Note Taking


Language and Power

Guide to Note taking


How does one read a text critically?  To do so, we suggest, you will need to discover a way to interact with the text as you are reading it.  When you encounter a passage that encapsulates an author's main point, you should mark it as such for your later reference.  Take down key evidence that supports this point in the text.  If you disagree with an argument, let the author know as much, in writing.  When reading literature, note some of the major themes, characters, metaphors, and devices of the novel.  Having good notes on our program texts will be critical (and required) for our weekly seminars.  If you are only taking notes in the margins of your book pages, you will find it very difficult to locate relevant passages when the time arises in seminar for you to contribute.  You probably won't commit all of your insights and marginalia to paper, only those that are key to our understanding of the text.

Take notes using the scheme diagrammed on the next page. Use lined paper.  Divide the sheet into three columns, and use the horizontal lines to demarcate rows.  As the diagram shows, rows will vary in height according to the amount that you write for each entry.  Across the top of the sheet put the author and title of the book or article.  Number the sheets, and devise a code for keeping them together without your having to repeat the author and title for each sheet of notes on the same work.

In the skinny left-hand column goes the page number.  In the middle column put a brief summary or short paraphrase of the content on the page.  This might be just a few words so that you can later identify the passage in seminar.  Note: a direct quotation must be verbatim and enclosed in quotation marks.  Take great care with this.  A paraphrase, in contrast, captures the content of the original in your words.  This is often hard to do, and it takes practice to do right.  A paraphrase of a passage is not a direct quotation with a few words here and there changed and the quotation marks left out.  It is, rather, the result of a significant cognitive act.  A sound paraphrase, even of fairly simple material, shows mastery worth having.

The third column is for your comment on the direct quotation or paraphrase in column two.  Say anything here you wish to say.  The accumulated comments in the third column will serve as a guide to the text in seminar.  By taking good notes, and sticking close to the text, seminar can accomplish what it sets out to do: work through challenging ideas together through an informed and precise reading of an author's work.

These required notes will be collected sporadically by your seminar faculty.  Plan on a minimum of ~2-3 pages per book, ~1-2 per article.   

            AUTHOR                                 TITLE

Page #

Paraphrase or direct quotation


Punctuation indicates which is which



A brief summary

Topic of the article/book


"a direct quotation"

Main argument


Paraphrase of a paragraph

Come back to this


Challenging quote

"the structuring structures structure the field of possibility of action."

What does this mean?


Short Paraphrase

I disagree because . . .[sketch your reasons for disagreeing with the paraphrased passage]