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The Writing Guide

Planning, researching, writing, referencing and drafting your assignments

Step 1.2 - Finding resources

Between Step One and Step Two of the writing process is the need to go out and find some resources.

You will cover the research skills needed to find material for your essay in the Finding Resources section, after the Writing Process.

For now, remember that the information you should be using for your assignments should be the best information you can find - current, relevant, scholarly and written by a reputable author.

Part of your job as a critical thinker and note-taker is to work out whether the material you are using matches that description.

Being "critical" in an academic context

When you are asked to be "critical" in university, they don't want you to be negative, they want you to be thoughtful.

You need to pull things apart to see what's going on beneath the surface, rather than take things at face value - ask a lot of question, particularly along the lines of:

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of this argument?
  • How does it relate to the other information I've read?
  • Is any information missing or unclear?
  • What issues need to be addressed, but haven't been?
  • Is there any evidence of bias or prejudice?
  • What more do I need to know to get a good understanding of this topic?

And, remember, you're looking for everything - good, bad or neutral - not just what's "bad".

Note taking methods

There are many ways to take notes, and you need to find the one that works best for you. You need a note-taking method that helps you:

  • Outline the main points and ideas
  • See the connections between the ideas in the paper/lecture
  • See the connections between what you are reading now and what you have read before
  • Find questions that need to be answered.

Two popular (and very different) forms of note taking are mind mapping/concept mapping and the Cornell method.

Mind maps

Mind maps allow you to free-associate ideas and visual depict concepts and connections.

Mind mapping video

This video by a student shows you how to use mind maps to outline concepts for an exam topic. It can also be used to outline the themes and concepts of an article - or to show how several articles fit together to tackle the topic of your assignment. If you were going to use this to prepare for an assignment, you should consider adding quick in-text references next to notes. Something as simple as the first author and the year of publication (Smith, 2018) will help you find that article again later, when you need to reference it properly for your assignment.

The Cornell Method of critical note-taking

The Cornell Method of note-taking encourages you to take critical notes when reading journal articles, course readings and text book chapters. This note-taking template can also be used to make notes in lectures, tutorials, practicals and workshops.  Instead of making pages and pages of notes, this framework encourages you to indentify main themes and concepts, key notes, quotes, examples and evidence while drawing conclusions and examining implications of what you are reading.

Cornell video

This is a simple version of the Cornell method, suitable for high school students. You may want something more detailed than this, or this method may be exactly what you need. If you are using this method to take notes about a source for your assignment, remember to always note the details needed for referencing on the first page of your notes.

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