#phdchat 06/06/12: note taking methods


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This past Wednesday I crashed took part in my first live (Australian) #phdchat (first Wednesday of each month, 7-8pm EST). Hosted by Dr Inger Mewburn (@thesiswhisperer), a lively debate regarding note taking methods, tools, and strategies took place (with no one noticing my ‘lowly’ MA status, fools!):

This week on the monthly live #phdchat on Twitter we talked about taking notes – a topic suggested by @riotk. It’s an area researchers don’t talk about much; we tend to make up our own idiosyncratic systems. I wondered: what can we learn from the note taking systems of other people? (source)

But what did I actually take from the experience? Well, lots! I certainly got lots of ideas for note taking, but most importantly (at least for me, as a stay-at-home researcher/housewife) I got to socialise with people who ‘get’ me: other nerdy (notebook obsessed) postgrads and academics. And I haven’t exactly had a whole lot of that recently!

Whilst chatting, a few people mentioned they were taking notes about note taking. Personally, I had a bunch of new tabs open in my browser to peruse post-chat. Points I wanted to follow up included:

  • The Curious Researcher, Bruce Ballenger (NB: can’t access from any of ‘my’ libraries, have to source from elsewhere or purchase)
  • Skitch (NB: iOS/Android app that seems like an academic version of Evernote – aka not my cup of tea!)
  • Livescribe (NB: not my cup of tea > handwritten notes uploaded, which means my horrid handwriting would have to be deciphered in the future!)
  • Double-entry note taking method (NB: found some simple overviews of this method via quick Google search > it seems a really handy way of note taking, but not sure how I would integrate it into my personal note taking method)
  • Using symbols within your notes to define ideas vs. content, etc. (NB: interesting ideas and possible to incorporate into my current note taking methods > currently use different colour fonts in Word, but symbols would by helpful in Mendeley)
  • Helping Doctoral Students Write, Pat Thomson (NB: available via ANU and CSU)
  • Waterproof crayons and ‘Aqua Notes’ (NB: for taking notes in the shower; Aqua Notes are USD$7 for 40 sheets + pencil + suction caps)
  • Cornell note taking method ( (NB: found some simple overviews of this method via quick Google search > would have been handy in lectures that had exams but not useful to me now)
  • Using verbs in note taking (NB: still following up on this point)
  • @deborahbrian: “…I take notes first, then review and a short overview at the top – like an annotated bilbio” (NB: this seems like such an obvious idea, why haven’t I encountered it before?!

Needless to say, conversation quickly turned to where we all take notes: handwritten vs. digital. I have developed a primarily digital note taking system (adding notes in Mendeley as I read a PDF, then transferring notes, etc. to Word as I start typing up thoughts towards my thesis) but I do take some in my thesis journal – and I am yet to take notes from a physical source, such as a book or gallery, etc. – and haven’t worked out a way to transfer these to my digital method. BUT! The point I wanted to make here was: academics seem to be a bunch of closet notebook lovers! (just like me, haha)

“…a new notebook is a big commitment (as well as a great joy)” @deborahbrian

“…The smell of new stationary gives me a bit of a rush :-)” @thesiswhisperer

“notebooks are one of the small pleasures of academic life. Full of hope & potential” @AnimiaSophia

What note taking methods/strategies do other people use? Any other closet stationary lovers out there?

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