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A proposed heuristic to choose which note-taking technique we should use: Index Cards, Cornell Notes, Everything Notebook and Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED) rows/Synthetic Notes

As most people who read my blog and have ever taken a course from me or attended one of my workshops (or even follow me on Twitter), I really love writing blog posts and Twitter threads that will help them in the future adopt my techniques. As most of the people who have read my blog or attended my workshops or taken my courses have at some point landed on my “Note-Taking Techniques” page (under the Resources tab), they always wonder when do I choose each type of medium to take notes on.

Reading highlighting scribbling annotating

As someone who is VERY analog, I usually take notes by hand on physical media (Everything Notebook, Cornell Notes, Index Cards). I do, however, understand why several people might be interested in knowing how to convert my methods to the digital realm, and/or use a hybrid mixture of digital and analog, as I do when I write Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED) rows, and/or Synthetic Notes.

Reading highlighting scribbling annotating

I wrote a Twitter thread explaining my method, and because Twitter is somewhat ephemeral, I thought it would be better if I stored it in a blog post.

Because I’ve chosen this as an article I’m going to read in much depth, I need to first decide how much time I’m going to spend on it and how I can systematize what I am going to learn from it.

First step: go through the headings and list them. This exercise provides me with the paper structure and helps me think through which order and categories these writers used. I normally do this on a separate notebook or a piece of paper, or a block of detachable pages, as I did in this case.

The choice to write a Cornell Note comes from knowing the authors AND the topic. This paper was written by early career scholars (ECRs), whom I strongly wanted to support, and it has a topic (fieldwork) and a focus (teaching guide to train graduate students) that I definitely want to engage with very deeply.

Note how I have added a quotation (with corresponding page) to my Cornell Note. Also note how the authors identify 3 areas of current disagreement about fieldwork – purpose, where it occurs and how long it should be, following them with their own definition. Irgil et al use each one of these areas of disagreement on what fieldwork entails as both signposts AND Topic Sentences. In three consecutive paragraphs, they pack A LOT of good ideas on why political scientists disagree on what field research entails.

This means that I will neex to write Index Cards: I want to make sure to be able to use those Index Cards in my teaching and in writing the pieces I am preparing on fieldwork.

So what happens to those “extra” marginalia scribbles? I could do several things:

1) Type them into Mendeley (you can highlight and add marginalia to PDFs).
2) Transcribe them into the “Notes” section of the respective CSED row.
3) Copy them on to the back of this Index Card.
4) Copy them on to my Everything Notebook (I’ll probably have an entry for this particular article, where I can add these notes to myself).
5) Copy them on to the Cornell Note I already created for this article.

So many options! Decisions, decisions!

In the end, I believe…

What about the Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED) row entry and the Synthetic Notes?

One question that I often get asked that I did not originally discuss in my Twitter thread is the combination of analog and digital in my reading, annotating, systematizing and absorbing (RASA) conceptual model of my workflow. As my blog post linked before indicates, from an AIC Content Extraction, I drop the contents of my notes on to a Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED) row. If I feel like I may use these notes relatively soon into the future, I’ll write a Synthetic Note, which then can be converted into a Memorandum.

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Posted in academia, research, writing.

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3 Responses

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  1. Marija Sajekaite says

    Dr. Pacheco-Vega, I’m a big fan of your blog! I was wondering, is there any way to subscribe for email announcements once the new post is out? The “Site RSS Feed” button on the top right doesn’t seem to be functional (tried it with a couple of different web browsers). Thanks!

  2. David says

    Hi, amazing content. thanks for sharing all you expertise.
    I have a question regarding the use of the CSED. In the CSED, you only have three “notes” columns. How do you select the notes that are going to end up in those only three columns? do you condense them or you only include the most relevant?

  3. Raul Pacheco-Vega says

    I try to select the ones that are most relevant!

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