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System for taking and organising reading notes

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Posted by Daly de Gagne
Dec 5, 2011 at 04:22 PM

 

A couple of points:

First of all, I would never use notebooks for note-taking related to future writing projects. That’s asking for problems, most of which can be overcome by use of index cards. I prefer 5 x 6 inch size. Cards can be manipulated easily, arranged and rearranged, Xeroxed if need be, as well as being scanned. Notebooks are much harder to manipulate, and most often are counter-indicated for academic note-taking purposes. Index cards can also be easily coded to reflect whether they are a direct quote, a paraphrase, original writing arising from the note-taking process, questions for future consideration, etc.

The second point is that some studies suggest a greater degree of learning goes on when note taking is by longhand as opposed to keying in material. Scanning probably would lead to least learning at the time because of the nature of the process.

So a question which arises is what is the value, if any, of the learning which occurs during the note-taking process? Is there a loss of value in deferring that learning to a subsequent point in time, as may occur, if material is simply found and scanned?

Is note-taking merely a function get one from point A to point B, ie a finished paper, in the quickest time with the least difficulty? To what extent is note-taking a process of inter-acting with material so as to facilitate not only the learning of that material but, also, to at some future date be able to utilize that material/learning in a reflective process which leads to new learning, questions, insights, etc?

Daly

Dr Andus wrote:
>I’m sorry guys but I disagree about the handwriting thing. As I said, having 5 years
>worth of notes in 9 notebooks with 200 pages each makes it a very ineffective medium
>once it comes to having to pull out notes based on particular themes. There is a limit to
>the effectiveness of post-it notes sticking out… Also, I need access to the notes
>quickly. A digital search is instant, while doing the same with the hard copy
>notebooks could take weeks.
> >In fact I have given up taking handwritten notes
>completely for the above reason. I use Notebooks for iPad now. But I still wish I didn’t
>have to re-type quotes (book passages), hence my interest in alternative methods for
>capture (snapshots that can be OCR-ed or Dragon dictation).
> >The main attraction of
>digital storage is the ability to organise and analyse the data according to themes
>(what they call “coding” in qualitative academic research).
> >But I would be still
>interested in solutions for the second phase of the process. Once the data is
>captured, what would be the best software for acting as a central database for reading
>notes (quotes and notes associated with specific books and articles)? Evernote is
>one possibility but the analytical abilities seem somewhat limited. I’m just
>wondering what people use for this sort of thing. As I said, I’d used Whizfolders for it
>but it also turned out a bit limited, once there is a lot of data. 

 


Posted by Dr Andus
Dec 5, 2011 at 05:04 PM

 

Daly de Gagne wrote:
>The second point
>is that some studies suggest a greater degree of learning goes on when note taking is by
>longhand as opposed to keying in material. Scanning probably would lead to least
>learning at the time because of the nature of the process.

I used to believe in this theory (that you need to use your handwriting to learn well) until for the simple reasons of survival in a digital world I had to start using computers to stay competitive and later, when my lack of touch-typing skills got in the way, I had to switch to dictation with Dragon. It does take an effort to untrain yourself to have to use your hands for everything, but it is certainly possible. There are plenty of disabled people who can’t use their hands but can still do research and write (Stephen Hawking being a prominent example). If the theory of evolution is to be believed, we also used to use our arms for walking at some point but then we were able to transfer that function to our legs completely. This is now the next moment in evolution where hands will no longer be necessary for writing and learning - thanks to voice recognition and OCR.

 


Posted by Daly de Gagne
Dec 5, 2011 at 06:14 PM

 

You could be right - but makes me wonder what will be the mechanism which will replace the learning benefit of using longhand - will it be in the act of using dictation hard/software or of scanning? Will it mean taking longer to read notes at a later stage? I recall hearing of studies which have suggested that even keying in - whether on an old Smith Corona portable or the latest laptop - doesn’t provide the equivalent learning/reflection which occurs during longhand note-taking. If that is true, how do we replace such learning? These questions may all be more relevant to the arts and qualitative data, rather than to the sciences, but for the subjects for which it is relevant, it’d be interesting to ponder on what evolution might provide as compensation.

