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Literature Review, Pt. 4: Note-Taking

It has been a while since I last posted anything related to the dissertation process. For that, I apologize. Let’s chalk it up to being extremely busy! However, I have carved out the time to write this post. So, let’s get back to the dissertation process…

Taking notes effectively has two main aspects: what (the specific information) you take notes on and how you physically record those notes. The former is the subject of this blog; the latter is a matter of taste and experience. If you are an active reader (and I sincerely hope you are if you are writing a thesis or dissertation), you already have a feel for the kind of information for which you are looking. The obvious is the citation information. Then what? Well, you need to know what you have read (the authors main points, methodology, and key findings). What else? Note your reaction to the item you are reading. How does it impact your thesis or question? What other questions does it raise for you? Are there any particular quotes that appeal to you? Are there hints or links to other studies or sources of information? These are the most basic pieces of information you need to record when taking notes on a reading source.

To recap: there are eight primary pieces of information you need to record while taking notes from your reading. These are listed below.

(1) The item’s provenance – citation information that will tell you where to find the document again. At the very least, you will want to have it for your references section.

(2) A summary of the author’s main points, key findings, and methodology. It should be a summary in your own words. This helps reduce the chance of plagiarism.

(3) The questions the document raises for you. This is extremely important as this may lead to key analytical points or study redefinition.

(4) Any links to other studies or documents. This is part of the literature search and can provide a wealth of information.

(5) Quotes you find compelling and/or may want to use in your thesis or dissertation. These are the only parts of documents that should be copied verbatim.

(6) The author’s theoretical framework on what does the author base his theory, study, or thesis.

(7) What is the author’s position? Does she agree with the findings? Are they a surprise? Are they in line with other findings in the same topic? All of these will help you analyze and evaluate the documents at a later literature review stage.

(8) Any special definitions or new definition unfamiliar to you.

These may influence your study, positively or negatively. Each of these pieces of information will have import on your analysis and evaluation of documents. They may also help you refine or redefine your study thesis. Good note taking is an important skill for all but especially for thesis and dissertation writers. The better notes you take, the better your literature review; the better your literature review, the better your thesis or dissertation.


Colleen L.

Professor for Theses and Doctoral Guidance and Standardized Test Prep

300+ hours