Tag Archives: note taking methods

My Thesis Journal & Notebook

When I completed my Honours thesis in 2009, my ‘sister-in-law’ advised me to keep a journal as a way of tracking my progress, taking random notes, brainstorming ideas, and so on. I tried this time around (with my Masters thesis) to keep an online journal, but it soon floundered. I found myself constrained by the virtual environment – plus, it was clearly failing at indulging my love of stationery!

My Thesis Journal

Cover (with the starting date for this particular notebook)

After forking out $2 for a composition board notebook* at my local Officeworks (and beginning to feel a little lot like Harriet the Spy) I pre-numbered every page in the book. I also created a grid-style table of contents (which needs updating and rejigging, now I’m a little further on in the process) to keep track of what was where in my journal. I find pre-numbering all of the pages keeps me from tearing out pages that aren’t so ‘perfect,’ thus allowing me to keep a consistent record of my progress, ideas, and notes.

Inside front cover (‘reward’ notice & thesis overview) | Table of Contents

The first pages I have glued in a print-out of my original, online journal

Consistency is also maintained by (trying) not to use white-out in the journal – crossing things out means I can still re-read what was written underneath.

Some things are glued into my journal, including some readings, emails from my supervisor, all of my mind maps, notes from web browsing, etc.:

Some daily notes and print outs from an NGV annual report

Daily notes and supervisor emails

Mindmapping my thesis topic/statement
I find it easier doing this by hand on blank A4 paper

Notes from web browsing (to do with note taking haha)

I keep blank scrap paper at the back of the notebook to scribble quick ideas on (like ‘capture’ pages). I also have an A5 sleeve (page protector) in which I stash random print outs, notes, etc:

Using a notebook/journal as part of the process of creating my Masters thesis allows me a lot of flexibility as to where and when I can fit in some nerd time. When I purchased this notebook, I made sure it would fit in the majority of bags I use which allows me to take it everywhere (including places I can’t easily use my laptop or access the internet).

Writing in my journal at Muffin Break while waiting for Dan to finish work



* I have never seen composition board books in Australia and have always wanted one. Unfortunately, it looks like Officeworks have sold out in store and you don’t get to choose the design/style on the website.


#phdchat 06/06/12: note taking methods


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?