The Philosophical Apprentice

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” Albert Einstein

Notes on Taking Notes

I picked up a couple of interesting books at the thrift store on Saturday. One of the books was called The Curious Researcher by Bruce Ballenger. I have a million books on how to write research papers and most of them cover the same territory and techniques. This one was interesting however since it not only covered the classic notecard method of taking notes, which has never worked for me,  but also outlined a new system –The Double –Entry Journal  Method.   The reason for the alternative notetaking method is as Ballenger puts it

I must confess to an irrational dislike of notecards – too many bad memories of running around my public library at home, clutching a stack of 3×5” index cards bound by a fat rubber band, each containing some fragment of knowledge  I had to figure out what to do with. Those notecards are the most tangible relics of my research failures.pg94(text cited comes from 1st edition)

Ballenger is fair to point out that both systems have good points. The notecard system makes it is easy to arrange your notes into your outline – you just arrange the cards into the order that you want. The problem with the notecard system is that you have a million cards to keep track of and haul around when you are conducting your research. The double-entry journal on the other hand is more efficient since you have all your notes in one location.  The method is simple you take a journal page and divide it into two columns. You use the left hand column for quoting and the right hand column for summaries, paraphrases and analyses. The only drawback is that the double-entry journal method does not organize your information as well.  The advantage however is as Ballenger writes

What I like about the double-entry journal system is that it turns me into a really active reader as I’m taking notes for my essay. That blank column on the right, like the whirring of my word processor right now, impatiently urges me to figure out what I think through writing. All along, I’ve now said the key to writing a strong research paper is making the information your own. Developing your own thinking about the information you collect, as long you go along, is one way to do that. Thoughtful notes are so easy to neglect in your mad rush to simply take down a lot of information. The double-entry journal won’t let you neglect your own thinking, or at least, it will remind you when you 99 (text cited comes from 1st edition)

With all the advantages I can see in the double-entry journal method I think must be a way to combine the best of both notetaking systems. Turning the matter over, I think the best way would be to take all my notes into the computer with the double-entry journal method. Later I could cut and paste my entries into separate word documents then print them out and sort them and put them into any order I want just like I would do with the notecard system. The advantages of putting everything in the computer are obvious since it saves a lot of time down the road when it comes to producing the first draft.  In addition, the double-entry is more efficient since everything is one place and also more secure since I could place copies of my notes on my zoho site. The only drawback I could see is taking the extra step of cutting the journal up into discrete little sections to make what would in effect be rather large note cards for the purpose of producing the first draft.

As I was writing the previous section it occurred to me I could overcome the drawback by using Microsoft OneNote when I am doing my research. I could take my notes into my daily journal (the double-entry journal would be effective in my journal and a good place to store everything in one place) and transfer them into a notebook I created for a research project. From there it would seem fairly simple to arrange the notes into whatever order I like.

I think I am going to try out some of these ideas in the paper on Plato’s Republic I am writing.


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