Student Writes

One of the most valuable things I’ve learned so far at AU, is the “double-entry notebook” method of taking notes. If you can get a stenographer’s notebook, great, if not, do the following: 1) get some lined binder/note paper and draw a line down the middle of the page; 2) at the top of the left column put the word “content”, and at the top of the right-hand column put “reactions” or “notes”. The process is very simple and works particularly well for novels, magazine and newspaper articles, etc..

As you’re reading, in the left-hand column, you take notes, including content facts, interesting or important lines, unfamiliar words or terms, connections to other works, etc. Essentially, you make a note of anything that strikes you as important or interesting about the piece. You can ask yourself questions like: What does the title tell you about the content of the piece you’re reading, and what do you already know about the content? When was the piece written, and how might the period in which it was written affect the content? Who wrote the piece, and do you know anything about the author? How might the author’s background affect the content? Has the author done any other writing, and do you know anything about it? What is the subject matter of the piece, and what are the main ideas and theses? How does the author support their claims? Do you understand all the terminology and words? (If not, mark it down and define it.) Does the author mention other sources?

Once you’re done reading, consider things like the following: What have you learned, and how does it relate to what you already know? Did you find the author’s arguments convincing, and do you think the author covered all possible points? Do you think the information might be useful/correct, even if the arguments weren’t convincing, and are you aware of information that might counter the author’s theses and arguments? Also, when you’ve finished reading the piece, go back over the notes you’ve made and read through them carefully. In the right column opposite items in the left, comment on the notes, define the words you found unfamiliar or difficult, etc. You can note things like how the noted information relates to the read piece, why you think that particular section caught your attention, how the information could be used in your own writing and discussions, or write down whatever comes into your mind. I once wrote an essay based on a joke I wrote in my right column notes on a magazine article.

It’s important to keep track of things like page numbers, line numbers, key headings, etc., as you take left-column notations; and, although it’s suggested you wait until after you’re done your reading to start making right-column notes, I’ve found it useful to keep track of any reactions you have while reading. You might think of something significant that may be forgotten by the time you’re through reading. AU students should consider taking Philosophy 152, as it teaches you to utilise the double-entry notebook method, and others, to critically evaluate your reading. It’s an invaluable course for anyone, particularly humanities students.

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