How should I use my notes when writing my assignment?

When you take notes you should always try to put them in your own words. In doing this you have to interpret the information – this means you will understand it better. Also, when you come to write your essay, you’ll be less likely to accidentally plagiarise the original since you’ll be working from your own words.

It’s quite likely that your evidence for a particular point will come from several sources. You need to have a system which allows you to find the appropriate notes from those sources when you come to writing about that point. If you’ve made an essay plan in which the main points are identified in some way (e.g. through numbering) then you can use the same numbering system to identify the relevant notes for each main point.

As you read, you will use evidence to develop your own view of an issue; as you write, you will use the same evidence to support your view. However, it’s important to realise that your argument should shape your writing - the evidence is there to support it, not ‘drive’ it. Some students simply collect all the evidence together, summarise it and put it in their essay.

Once you’ve made notes from the sources you’ve read, you’ll have to analyse or synthesise them. These means that you'll need to make comparisons or contrasts, or identify trends or patterns. One technique for this is to draw a synthesis grid, which is simply a table in which you give each source a row, and then put the important issues or questions in each column. For example, what was the sample size used in each study? Does the author agree or disagree with the point of view you are considering? Which theoretical approach does each paper take? etc. A table, or synthesis grid, like this can help you to get an overview of the topic, as well as seeing ways of analysing the information: i.e. grouping information into themes or categories, which will help you plan the structure of your writing.

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