Note Taking Tips

Writing is a process. When you add research to a writingassignment, a few more steps need to be added to that process. Taking effectivenotes is an important step in writing quality papers. It is also paramount toensuring that you uphold integrity expectations. Many violations, both at AUC and in the professional world, result from poor research habits.

The tips below are meant to help you take effective notes. Thesetips are good for either print or electronic sources. The need for vigilancewhen using electronic sources is even greater. Pay attention to the “Things to Avoid” section at the end of this handout, it can save you a trip to theAcademic Integrity Committee.


  •      Use note cards or smaller notebooks to writeyour notes.
    • Note cards are ideal, because it gives you theflexibility to organize the cards into paper sections after you complete yourresearch. Notebooks are nice becausethey keep all the pages together, but unless you rip out each page, it becomesharder to organize the ideas later.
  • On the top of the first card (or first page),write the full bibliographic citation.
  • On each subsequent card (or page) for thatsource, put the author’s last name and the page number(s) from which the noteswere taken.
  • When you begin a new source, repeat steps 2 and3 as necessary.
  • Keep notes concise and limited to one topic onany given card (or page) even if you do not fill the card.
  • When summarizing material, put the originalsource away. Reading the source while trying to take notes will open you up towriting a bad paraphrase. (This could take the form of new vocabulary but asimilar structure to the original. Plagiarism is not just the omission ofquotation marks and citation. It could also be the taking of ideas or sentencestructure without attribution.) This may require you to reread a passagemultiple times to ensure that you fully understand the meaning before you begintaking your notes.
    • For more information on plagiarism, visit the plagiarism page of the academic integrity website.
  • If you need multiple cards for one thought,number the cards. A (1 of n) technique or (1/n) will help ensure that nothinggoes over looked. (But make sure each cards has the author’s last name and thepage number on the top.)
  • If writing a quote, eitherwrite it in a different color or highlight the quote immediately to remind you thatthe note is a quotation. (Do this even though you put quotation marks aroundthe quote in your notes.)
  • Take more notes than you think you will need.Any piece of information that you think is interesting or even remotelyrelevant, note it. You never know where your research will go. It’s better tohave too many notes than not enough. When you find a dearth of quality noteswhile writing, this is when you’re going to be more likely to inadvertentlyplagiarize as you struggle to find passages or citations for information youpreviously read.
  • If you want to take electronic notes, you canstill follow the same steps as above. Powerpoint, or an equivalent, provides asimilar template to a note card. If you consider each slide to be a note card,you can follow all of the tips above. 


Things to Avoid


  • Never copy and paste text directly into your paper.
  • Don't wait until the last minute to start your research. You may try to cut corners or you may just be so rushed you make careless mistakes.
  • Don’t approach a paraphrase as “editing” the work of another.
  • If you use Wikipedia, the source is Wikipedia and not the referenced sources at the end. Citing the sources at the end if you never looked at it is considered fabrication, is unethical and constitutes a violation of the Code of Academic Ethics. This applies to any referenced source within a source.
  • If you want to quote something from a source, but the quote is attributed to someone else, you would use the following format:



      •   According to John Smith (qtd. in Daniels, 2012)…


        • Daniels is then the reference and is cited appropriately, as well as noted in the works cited page. Unless you read John Smith’s work, you cannot cite the passage as Smith.