Note Taking During a PhD
By Tara Brabazon 塔拉·布拉巴赞著
Office of Graduate Research 研究生院
Flinders University 弗林德斯大学
Adelaide, South Australia 南澳大利亚阿德莱德
Tara talks about one of the most basic – yet one of the most powerful – academic skills: note taking. How can PhD students future proof their notes to build a research career?
Hello. I’m Tara Brabazon. I’m the Dean of Graduate Research at Flinders University, and welcome to Vlog 18, “Note taking during a PhD”.
A Phd is extraordinary for one reason: it is an original contribution to knowledge. Yet this achievement is often based on a series of rudimentary tasks and skills. The challenge for PhD students is, although many of these skills seem quite straight-forward, it can be stressful if you feel you are lacking them. And so this week I would like to talk about how to write high quality notes during a doctoral program.
Great research, and indeed great researchers, are based on outstanding note taking. For example, I have hundreds of files of notes on my laptop that I have migrated from computer, to computer, to computer. I have every single note from every single article and book I have read since 1991. I have tens of thousands of thousands of pages of notes. And this is a great advantage, because this means that every paper, every book, every speech, every talk that I write, I already have a file with hundreds and often thousands of pages of notes. So it provides for me an outstanding framework and platform on which to write new and innovative ideas.
So, for example, right now I am writing a talk and article on zombie leadership. I have hundreds of pages of notes on zombies, I have thousands of pages of notes on leadership, and tens of thousands of pages of notes on higher education and higher education studies. So when I write this new talk I already have this outstanding series of ideas to help me get started.
I understand there is a lot of worrying at the moment in doctoral education about note taking. And I do know where that comes from, as I have seen what’s been happening to undergraduate education in the last decade or so. There is a large minority of students who are moving through their studies without taking any notes of any kind. They are replacing the independent reading of articles and monographs with the reading of a teacher-prepared PowerPoint presentations.
Nowadays when I’m delivering an undergraduate lecture and often I see something odd happening among the students. Like a periscope, a mobile phone starts to rise up, a photograph is taken, and it comes down once more. That, supposedly, is the new way of taking notes!
What are the students doing? You could say they are too lazy to take notes. But I don’t believe that – I think that’s a bit of a cop out. But is worrying me more is students are so under-confident that they’re frightened that they are going to miss out on something, and tragically that something seems to be teacher-prepared slides, not their own independent reading.
So the question is: what happens when these undergraduate students enter a doctoral program? We don’t have much research on this at the moment, but it is very important that we talk about this issue.
Here’s ten tips I can share with you on how to take good-quality notes.
1) Don’t confuse taking notes with highlighting photocopies 不要将笔记和已标注的复印件混淆
In 2009, I asked my then Masters students to come in and see me and show me how they were doing their reading and research. There was a common problem in their assignments. Some paragraphs were fine, but others did not seem to relate to what came before them.
So I brought the students in and I asked them to show me the notes they prepared for their assignments so I could diagnose the problem. Only most students had no notes to show me. They simply pulled out of their bag a series of photocopied articles and book chapters with some highlighting on them, and a few notes scrawled on the side. This is a real problem, because this is not real note taking.
Without notes, you remain wedded to the wording in the original article or book. This stops you from moving beyond the original ideas and onto your own interpretation. This, in turn, causes you to create a deeply fragmented article or assignment.
2) Separate your note writing from your reading platform 将笔记与阅读平台分开
Take your notes on a platform that is separate from the article or book you are reading. This will force you to make a decision about what is important in the text. It will also separate your intention for the material from the intention of the researcher. For example, if your sources are electronic, put them on your tablet, and then take notes on your computer.
3) Ensure that every topic that interests you has a separate file on your computer 确保你感兴趣的每个主题在电脑上都有一个单独的文件
Organise your notes by subject, not by author or date. This means that, over time, you are going to have an incredible database of hundreds, or even thousands, of pages of notes on different topics. The value of these notes is incalculable in the long term sense of your career.
4) Ensure that your references are accurately logged 精准地记录你的参考文献
This is will save you a lot of time later. I know this one seems like an incredibly self-evident truth. But, trust me, I see so many students that lose the will to live at the end of their candidature because they have to spend two months checking and filling in the gaps in their reference list. So record them once, record them properly, and save months at the end of your PhD.
