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Academic Integrity Toolkit

The tools you need to help you succeed in university study

Making notes and keeping good records

Note-making is part of the research process, helping you to understand, consider and structure information.

Good note-making helps you to avoid unintentional plagiarism by carefully and appropriately recording the details you need to use references correctly. It also enables you to focus on the important and relevant information, and to understand and make connections with other materials. Note that copying and pasting onto your computer is NOT note-making: you need to process what you read, think about the purpose for reading it, and write down only what is important.

Seven tips for taking good notes

  1. Think about what you want to find out before you start reading; make a list of questions and look out for ideas that answer them.
     
  2. Put your pen down or turn away from your computer, and try to read at least a paragraph before deciding if you need to make a note of anything.
     
  3. Include your own thoughts, ideas and evaluations as you read; mark up anything especially important.
     
  4. Consider and note how you might use your reading to answer your assignment brief.
     
  5. Always note the full bibliographical details for any source you use; do this for each source before you start to make notes on it.
     
  6. Include the page number as you make notes, even if you’re not noting a direct quote; you may need to check back later.
     
  7. Have a system for making notes: always mark direct quotes with quotation marks; you might also use other markers like asterisks, for instance, to mark important ideas, or have a code to mark notes relating to particular themes or topics.

Organising your notes

When you have made your initial notes, you could organise the key ideas to show connections and group ideas together. This will help create a structure for your writing.

Here are some examples of how you could organise your notes, using the tips from this page:

Using the Internet for research

 

Some students are anxious about using the Internet for their research, while others use only websites because they are easy to search. The better approach is somewhere in the middle. The Internet is just another means of communicating information. You would not use every book or periodical as an authoritative academic source, and you should exercise the same judgement and commonsense when using websites.

 

Search wisely

A simple Google search for a topic phrase may produce thousands of results, not in order of their academic level! Consider who may have the information you need and go there directly: for instance, a Government website for statistics on British society, or a medical research charity for research reports on a specific pharmaceutical trial. Try Google Scholar or databases like Web of Knowledge (via the Library’s website) to source journal articles.

 

Evaluate carefully

Academic books and journal articles go through a process of evaluation by experts before they are published. Most websites do not. Consequently you need to do your own evaluation before deciding whether to use an online source. Things to think about include:

  • Is it associated with an authoritative organisation? E.g. a university, research group, official or Government body? Check the URL extension: for instance .ac.uk, .edu, .gov are likely to be okay (though do be careful that you are not using essays written by other students as reliable academic sources!).
  • Consider what sort of reader you think it is aimed at. E.g. academic, popular, juvenile?
  • Is there a date of last publication?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Is its purpose to support or promote a particular viewpoint or agenda, or a commercial purpose? (Not necessarily a reason not to use it, but a warning to be cautious and critical.)

 

Cite correctly

There are models for citing online sources in all of the different styles of referencing. The key is to look for the equivalent details to those you would need to cite a book or journal article: author, date, title and publication details. Then add the date you accessed it.
 

Book

Website

Example

Author

Year

Title

Place of publication/Publisher

Author/Organisation with responsibility for website

Year of last publication (or use ‘n.d.’ for ‘not dated’)

Title of website/webpage

URL (or DOI if electronic document)

 

The Higher Education Academy

2013

Academic Integrity

http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/academic-integrity

 

Full citation (in Harvard style): The Higher Education Academy (2013). Academic Integrity Service. Online at http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/academic-integrity, accessed 10/5/13.

In-text citation (in Harvard style): The Higher Education Academy, 2013.


 

 This screencast will give you further guidance on referencing websites

Read the script for the video (PDF)

How would you cite these online sources?

How would you cite these online sources? How could you decide whether to use them for academic research?

 

1.

http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/home/

Citation

 

Evaluation

 

2.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23532-early-hominins-couldnt-have-heard-modern-speech.html

Citation

 

Evaluation

 

3.

http://www.york.ac.uk/inst/spru/pubs/pdf/rrep829.pdf

Citation

 

Evaluation

 

4.

http://www.mythweb.com/

Citation

 

Evaluation

 

5.

http://www.arthurharrisson.com/clinker%20microscopy.html

Citation

 

Evaluation

 

These sample answers use Harvard style citations and sample access date.‚Äč

 

1.

http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/home/

Citation

Cancer Research UK (n.d.). Homepage. Online at http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/home/, accessed 14/5/13

Evaluation

Established charitable foundation which supports research; clear about aims and objectives; detailed annual reports including financial information. A useful source of information about current clinical trials and resources for public health initiatives. 

2.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23532-early-hominins-couldnt-have-heard-modern-speech.html

Citation

Barras, Colin (2013). Early hominins couldn’t have heard modern speech. New Scientist (13 May 2013), online at http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23532-early-hominins-couldnt-have-heard-modern-speech.html, accessed 14/5/13

Evaluation

Popular science magazine, so articles may be simplified and lack details. This article links to the original journal article it reports on, so better to read and refer to that.

3.

http://www.york.ac.uk/inst/spru/pubs/pdf/rrep829.pdf

Citation

Sainsbury, Roy and Corden, Anne (2013). Self-employment, tax credits and the move to Universal Credit. (Research Report No. 829). London: Department of Work and Pensions.

NB This is an electronic version with no changes of a document also published as a paper ‘hard copy’, so it can be cited in the same way as the paper copy.

Evaluation

Research commissioned and published by government department but carried out by independent academic researchers so likely to be objective and good to use for academic research.

4.

http://www.mythweb.com/

Citation

Skidmore, J. (with W. Saturno) (1993-2012). Mythweb homepage. online at http://www.mythweb.com/, accessed 14/5/13. 

Evaluation

This website has details of authors and dates clearly displayed. However, the simplified language and cartoons suggest that it is not at a level that would be suitable for academic research at university. This is confirmed by looking at the section for teachers, which shows that it is aimed at schoolchildren.

5.

http://www.arthurharrisson.com/clinker%20microscopy.html

Citation

Harrisson, A. (2011). Clinker microscopy. online at http://www.arthurharrisson.com/clinker%20microscopy.html, accessed 14/5/13.

Evaluation

Has detailed information about material science, written in a formal academic style, in detail and with useful illustrations. However, it is part of a commercial website promoting a consultancy service. Although you might use this material to help you understand the topic, it would be better to find a textbook to cite.

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