A Whole New World of Notes

I take near constant notes while I’m researching, which is great in terms of satisfying my need to have reams of written-on paper at the end of the day, but when it comes to using those notes and turning them into an essay, I feel totally over-faced. More often than not I can’t bring myself to go back through the notes, so I wind up re-reading whole articles and chapters to find evidence to support the point I’m trying to make.

But then I discovered something that might help. Did you guys know about Cornell Notes?? Well I literally just found out while I was looking up ideas for a blog about “tragic research mistakes”. I now feel as though not knowing about Cornell Notes might have been one of mine for the last two years…

So for those not in the know, you divide your page into three sections, each with its own function and heading (perfect for obsessive compartmentalisers like me). The right hand column is your note-taking column, the left is for key words and the section at the bottom is used later to summarise what you’ve learnt (see picture – I jazzed mine up a little, you might want to do it differently).


Notes on D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Turkey-Cock’

You’re limited for space to write notes, which means you’re more likely to record the most important/pertinent information. Plus, this method recommends that you use abbreviations, paraphrases and symbols instead of full sentences, to help consolidate the information you’re taking in and to write it in a different way that you will relate to and understand when you come back to it.

The keywords column is for…well, keywords and phrases, but also acts as a kind of commentary on the notes you make. You can write questions to yourself here. Then, within 24 hours of taking the notes, you write a wee summary at the bottom of the page, which helps to solidify what you’ve learnt during the note-taking stage.

From what I can tell, Cornell Notes are more often used for writing up notes during lectures and seminars, but Dr Katherine Firth over at the Thesis Whisperer utilised the method to make notes for poetry analysis. How very convenient for a poet-cum-blogger who needs to carry out some poetry analysis in the very near (today) future!

I’ll try it for a week and let y’all know how it works out. Fingers crossed I’ll finish my entire thesis between now and then.


As ever, please feel free to get in touch if you have any ideas, experiences or tales of PhD misadventure you’d like to share with us. Email the SGSAH team on admin@sgsah.ac.uk and follow us on Twitter @SGSAH_

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