Note Taking

Some thoughts on note-taking and writing

First off, studies have shown that it's much better to write your notes down in your own handwriting than to type them.

When taking notes, don't just copy things down. You'll quote verbatim occasionally; more often, summarize and paraphrase. People who type notes rather then write them down in longhand tend to just copy. You remember things better when you have to summarize and paraphrase instead of just copy.

Handwritten, paraphrased notes also make writing the essay easier. Think of your notes as the first draft of your essay. In them, you begin to turn information into your own work. "A note is a first thought," said Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff in their classic work, The Modern Researcher, "assimilating new knowledge and putting down [your] own thoughts." When you take a good note, you have moved from passively reading a source toward the act of writing a paper. (Barzun and Graf, 26-31).

Include your thoughts in your notes. "But be sure to distinguish between the notes that are your own thoughts and notes that are direct quotations or summaries of your sources. We often put an arrow before our own thoughts. . . . If you do not take care in distinguishing your thoughts from the thoughts of your source, you may be accused of plagiarism" (Marius and Page, Short Guide to Writing about History, 116). It's just as important to come up with an appropriate subject heading for these kinds of notes. Doing so will help you to combine your thoughts with relevant factual information when it comes time to write.

Accomplished historians also advise that you begin to draft your essay before you finish all of you research. Marius and Page put it this way:

Inexperienced writers often assume that an accomplished writer simply does all the research first and then writes. On the contrary, most experienced writers find that no matter how much they know about a subject at the start, the act of writing forces them to confront new problems and develop new questions, gives them new leads, sends them off in search of more information to pursue those new leads, and eventually leads them to new conclusions. For the experienced writer, the writing proceeds is a process of leaping forward and jumping back, but above all involves some sorts of writing very early and continuing until the essay is completed. To postpone writing until you have done all the possible research on the subject can be disastrous. (Marius and Page, 107-108).

Remember also that taking good notes is the first step toward avoiding plagiarism. You are responsible for knowing what plagiarism is and how to avoid it:

History Department Statement on Plagiarism

The most basic definition of plagiarism is the theft of another's intellectual property. The most serious form of plagiarism is the deliberate use of a source without alteration or attribution; cutting and pasting unacknowledged material from the Internet into an essay is one example. Copying the work of another person, failing to cite sources, failing to place borrowed phrasing between quotation marks, failing to paraphrase, and misuse of footnotes/citations may also be considered forms of plagiarism.

The History Department expects that students will cite their sources in their writing, as one of our educational goals is to train students in this critical scholarly practice. History teachers understand that mistakes in citation might occur as part of the learning process and that these mistakes may be unintentional. One of the tasks of the teacher is to notify a student when a form of misuse has occurred, so that a student might avoid this mistake in the future.

However, plagiarism can be a serious issue of academic dishonesty and can lead to disciplinary action. In a case of academic dishonesty involving plagiarism, a teacher must notify the chair of the history department and a discipline case may ensue. We expect that students will follow the guidelines for citing sources, ask their teachers when they have questions about citations, and learn from their mistakes. Above all, we expect that students will be honest in representing their own work and in acknowledging the sources they have used.