First, make a careful note of the full bibliographic details which you will need later to compile your bibliography (see the Skills Guide section on Referencing).Then, every time you make a note, write down the page number. This is essential, for you will need to make accurate references to information sources in your essay (see section on footnotes and references). It is much easier to do this as you read, rather than frantically hunting for page numbers as you write your essay.
Not everyone makes notes on paper. Some people prefer to use a tape recorder to speak their notes into. Or you could photocopy the text, which is useful if you want to make further notes in the margins. You may also want to highlight key passages in the text. Whatever method of note-taking you use, make sure that you distinguish clearly between direct quotations, and summaries of data or ideas made in your own words, otherwise you may be accused of plagiarism (see section on Academic Conduct). Put quotations in quotation marks ‘like this’. It is not a good idea to download chunks of online materials straight into your essay draft.
As you read a text, keep your essay topic at the forefront of your mind and try not to be side-tracked. Keep asking yourself ‘is this relevant?’ and ‘what use could I make of it to help me fulfil the essay brief?’ Make use of a book’s contents list and index to help you find relevant material, rather than trying to read the book from cover to cover.
Pay particular attention to points that you agree and disagree with. These will provide good discussion material for your essay. Also, if a writer makes a point that another writer disagrees with, make a cross-reference linking both points because it will benefit your essay if you can make interesting comparisons.
When you have finished reading a piece of text, take time to go over the points that were made, to make sure you understand them. Check that the notes you made are easy to read and that they make sense. Be sure to file your notes systematically. A well ordered file will become a good base from which to structure your essay.
When you use the LRC or another library, be considerate of others: never make notes in books, or mark them in any way. If you find it useful to make margin notes, photocopy the relevant parts for your own record. A library is a shared resource, which requires responsible behaviour. Do not hoard books you do not need, and return books as soon as you have finished with them.