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Guidelines for Reading Notes
Reading notes are a way for you to document the main ideas of an academic text; a tool for helping you process and understand a text and its component parts; and a shorthand way for you to record, digest, and organize information for your own later reference. Reading notes are about both PROCESS (learning to effectively and efficiently parse a text) and PRODUCT (creating a resource for yourself for later), and ultimately they are a best PRACTICE. This is an important skill to develop for academic texts as well as all forms of reading not only in academic but also professional settings. Use this class as an opportunity to develop this skill. (For this class, they will also become your own study materials ahead of the midterm and final.)
There is no right or wrong way to do reading notes. They are personal and individualized to each reader’s interests, needs, and style. So while each of you may be reading the same material, we would expect your reading notes to vary significantly from person to person and also from one kind of text to another (i.e. an academic journal article and an excerpt from a textbook). Yet each should capture the same general components. Depending on the text, these would generally include:
- Citation (title, author, perhaps type of text)
- Topic and/or purpose of the text
- Main argument(s)
- Primary supporting evidence and/or illustrative examples
- Annotations about your own thoughts, what this would be useful for, or other “breadcrumbs” for yourself for later use / your own purposes (this is really what makes your notes both unique, and useful)
- Page references and/or short direct quotes
Your notes should be in your own words. Do not copy long passages from the text. Short, useful quotes are okay and even encouraged. But be sure to include proper quotes and citations so that you do not later mistake them for your own words.
Your notes should neither be too long, nor too short. Neither is useful. Too long and they become difficult to wade through for the most important information and are not as useful a reference for you. Too short and you risk not having captured enough information to have a complete enough summary to create a useful reference for yourself, increasing the likelihood that you will have to spend more time and effort to find the information Your goal is to provide a comprehensive enough picture for yourself of the reading, including enough information that you can look over them and be reminded of all the most important/relevant information at a quick skim/glance, but not so detailed that it becomes a chore to wade through them to find the main points and most important information. For this class’ reading materials, a general guide should be 1-2 paragraphs per reading, or about half a page of text per reading, or about 1-3 pages single spaced depending on the week’s reading.
Each person will develop their own format and form that works best for them. This might be in the form of prose or in outline form. You might make use of outlining functions, italics, underlining, highlighting, bold, and other ways to distinguish and organize text. Your reading notes might be outlined thematically, according to a set formulaic format you use for each text, or chronologically alongside the reading. Experiment to find what works best.
Many of you may already annotate your texts as you read along. This is GREAT! And it makes generating readings notes quick and easy. If you do this, you might consider going back through as a second step and turning them into an organized summary in a separate document. You can consider finding tools to help you do this more quickly. For example, I read and annotate texts digitally in the application Skim, and then I use its extraction feature to extract all my annotations (including both highlighted bits of text and notes I made) to paste into a separate document to be organized, all in one click.
You might store your readings notes in one running document per course, perhaps even with a Table of Contents to allow you to easily jump from reading to reading. Or you might store each set or each reading note in an individual document. Reading notes can be pasted into or attached to a record in a reference manager if you use one to keep track of your readings, like Zotero or Mendeley. Using a reference manager to keep organized is highly recommended, and this class can be a great opportunity to learn and integrate this skill if you do not do this already.
Assignment Procedure and Grading
Turn in a text document with your reading notes for each week. You will be primarily graded based on quality, completeness, and consistency of effort. We will not provide or use a rubric for grading. Consider this a guide, and then you will also be provided with feedback by your TA early in the course to help you develop more effective reading note practices as the course progresses