There is no one-size-fits-all, correct, or best method for taking notes in introductory Englisgh or communication courses. There are, however, a variety of methods, one or more of which may work for you. Feel free to edit these methods to suit your convenience and personal style.
These methods rely on structures or diagrams to information. Most structural methods started out as strategies for taking notes from dictation in large, lecture classes, but you can use structures and diagrams for taking notes for a paper. Structures can also organize notes that you have all ready taken.
California Polytechnic used to offer an overview! of a variety of these methods with instructions on implementing structural systems and explains their advantages and possible disadvantages, and Muskingum University also once offered descriptions of note taking methods with detailed diagrams and instructions. Alas both these pages have moved or disappeared. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Mind mapping, also called concept mapping, is a highly graphic method of organizing information. Study Guides offers instructions on both note taking and mind/concept mapping, while Massey University has a guide to mind mapping and note taking as well.
Even "slobs" who freeze up at the idea of structured note taking, can still organize information for their papers. For those who prefer to arrange their notes after the fact, Overwhelmed by Research at Thought.co can help tame an overwhelming pile of information.
And yes, you can take notes without pen, paper, or notebook. It is possible to take notes highly readable using MS Word or Wordpad, or any other word processing program using a lap top. You can also use your word processing program to create templates for Cornell notes, mind mapping, or outlines.
Both Google Drive and Evernote.com let you keep notes "in the cloud" (on the web) without having to worry about flash drives. Unless you all ready have Gmail, both sites require registration. Notes on Google Drive's documents closely resemble those made with MS Word document, while Evernote keeps your notes in a searchable database.
To learn more about note taking software, please visit this guide's Note Taking Software Page.
It almost goes without saying, that to take effective notes, you have to understand what you read. Although most reading strategies are designed for textbooks, they can also work for journal articles, newspapers, magazines, and more general books. There are highly structured reading methods such as S3QR and KWL and more general guides such as those available at Massey University. Study Guides.net also offers advice to those who need to get the most out of literary works.
|Note Taking, Research Help, and Effective Reading Sites|
|Thought.Co -- Homework Helps -- Offers help with note taking, essay writing, reading strategies, with several articles for paper writers.|
|College of St. Benedict and St. Johns University Study Formula SQ3R -- Gives an in depth explanation of the SQ3R reading strategy.|
|Evernote.com -- Create a searchable database for your notes in the cloud. Your notes are available wherever you have internet access.|
|Google Drive -- Take and store your notes in a word processed document. You can share notes with friends, none of whom have to read your handwriting.|
|Massey University -- Mind Maps -- Offers a detailed explanation of mind mapping, also called concept mapping.|
|Massey University -- Note Taking -- Details the various note taking systems with explanations.|
|Study Guides.net Study Guides and Strategies -- Covers an assortment of reading strategies and mind mapping.|