5) Ensure that you type your notes accurately 确保你正确地做笔记
Legibility matters because legibility gives you longevity. Take time to make sure your notes are in good condition, because the point of note taking is you are presenting research to your future self. Yes, they are important to you now, and what you’re doing in your PhD, but if you can really make notes excellent and interesting, you are also future-proof your career.
6) Write down the argument that is being presented in the article/book in one sentence 用一句话写下文章或书中提出的论点，浓缩才是精华
The key challenge in note taking, and indeed the point of note taking, is to reduce the length of the original research, and present it in a way that you can use in your scholarship. Remember, your notes are meant to be short. To learn paraphrasing, read the introduction, conclusion and abstract, take a breath, don’t look at them, and write one sentence about why this research matters. Then, write another one about how that research will be useful to you. Those two sentences are the foundation of outstanding note taking.
7) When reading articles/books, look at the reference list first 阅读文章或书籍时，请先查看参考书目
A crucial technique of information literary that is rarely taught these days is asking students to assess the reference list of a given article or book. The first thing examiners when they assess your PhD is turn to your reference list. You should do the same thing.
Turn first to the reference list of the article you are reading and assess it. Assess if the scholar is a high-quality one, and whether they are using high-quality scholarship. What sort of journals or books have they deployed? Are they refereed? Second, is this person obsessed by self-citation? Articles written by people like that are not going to be terribly useful to you. Third, are they making use of both analogue and digital sources? Don’t believe the author if you don’t believe their sources. Check and verify the calibre of their sources, and your own research will improve as a result.
8) Copy down your quotations accurately 准确抄下你的引文
Carefully differentiate between your interpretation, paraphrasing and quotations. So many students get into real problems here. Once you have determined the quality of the article you are reading, and the references, think about the quotations. Basically, you should be paraphrasing as a default, unless the form as much as the content of the quotation matters.
And please make sure your quotations are written down accurately with inverted commas. Things get very dangerous for the PhD student if the examiner becomes confused about whether you are quoting a source directly or paraphrasing it.
9) Ensure your notes are sufficiently detailed so you do not have to return to the original article/book 确保笔记足够详细，这样你不必返回原始文章或书
The whole point of note taking is brevity. But you do need to learn the delicate art of note taking. You must be detailed enough that you don’t need to go back to the article or book. 做笔记的关键是做到简练精准。不过，你还是需要学会做笔记的诀窍：你做的笔记，必须足够详细，不至于经常让你回去重新寻找原始的文章或书。
10) Ensure that your notes are sufficiently brief 确保笔记足够简短
Don’t paraphrase the entire article. Always err on the side of brevity if you can, with some accurately transcribed quotations if necessary. Inexperienced or worried students tend to over-paraphrase the article – basically they rewrite the article for their notes. You do not have to do that.
For me, note-taking is the most important academic skill for undergraduates, postgraduates and experienced researchers. My entire career is based on the calibre of the note taking that I do. It would not have occurred if I did not read widely and take good notes. That is how important this is.
Unfortunately, note taking is becoming a neglected skill. A professor at Abilene Christian University Bill Rankin wrote recently: “About five years ago my students stopped taking notes. I asked, ‘Why are you not taking notes?’ And they said, ‘Why would we take notes on that? I can go to Wikipedia or go to Google, and I can get all the information I need.”
不幸的是，做笔记正成为一种被忽略的技能。 阿比林基督教大学的比尔·兰金（Bill Rankin）教授最近写道：“大约五年前，我的学生停止记笔记了。我问，“你为什么不记笔记？”他们说：“为什么我们要记笔记？我上维基百科或谷歌，就可以得到我需要的所有信息。”
Students need to understand that the point of note taking is not to gain information alone. It improves memory, it triggers recall, it also enables us to shape our interpretations and provides a guide through our disciplines and disciplinary knowledge. PhD students use a lot of different modes and methods – labs, fieldwork, practice-led or creative-led methods and unobtrusive research methods. However, all these disciplinary perspectives and protocols are based on reading, on finding a gap in knowledge which your PhD will fill.
It is your reading that leads to your thinking and interpretation. Critical thinking is based on critical reading. And passionate, powerful reading, writing and thinking creates a great PhD and a great PhD student.
Content adapted for educational purposes from an excellent vlog by Tara Brabazon, the Dean of Graduate Research and the Professor of Cultural Studies at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, posted on YouTube on 26 July, 2016. See the video here.