How to Read, Take Notes On and Understand Journal Articles

By | 31st August 2018

Today I was going to do a video that was all about the various bit of literature I’ve been reading recently but then I thought what might be useful potentially to others is if I show you my method for reading and taking notes on journal articles, papers, essays and books. So, here I’ve got a paper I first read yesterday called ‘Cosmopolitan cities: the frontier in the 21st century?’ and I’m already halfway through my process of kind of reading and taking notes upon this particular paper. You might be able to see I’ve already gone through and highlighted lots of little bits. Now, I tend to use both highlighting and note-taking but I use them both in a slightly different way. If I’ve highlighted something, it essentially means I can go back and I can read through this paper the next time much quicker than previously. So, what I tend to do is pick out sentences that describe the rest of the paragraph. So, in the abstract there might be a little bit more highlighted thanlater on where it starts to get a bit more sparse where I’ve highlighted and where I haven’t. So, in a sociology paper like this particularly what I’m looking for is anywhere where it explains in a simple sentence what the study is that’s going to be carried out or perhaps explains in a simple sentence the findings. Here we can see, for example, that the authors have said that ‘we conceptualize cosmopolitan cities as urban areas whose cultures emphasize values including autonomy, freedom, egalitarian and mutual respect’. Now that is not only useful for my reading of the article but also for my writing later on. So that’s where my notes start to come in. So here is Evernote, which is a note taking application, and what I’m going to do is I’m going to make a new note and I’m going to call it ‘Cosmopolitan cities: the frontier in the 21st century?’. What I also do (and I stole this tip from a thesis whisperer article) is that I used the tags in here.

So I’ve already got a notebook called PhD but that’s got, as well as notes on literature, administrative notes too and notes on supervisions. So, what I’m going to do is I’m also going to tag this one literature notes and I’m going to tag it with the names of the authors. Tagging it with the names of the authors means that when i’m continuing my reading I might be able to group together some of the work by grouping together a body of work by a particular author. The first thing I’m going to do in the actual body of the note is I always jot down the full reference for the particular article I’m working on. This is really useful as I’ve found previously I’ve done an awful lot of searching for a reference for a particular book or a particular article and had to go back to the article and find it. If it’s in my notes then it’s there, I can just copy it down and bung it in a bibliography where I might need to use it. So, with the reference now jotted down what I’m going to do is start scanning through and look for bits that I might pull out that might actually become useful for my writing later. Now this will differ to what I’ve highlighted because my goal with highlighting is that I can come back and scan through the article and, if i’m looking for something in particular, I can use the highlighted sections as a bit of orientation to find what I’m looking for. The bits that I jot down will often be bits I’ve highlighted but I won’t jot down everything that I’ve highlighted, if that makes sense. The first thing i’m going to do is I’m going to jot down this quote that I found a little bit earlier. And, as you can see, what I do is I always put the full inline citation at the end of the sentence. This is a personal thing that just helps me get the author’s names and dates in my head so that they’re a bit more stuck in. That bit can be a bit repetitive with some work but it does really help kind of lock that in. Now there’s something doubly interesting about this particular quote here. So, I’m really interested in how we define a cosmopolitan or metropolitan city as opposed to a non-cosmopolitan or non-metropolitan city. And that’s why I’ve taken that particular quote there. But what it’s also got is a reference to and a work by Mosterin in 2005. So what I’m going to do is go back to my note-taking article and I’m going to do a quick To Read section where I’m going to put Mosterin, 2005. Which means that when I get to the end of the article I can copy down all of the things that I think I should go and read from this article and I can search those out and read those articles as well. And that, very simply, is my note-taking method for reading and understanding papers. So, highlighting for reading and being able to go back and scan the article it’s note-taking for things that I might be able to use directly in my work. Other note-taking options obviously do exist and if your method differs from mine then please do let me know down in the comments. It’s always really useful to find out how people go from taking a massive body of literature and taking out the work that they need. Of course, if you have enjoyed this video, I’m thinking about maybe doing some more little things like this that, kind of, give an insight into my academic process. So, if you enjoyed this then do hit the subscribe button. Cheers!

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