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Reading, Note-taking, Reporting Sources: Note-taking

Effective Note-Taking

It is useful to think of active reading like a treasure hunt, rather than attempting to soak up and absorb every single detail you come across, it is best to be active in your search for information and pick out the most relevant and key points from the material. Effective note-taking is a key aspect in critically reading: the better your notes, the easier it will be to transfer and use this information in your critical writing. 

Five key factors of effective note-taking:

1) Record the full reference before starting to take notes from the material

You'll thank yourself later when you use a specific quote or source for supporting evidence in your assignment and can easily access the original piece of work for reference. It also helps when you're then needing to put an in-text citation with a page number and you already have this information at hand in your notes.

2) Be Selective

There is a risk in note-taking of either being too brief, and therefore not fully providing the necessary information or too detailed, and therefore providing more information than is actually necessary. Be selective!

3) Question the relevancy of your note

  • Will this point help support your argument?
  • Is it relevant to your topic?
  • Has someone else argued this point in a better way?
  • Is this quote or paraphrase similar to another quote or paraphrase you've already noted down from a different text?
  • Do you really need this information?
  • Will you really use it?
  • What questions do you want to answer with this information? 

4) Write down your ideas or responses to the material 

Capture your thinking behind the relevancy of the note you've made. Try to show your engagement with the texts as by emphasising your critical analysis of the material within your notes, this will help to retain this criticality when using these notes in your essays. 

5) Organise your notes effectively

  • For direct quotes make sure you always have quotation marks around the material - you do not want to plagiarise by accident.
  • If it is a paraphrase, check that you have not changed the meaning of the original text and make sure to still add a reference in your notes. 
  • If it is your response to the material you've copied in your notes, perhaps put this in a different colour or in bold so that you can see where your critical thinking and arguments are within your notes.

Our Tip: Organise your Notes by Topic

When gathering information related to your essay, make notes in your own words.

We advise to keep records of what you are reading organising the materials by key topics. 

By organising the materials by key topics you can start to

  • synthesise information
  • develop arguments
  • reflect on what material you have, or still do not have
  • think about how your material relates to your ideas and about your sense of how you want to answer the question


Topic: the impact of Brexit on the economy 

issues to be researched and discussed: 


"Trade will diminish...." (Smith 2019, p9)



The manufacturing sector is predicted to experience growth... (Taylor 2018)


Banks are retreating from London... (The Banking Times 2019)

Passporting is an issue (Dickenson 2018)

Higher education

​Scotts (2019) and Taylor (2018) disagree on the future of British Universities. Scotts maintains that...  (2019, p.231). Taylor (2018, p 45) points out that... 

Tax revenues

"Tax revenues will increase as..." (Dickenson 2018, p67)

In the long-term tax revenues will decrease... " (Smith 2019, p13)