Daly

Dr Andus wrote:
>Daly de Gagne wrote:
>>The second point
>>is that some studies suggest a greater
>degree of learning goes on when note taking is by
>>longhand as opposed to keying in
>material. Scanning probably would lead to least
>>learning at the time because of the
>nature of the process.
> >I used to believe in this theory (that you need to use your
>handwriting to learn well) until for the simple reasons of survival in a digital world
>I had to start using computers to stay competitive and later, when my lack of
>touch-typing skills got in the way, I had to switch to dictation with Dragon. It does
>take an effort to untrain yourself to have to use your hands for everything, but it is
>certainly possible. There are plenty of disabled people who can’t use their hands but
>can still do research and write (Stephen Hawking being a prominent example). If the
>theory of evolution is to be believed, we also used to use our arms for walking at some
>point but then we were able to transfer that function to our legs completely. This is
>now the next moment in evolution where hands will no longer be necessary for writing
>and learning - thanks to voice recognition and OCR. 

 


Posted by MontrealFan
Dec 5, 2011 at 08:25 PM

 

Dr, Andrus ?
Thank you for posting this question, as it is one that I have been wrestling with and can?t seem to find a great solution for.  Right now Zotero seems to be the best option for me for collecting references, and I am trying out a new system of taking notes based on this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education (which I think I found because of this forum, so thanks to the original poster!): http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/taking-better-notes-in-zotero/36561

For collecting, I have uploaded my pdfs into Zotero and imported their citation information.  If I run across a new pdf as I am browsing, I save it and its citation information.  If it is a web page, I capture the web page.  For hard copy references, I look up the citation and collect the citation entry, maybe with a note about where the hard copy is located.  Zotero might let you attach other kinds of files to the entry, just like it attaches PDFs.  It would be interesting to know if you could attach an iphone camera shot or output from a pen scanner, and open them with the Firefox browser window.

I have not been very systematic about adding tags or filing references as I collect them, although that would be a great habit.  I at least try to keep the project folder active in Zotero when I am researching a particular project, which automatically files the new entry in that folder.

For note taking, based on the above article, I have begun to take notes as stand-alone Zotero notes.  Each note begins with a keyword indicating the project that I am taking notes for, as well as a short summary of the main idea.  This first line is visible in Zotero as the title for the note. I give the title a distinctive format, to identify it as a header if I later export it into Word 2010 (more later).

After the title and the text of the note, I include basic citation info (first author & year), with a code to indicate whether the note content is a paraphrase or direct quote of the source, or my own idea in reaction to the text. If it is a direct quote, I use cut and paste from the browser window, I put quotation marks around the quote, and I include the page number. I then link the article to the original source (as described in the article above). 

I also tag the note with any relevant project names, and I file it in my folder structure.  Zotero?s folders allow you to file items into multiple folders, so I have some folders that represent projects and others that represent actions (e.g., References to get).  Both tags and folders allow me to link the note to more than one project (versus the note title, which I try to keep cleaner and more focused on my immediate writing project). I don?t like the redundancy that I have built in between tags and folders, but I haven?t yet figured out a good way to use them efficiently.

For organizing and writing: From what I read on the Zotero forum, you can filter and export Zotero notes to a word processor and preserve formatting.  If so, my goal is to export whatever notes are relevant to my writing project into Word 2010 for organizing and writing.  I love the navigation pane in Word 2010 for outlining: headers show up as items that can be moved around, which also moves their associated text; different header styles allow you to create a hierarchical outline. I am hoping that I can use the title of the note as a header in Word 2010, which will make the note a section that can be viewed and moved around in Word?s navigation pane.  Sort of like an index card that can be moved around in an outline structure. I am also hoping Zotero will include the citation information from the linked source, but I haven?t tried this yet. 

I haven?t gotten far enough along to test this workflow out on an actual writing project.  Already I find the note-taking a bit heavy, because there are a lot of steps I have to remember (write note, define header, include citation info, include tags, file into folder structure, link note to original source). But I have tried Citavi, Qiqqa, Scrivener, Bibloscape and Mendeley.  All of them have great features, but none of them beat Zotero for collecting sources (including a huge collection of existing pdfs) and importing the citation information easily. I am hoping that this new way of taking notes will pay off for the “second phase” that Dr. Andrus was talking about.  I would love to hear more about what workflow others are using for this second phase!
-Montreal Fan

 


Posted by Dr Andus
Dec 5, 2011 at 11:45 PM

 

>MontrealFan

Wow, that looks pretty elaborate! I’ll have to try to model it in Zotero to fully grasp it. I’m surprised though that you didn’t find Citavi helpful. I thought Citavi was among the more advanced reference managers in terms of combining referencing, annotation and analysis (at least I was hoping to switch to it from EndNote, once my current project is over)...

 


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