Welcome to Critical Reading for Note Taking
Welcome to Critical Reading for Note-taking.
In this video we describe how to use a table in a multi-source note-taking analysis worksheet as an approach to critical reading.
[Table appears with 10 columns and 5 rows, all rows empty except top row which has the titles of each column]
Using a table to track your academic sources is important for 3 main reasons:
The headings allow you to approach the reading critically
It keeps the information in a format that allows you to store and compare it easily, and,
It can increase your efficiency if you use it as a tool to skim for important information and avoid repeated deep reading of the material
So, what do you need to begin using this method?
You’ll need 2 documents open:
First is the table titled the Multiple Sources Note-taking Analysis Worksheet, or a table that you create for yourself. If you want to be able to sort by column heading you can create it in excel.
The second is the academic source, like a journal article or chapter in a book that you want to read.
For this video I am going to use a chapter titled Facilitating Experiential Learning Observations and Reflections by David Kolb and Linda Lewis.
Starting with the table, it is in Microsoft word with the first row being the titles of columns for information you want to track when reviewing sources. In the example I’m using, we are tracking the following information in 10 columns, moving from left to right, beginning with:
Author and Title and any relevant citation information
The purpose of the article or study
Broad topics or themes
The main argument or research questions
The methods or theoretical perspectives used
Strengths [of the article (or study)]
Limitations [of the article (or study)]
Key findings or contributions
The relevance to your own research or purpose, and lastly column
The page numbers worth noting so you can check back easily.
The most important thing to remember about using a tracking sheet, is that it’s only as good as you make it. The headings here are suggestions, but you may have a project or a class where you want to track something specific in your readings, so make sure you add a column for that. The more you work with it and make it your own, the easier it will be to analyze the information you’ve got and to start writing. You can expect to jump back and forth between the columns as you take note of relevant information from your source.
Once both your table and first source are open you are ready to begin. You can follow these steps:
Locate your source and take a minute to quickly SKIM the whole thing. No notes, no highlighting. Just get a sense of the format and observe any key points that pop out at you.
Once you’ve finished the initial SKIM, you can start reading or skimming the document with the purpose of filling out the table. Do NOT read the article start to finish. Look for the information to fill in the headings. This may mean you have to skim the article a few times, and then read more closely the sections that catch your attention. It can be helpful to highlight during this process, but don’t get caught in the trap of highlighting things just because they’re interesting.
The first column on the worksheet is the citation information. This is usually on the first page of the article, or you can copy the citation information from where you downloaded the article. Now is a good time to confirm which citation method you’re using. If you use that method now, you won’t have to check it later. Also, remember that this is a working document, you can put some examples of references right on this document for quick referral. In this case, I note the citation information on the source and copy it into my table in APA format as that is what I use most often.
[Kolb, D.A., & Lewis, L.H. (1986) Experiential and Simulation for Teaching Adults. in L.H. Lewis (editor) New Directions for Continuing Education no 30 (99-107). Jossey-Bass, June]
Once that is done, skim for the purpose, it’s usually very early on in the paper. The second column the tracking sheet is for recording the purpose of the study. When I locate the purpose, I highlight it on the source and make a note in the second column of the tracking sheet. If I want to quote the author, I ensure I’ve used quotation marks in my notes to ensure I won’t think those are my own words when I write my paper.
[Purpose of chapter: to demonstrate that experiential learning techniques serve two main functions: 1) “by encouraging reflection on the meaning of abstract concepts” and 2) “by encouraging personal action on concepts” (pg 100)]
You can decide if you’d like to follow the tracking sheet in order, but it may be easier to skip to the end and go right to the conclusion or findings, identify them in the source, and then enter that information in the key findings and/or contributions column, which is the eighth column on this tracking sheet. This may be easier because then you will be reviewing the article with clarity around the purpose and the findings.
[Author concludes that using experiential learning techniques is exciting for adult students and provides a boost in motivation (105)]
Take some time look at the headings again and ask yourself if there’s anything obvious you can fill in on the table.
[Publication date (1986) highlighted in citation information in first column, second row]
You may have noticed that the citation in formation included a publication date. In the example I’m using the source isn’t current. In this case I’m going to note it in the limitations column, the seventh column in the tracking sheet.
[Published in 1986, is there more recent data?]
I also note a strength in the sixth column, in this case it’s not a particularly important note about the material but it will remind me to go back to that item later.
[Use of Kolb’s model helps focus the attention on the cycle of experiential learning]
Now skim the article once or twice for broad topics and themes and add them to the third column of the tracking sheet. You might come back to this column a few times and add things as you notice them.
[Four points added: Experiential learning; Interaction Between Learner and Environment; Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model; and Efficacy]
Now identify the main argument. The fourth column in the worksheet. Usually, the main argument or main point is early in the paper but every once and a while you’ll find it somewhere unexpected, especially if you’re reading a chapter in a book. Journal articles tend to give you much of the information in the abstract so you can often use that to guide your worksheet completion and how you read the article.
[Adults are only interested in learning opportunities that are meaningful and that don’t waste their time. (105)]
If you’re reading about a study, you’ll often find a whole section, clearly labelled, on the methodology, and you can pull out the key features for your notes and put it in the fifth column. In some cases, like in chapters, the focus may be a theoretical framework and you can use the same methods and/or theoretical column to keep track of them.
What becomes really interesting when you’re tracking sources for a particular project is the section on the relevance to your own research. The clearer you are on your own research focus, the more relevant you can make the information you track in this section.
[Cell in second row of the ninth column is highlighted under the heading “RELEVANCE to my research project”]
This tracking sheet has a column on page numbers worth noting. While it’s fine to use this section, I would recommend that for every note or quote from your source you mark the page number with the note for ease of reference when you start writing. Don’t forget quotation marks if you are quoting! In this example I have indicated page numbers in parentheses throughout the worksheet.
This video has now taken you through the key features of a source tracking worksheet, how to fill it in, and the importance of editing your columns for your own projects or classes. I hope you’ll give it a try. If you are having any challenges with reading and completing the worksheet, I’d encourage you to meet with a learning specialist in the library. If you struggle to turn your notes into a paper, I’d encourage you to meet with a writing specialist in the library. I hope you found this video helpful.
You can reach us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, select the chat with us option located on the library website, or visit the library’s ask us desk in person!
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