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CamGuides: Finding and Using Resources

Taking notes for assignments and exams

a woman makes notes on a notepad, with a computer in the backgroundTaking effective notes from the resources that you read, or lectures you attend, is important. Notes help you to increase your knowledge and understanding, spot areas and topics where you're less confident, and - of course - they're exceptionally useful for revision and writing assignments. Some techniques for note-taking are listed below. 

Regardless of how you take notes, good practice would include:

  • Ensuring you start your notes with all the bibliographical details from the resource you're using, so that it can be referenced later
  • Ensuring you always keep track of page numbers, especially of quotations you intend to use
  • Ensuring you have an effective way of distinguishing between your ideas and those of the author(s).

One of the principal reasons why this is important is that good note-taking can help you to avoid plagiarism by making referencing easier and more accurate, and by making sure you distinguish your own original ideas from others'. Plagiarism is a serious academic offence and a breach of academic integrity, and must be taken seriously. More information is available on the University of Cambridge's plagiarism website, and on this LibGuide.

When you're revising, it's much nicer to come back to properly typed notes!

- MPhil Economics and Finance student, 2017-18 (2018)

Methods of note-taking

These are just a few examples but there are plenty of alternatives available.

  • Linear notes: this is the way that most people think about taking notes - it helps you to maintain a sense of organisation in the way that your notes are structured, and can be especially useful if you're making notes about complex ideas or arguments which have a linear structure too. More information about producing excellent linear notes is available here.
  • Cornell note-taking is a form of linear note-taking which integrates more structure into the notes themselves. It's a specific method for (mostly) handwritten notes which allows you to add cues and subtitles to your notes, and is especially good if your intention is to use your notes for revision later on. A useful video here explains more.
  • Illustrated notes: if you're the kind of person who thinks visually then illustrated notes might help you to make connections between the things that you're learning and reading about. You don't have to be good at drawing to try this.
  • Diagrammatic notes, such as mind maps, spider diagrams: starting in the middle with a main concept and working outwards, this can be helpful after reading or a lecture when you're trying to make sense of a whole topic.

If you haven't developed your own style yet, just try different things and see what works for you. There can't just be one way of doing it.

- MPhil Japanese Studies student, 2017-18 (2018)


With thanks to:

#1 Alexandre Weil (MPhil Economics and Finance)

#2 Mansi Gupta (LLM Law)

#3 Laura Erel (MPhil Music)

#4 Anya Melkina (MPhil Japanese Studies)

Image credits

CC0 by Green Chameleon via Unsplash