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Learn How to Take Notes

Many students who have never learned to summarize, paraphrase, and/or quote sources are members of the “copy and paste” gang, a group of lazy researchers who risk failing their assignments because of plagiarism.

Summarizing and paraphrasing works well for most research papers because explaining information and ideas in your own words demonstrates that you understand the material (no instructor expects you to be smarter than the author). Exceptions to this guideline include literature papers and history papers that require numerous quotations from primary texts.

Effective paraphrasing requires careful reading of the original material, looking up words you don’t understand, and writing your paraphrase while you are not looking at the original. Looking away from the original text requires you to write down your understanding. No one can paraphrase material he or she does not understand. For more detailed guidelines on to how take effective notes, read the Writing and Learning Commons' resource on Avoiding Plagiarism.  Note the examples of paraphrasing below:

Original Material

Every genuine scientific theory must make a prediction about the universe that can be observed or measured. If the results of an experiment or observation match the theoretical prediction, this is a good reason why the theory might become accepted and then incorporated into the grander scientific framework. On the other hand, if the theoretic prediction is inaccurate and conflicts with an experiment or observation, then the theory must be rejected, or at least adapted, regardless of how well the theory does in terms of beauty or simplicity. It is the supreme challenge, and a brutal one, but every scientific theory must be testable and compatible with reality (Singh 9).

Ineffective Paraphrase (Plagiarism)

Every genuine scientific theory makes a prediction that can be observed or measured. If the results match the prediction, then theory might become accepted into the grander scientific framework. On the other hand, if the theory conflicts with an experiment or observation, then the theory must be rejected. It is the supreme challenge, but every theory must be testable (Singh 9).

Note the high number of words from the original text that are repeated in the paraphrase. The writer has simply left out words.

Effective Paraphrase

For a scientific theory to persist, it must continue to be verified by scientific observations and calculations. The longer the theory persists, the more likely it is to be accepted by the scientific community. If new evidence arises that runs counter to the theory, the theory must be rejected or re-evaluated, even if it has been widely accepted and valued (Singh 9).

Note how the effective paraphrase accurately rewords the meaning of the original quote. Did the writer achieve an effective paraphrase on the first try? Probably not. Spending time at the note-taking level is worth every minute; the payoff is understanding your material, a boon for you, your brain, your paper, and your reader.

Next, categorize your research.


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