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Reading and note taking

  1. Reading
  2. Note taking

Note taking

Making notes is an important part of reading. It can help you understand and analyse what you read, provide a good starting point for assignments and help you avoid plagiarism.

Note-taking strategies

There are a few different note-taking methods that you may find useful:

  • highlighting a copy of the text. This is a quick way to make notes while you read, and may help you find the important points later on. When it comes to writing an assignment, it’s a good idea to restructure these notes in a document to suit your purpose.
  • making notes in a separate document
  • concept maps or visual notes. These can be helpful for thinking about the relationships between ideas or capturing the ‘big picture’.

Over time you’ll develop a system for writing or typing notes. To get started think about using:

  • headings and subheadings
  • bullet points and numbering systems
  • visual cues, such as indenting, underlining and highlighting
  • diagrams and tables
  • symbols and abbreviations to take notes more quickly. This is particularly important for keeping up in lectures.

Making notes for an assignment

It’s important to have some key questions or topics in mind to guide your reading. Use the strategies of skimming, scanning and detailed reading to find the most relevant sections to take notes from.

After you take notes consider the following techniques.

  • Make an essay plan and identify the main points using a system such as numbering. Use the same numbering system to then identify the notes relevant for each of your main points.
  • Analyse or synthesise your readings, rather than just summarising them. This means making comparisons or contrasts, or identifying trends or patterns. One technique is to draw a synthesis grid. This is simply a table where you give each source a row, and then put the important issues or questions in each column. This allows you to group information and arguments into themes or categories, which will help you plan the structure of your writing.
  • Use the readings as evidence to develop your view and support your argument.

Avoiding plagiarism

Try to take notes in your own words – this is called paraphrasing and summarising. This forces you to process the information you’re reading and ensures you have a good understanding of it. It also helps you avoid unintended plagiarism when you come to write your assignment.

When using a resource, put all the bibliographic information at the top of your page. As you take notes, record the page number next to your notes so you can reference it later on.

If you write down a direct quote, make sure you identify it using quotation marks and note the page number it appeared on.

Find out more about plagiarism.


This material was developed by the Learning Hub (Academic Language and Learning), which offers workshops, face-to-face consultations and resources to support your learning. Find out more about how they can help you develop your communication, research and study skills.

Last updated: 14 August 2023

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