It is very useful to acquire the skill of effective note-taking when preparing for an essay. This will help you at all stages of the research and writing of your essay.
- Start by taking notes for your thesis statement – look carefully at the question and jot down what you think it is asking you to do. Look for those key words which will tell you precisely what the essay requires you to do. For example, if you are asked to ‘compare and contrast’ in an essay then you might make notes ‘for and against’ in preparation; this will help you build a balanced argument. Or, if you are asked to ‘analyse’ you might make notes that reflect close-reading of the text and comment on individual words or phrases of importance.
- Make notes from your research – this is especially useful note-taking as it combines two requirements in one: firstly, it familiarises you with the required referencing style of your school, college or university and it also ensures that you remember where you got the evidence you are going to use in your essay to support your argument. Making notes from your research should be helpful, too, in inspiring your own thoughts and ideas and in reminding you which are your thoughts and which those of others.
- Make notes for your essay plan – this is especially useful, as you will be able to establish your essay structureand decideon which evidence should go where. Notes for your essay plan should be divided up according to the structure so you will have notes for your introduction, notes for your main body and notes for your conclusion. Each separate paragraph should have its own notes and references and it can be very useful to note down page numbers of quotations that are to be most useful when you plan.
- Make notes for your conclusion – this is a good idea because many students feel that a conclusion is just a restatement of the introduction but it should be much more than that, giving indication of what you feel that you have achieved in the essay and what you feel has been left out because of the limitations of time and structure etc. If you make notes for your conclusion at the beginning, then you will have the direction you are aiming towards in mind as you progress and aid the structure of your argument.
Remember that effective note taking is a skill that once acquired will stay with you for life and be useful not just in writing essays but also in everyday life. There is no one specific way of making notes that you need to adopt, it is a case of whatever works best for you. If you feel most comfortable colour-coding and cross-referencing your quotation list with your essay structure, for example, that is the way you should work.
You can also use spider diagrams, bullet points, numbering – anything that will help you to get the best aid for your work. The main thing to remember about note-taking is to look for key words in sentences and/or key phrases in chapters etc. that will help you to connect the idea you are trying to express in your essay with the points in the notes you are taking.
The particular way that you make the notes is very much a matter of individual preference and is much less important than how well they work for you which is the most important aspect of all note-taking, for whatever type of essay you are writing!