical information or if you are not able to obtain a copy of the source, you will need to record the bibliographical details accurately and thoroughly. You might be able to get by with a minimal amount of information that allows you to find the source again (if, for instance, it is available in your university library), but for sources that you may not be able to access a second time (a manuscript or early printed book in a distant library, for example), all the bibliographical information should be recorded as neatly and clearly as possible (remembering that you will need to be able to understand it at a later date), and it is usually a good idea to do this when you initially consult a source no matter how easy it may be to access it again. This information should come at the beginning of any notes that you take from or about the source so that it is obvious to which source the material you record belongs, and obvious, too, when there is a transition in your notes from one source to another.
Remember that you will need complete bibliographical information for all the sources you wish to use when you are writing your dissertation, and often there is very little time to retrace your research steps at that point. Having the correct information at hand in your notes can significantly increase your efficiency when citing or quoting source material in your dissertation and providing the bibliographical details required in your list of references.
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