Note-making NOT note-taking


How do supervisors encourage students to undertake reading as a productive activity? If a key problem in literature reviews is simply restating or describing the research findings of others, what specific strategies help students move beyond this? And as always, how often do you show doctoral students your own notes, and share your strategies?

Here is a brief guide to making notes that assists students in moving beyond the basic.

  1. WHY?

Why this text? Why have I chosen to read this? (ensures recording of the source’s provenance and highlights the selective, creative and personal nature of literature reviews).

  1. WHAT?

Type of literature (theory, empirical research, practice, policy- this hones conceptualisation of student’s  own project).

  1. HOW?

Nature of contribution to field (ie. methodology, findings, proposed impact, recommendations).

  1. WHY NOT?

Limitations or shortcomings (attunes students to the need to find gaps in knowledge and engage critically).


Relevance to research questions and strategic positioning in relation to student’s ideas.


Points of departure from planned study (encourages students to already be positioning their work for publication).

These headings form a neat template that can assist students in developing thorough and generative reading habits. Pat Thomson’s latest post also gives some very useful advice about academic reading.


Author: Lucinda McKnight

Dr Lucinda McKnight is a lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy at Deakin University. She has a BA in Fine Arts, Women's Studies and English from the University of Melbourne, an MA (Distinction) in Media, Culture and Communication, from the Institute of Education now at UCL, and a PhD in Education from Deakin University. Her cartoons have appeared in a number of publications, including Farrago and Health Voice. She has exhibited her artwork at Museum Victoria and the Victorian College of the Arts.

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