Taking notes helps synthesize information.
Taking notes helps synthesize information.

Research notes help students and professionals organize the information that they gather. They use this information to create research papers or speeches. Taking research notes is more effective with a structured technique.

Develop a Focus

Before you begin taking notes, develop a topic and focus point. Many topics are broad and must be narrowed to make them more manageable. For instance, a topic about women during the Civil War might be narrowed to the impact of the Civil War on women. Develop subtopics for your notes. Plan to take notes about how women's home, career, social and political lives were affected.

Compile Information

Scan sources to determine the overall theme, and then scan them again to pick out the most significant points. Write the thesis of the source in your own words. Also, paraphrase key points and subtopics. Highlight information, or write in the margins to gather notes you might want to use. Ensure that you use credible sources, such as authors who are experts in their fields and websites that end in .gov and .edu.

Use index cards, a spiral notebook or a word processor on a computer to document your notes. Record each note separately. Create index cards, notebook pages or word-processing documents corresponding to each subtopic, and list notes that correspond with each subtopic under the main topics. For a research topic about the impact the Civil War had on women, for example, include all notes pertaining to impacts on the home under one subtopic and impacts on careers under another subtopic. Mark ideas that you take from sources with an "S" and ideas that you come up with on your own as "Me."

Note Sources

Include the bibliography of where the direct quote, paraphrase or summary came from so that you can provide proper attribution later. Write the bibliography information on the back of the note if you are using note cards or at the top or bottom of the note if using a spiral notebook or word-processing program. For multiple notes from the same source, include the page number or paragraph where the note came from by each note. Information needed for in-text citations includes the author, year of publication and page number and information needed for the references page includes the author, year of publication, title of the work, location and publisher.

Format for Organization

Gather index cards, tear out sheets of notes from a spiral notebook and cut them into individual notes or print notes and cut them out so that you may easily rearrange them in categories from which you can build the sections of your research paper. If you organized your notes under subtopics already, arrange them in a logical order within each subtopic. For instance, if you are organizing notes within the “home” subtopic of how the Civil War affected women, place your notes in chronological order. This will help you detail the early stages of when the men first went to war to the later stages when women learned to take over roles normally performed by men.