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Reading at university: Stage 4 - Summarising & notes

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Just like any good piece of writing, your notes should also contain a summary or conclusion.

Summarising your notes

bullet pointsWriting a summary or conclusion is is a good way for you to draw your notes to a close, and to identify the salient points. A series of bullet points, a single paragraph, an index card or a concise mindmap are all possible approaches to achieving this. Your conclusion should represent all the important parts of the article you have read.

While it may seem obvious, notes are always made with a purpose. To stop notetaking being a waste of time, you must ensure you actually use your notes as part of your studies. As we forget much of what we read, you should try to actively consult your notes. This means doing something more than just reading them. You need to create something new, find connections, ask questions or write something. Whatever you do, it needs to go beyond just reading as this is not an effective way to learn from your notes. When working on an essay for example, you can bring together the summaries from all of your reading and work on creating a larger document that links all of the points together. This process would also work well for revision for you are actively doing something with your notes rather than just passively reading.

Add navigation markers

Your notes should also help you navigate the original article. Comprehensive notes may well mean you do not need to consult the article again, this is useful as your notes will take much less time to revisit. If you are likely to need to use the original article, either for writing or for seminar discussion, then you need to ensure you integrate page numbers or other identifiers into your notes.

Your notes will be a waste of time if you only have to re-read the whole article again to find something that you need.

Organising your notes

organised files and foldersAnother important consideration is thinking about how you will organise your notes. Whether this is a digital or paper-based process for you, you need to ensure they are stored in a logical way that you can navigate.

This does not need to be complicated, and can be as simple as using a single notebook or ring binder per module. Giving a title and date to each set of notes will help with this process. The most important thing is to stick to the scheme you choose. It is far too easy to let things slip and this can quickly turn your notes into an incomprehensible pile.

OneNote logoIf you want a digital solution, consider using Microsoft OneNote. This program and app is available for all major computer operating systems and phones, meaning you can access your notes wherever you are. The accompanying phone app, Office Lens will also let you take photos of handwritten notes so you can also store them in your OneNote and even search them.

Check out our Notetaking Software SkillsGuide for more information and some other options.