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How Can I Retain Information From My Sources? - Using Double-Entry Notes

Another way to take notes actively is to use the double-entry method. As Bruce Ballenger explains in The Curious Researcher, double-entry notes encourage you to do more than just copy down information. Instead, they encourage you to consider the significance of the facts and ideas immediately (139).

Double-entry notes are divided into two columns either horizontally or vertically (see example below). In the left or top area, you record the useful information, and remember to label quotations clearly as well as note the source and page number for all ideas. If it's an electronic source, use paragraph numbers. The key to double-entry notes is the blank space on the right (or below) that waits for you to react to the information. Your reaction can be written roughly, but it should answer some of the following questions:

  • How does this info help you understand your topic better?
  • How does this particular idea relate to the author's main point?
  • Why do you agree or disagree with the author's perspective?
  • How does this information complicate your viewpoint?
  • What connections can you make to previous research?
  • What directions for further research does this information suggest?

Here's an example of double-entry notes in response to a quotation by Ted Sizer, who is a leading advocate of educational reform:
 
Sizer p. 276 - he compares a modern high school to "an academic supermarket. The purpose of going to school is to pick things up, in an organized and predictable way, the faster the better." This comparison is really good because students often go from class to class, picking up subjects like they are loaves of bread and cans of beans. As subjects get covered, students don't have enough chances to choose, combine, and cook info together.

Note that the response is not just a summary, and it should be longer than the information from the source. Remember to record the page number for the correct citation of sources later.