Monday, August 22, 2011

Notes, Quotes, and Short-Term Memory

Today’s post addresses a subject that most of us (I imagine) have dealt with at some point in our education: taking notes.
Before you tune out, I think it’s important to state that taking notes for a single essay is a different undertaking from taking notes for a long-term project such as a dissertation. In this vein, I want to offer some lessons that I’ve learned over the years during my graduate training regarding this monster of a task.

First, find a note taking style that works for you. Ok, so what? That’s obvious right? Well, no actually. While I will offer several tips for taking notes that have worked for me, they are only tips and you have to modify, modify, modify according to your needs.

That brings me to the second tip. When I was in working on my Masters degree in 2005-2007, I began to develop methods for taking notes that helped me retain the information better than in my undergraduate years. First, I would print articles I intended to read and place them in a binder-usually at least a 2-3inch binder with the plastic covers. Next, I would cut lengthwise—yes cut—those 4 X 6” cards into three equal pieces, using a three-hole puncher to punch two whole in the cards. Each of these cards provides a divider between the hundreds of possible articles in a binder—I modified this idea from a professor of mine in undergrad.

As you read, you can highlight the tops of article tabs with different colors based on their importance for returning and using quotes. Finally, don’t forget to create a key and leave it in the binder AND to make a TOC (Table of Contents) for the front sleeve. I would later import the highlights and notes into a Word document.

Sounds detailed right? Well, let’s face it, 1) if you’re in grad school you’re probably a nerd already and 2) you need a system that works for you. My third tip modifies the second. Now, I no longer print any articles (save the trees and my back). I am fortunate enough to have an iPad (anniversary gift) and I use it and the application GoodReader to read all my electronic documents.

Good Reader

GoodReader allows you to do just about anything with PDFs including notes, lines, squiggles, filing into folders, syncing, etc. This has been invaluable for lessening what I carry around and providing easier reading and note taking all in one place.

The final tip is one that I learned a couple years ago while teaching an Intermediate Writing course. I had placed students into groups and each group had to develop a technology presentation. One group decided to discuss the Notebook layout in MS Word. I deal with tech all the time, but even this was new to me since I rarely played around with the different “View” options in MS Word. Go ahead, try it. Open up Word and click on “View” in the top menu, and then choose notebook layout. Voila!

Now you have tabs and colors, markers, clickable squares and lots more. I use this now whenever I taking notes and doing lots of reading for large projects. I just copy and paste quotes into the doc and place them where I need them. The tabs provide multiple sections and pages without multiple documents: genius!

If you already knew about this, then share it with others. It’s seriously helpful, after all, our short-term memory is short and we need ways to organize and keep track of information. That’s it for now. I hope I have overwhelmed anyone. Enjoy note taking and drop me a comment if you like the posts.

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