This chapter is being seriously overhauled.

Electronic Note-Taking Methods

As of 2015, the writing-teaching world—at least at the college level and in terms of textbooks—is seriously behind in terms of what it knows and what it teaches about note-taking for major writing projects. Strangely, the very best writing resource on the Internet, the Purdue OWL, has nothing on note-taking. Read the following section Traditional Note-Taking Methods for a review of just what good any note-taking system is.

Until we get our act together, consider how the traditional note-taking system is implemented in software applications.

A number of software applications are available that support note-taking and related tasks: Evernote, EasyBib, NoodleTools, and more. Their basic functions are similar so let's use NoodleTools. It has a nice set of YouTube videos that walk you through the main phases of its use:

How do I create a new project? This video takes you from the very start!

How do I to create a notecard for my citation? In this video, you see how to create a single notecard. In one panel of that view, you can paste the direct quotation; in another, your understanding, paraphrase, or summary of it; in still another, you can jot down ideas and questions; and in another, you can enter the URL or the traditional bibliographical source of the information plus search tags. The video concludes with a demonstration of moving the new notecard to the "tabletop," grouping notecards, and using them to create an outline.

NoodleTools—Creating Outlines. If you've created good notecards, creating the outline from them is terrific, as this video shows.

Noodle Tools Works Cited. If you've created good notecards, creating the bibliography from them is also terrific.

Traditional Note-Taking Methods

When you've located the right sources of information for your report, it's time to start gathering the right information from them and developing it into a report. In other words, it's time to start reading, summarizing, paraphrasing, interviewing, measuring, calculating, and developing information any other way your report project requires. The technical report may be one of the largest writing projects that you've ever tackled: you may wonder how you are going to do all that reading and remember all that information. Concerning the reading, here are several suggestions:

As for remembering the information you gather for your report, the most practical suggestion is to use some form of note-taking. Note-taking refers to any system for collecting and storing information until you can use it in the report. Note-taking involves the skills of summarizing, paraphrasing, or quoting. A good system of note-taking is one that enables you to gather a large amount of information over a long period of time and to be able to use that information without having forgotten it or lost it in the meantime.

Traditional note-taking process: an overview

In the traditional system of taking notes for a long report, you:

  1. Develop a rough outline.
  2. Do any preliminary reading necessary to construct a rough outline.
  3. Locate your information sources, and make bibliography cards for each source.
  4. Take the actual notes on index cards.
  5. Label each notecard according to its place in the outline.
  6. Provide bibliographic information on each notecard.
  7. Change or add extra detail to the outline as the note-taking process continues.
  8. Check off the areas of the outline for which sufficient notes have been taken.

When you have taken sufficient notes to cover all parts of an outline, you transcribe the information from the notecards into a rough draft, filling in details, adding transitions, and providing your own acquired understanding of the subject as you write. Naturally, you may discover gaps in your notes and have to go back and take more notes.

Developing the rough outline

As the section on outlining emphasizes, you must have a working outline before you begin gathering information. The rough outline shows you which specific topics to gather information on and which ones to ignore. Think of the outline as a series of questions:

     Rough outline for a report                Questions generated
     light water nuclear reactors                 by the outline 
     I. Pressurized Water Reactors         What are the main differ-
        A. Major Components                ences? what are the main
        B. Basic Operation                 components? what are the
                                           materials? design? dimen-
                                           sions? how many are in op-
                                           eration? where? who designed
    II. Boiling Water Reactors             How does they differ from
        A. Major Components                What are the main components?
        B. Basic Operation                 What are the materials? de-
                                           sign? dimensions? designers?
                                           where used? how many?
   III. Safety Measures                    What are the chief dangers?
        A. Pressurized Water Reactor       What are the dangers and safety
                                           measures associated with PWRs?
        B. Boiling Water Reactors          What are the dangers and safety
                                           measures associated with BWRs?
        C. Role of the Nuclear Regu-       How does the NRC regulate
           latory Commission               nuclear power plants? what
                                           standards does it enforce? how?
    IV. Economic Aspects of Light Water    What are the construction,
        Reactors                           operation, maintenance, and
        A. Construction Costs              fuel costs? what about the availa-
        B. Operation and Maintenance       bility of fuel? how do these
           Costs                           costs compare to output? how
                                           do the PWR and the BWR compare
                                           in terms of costs and output?
        C. Operating Capacity              How much electricity can a LWR
                                           generate at full capacity

Figure 1. Viewing an outline as a series of questions

If you don't have a good, specific outline, the sky is the limit on how many notes you can take. Think of the outline as a set of boxes that you fill up with the information you collect as you do your research for the report:

Figure 2. Gathering information and taking notes: you continue gathering information from the various sources until all the boxes are filled.

Information on the bibliography cards

On the bibliography cards you should record information that enables you or your readers to locate the books, articles, reports, and other sources. Remember that you'll use this information to create the bibliography or list of references for your report. See the examples of bibliography cards for books, magazine articles, encyclopedias, and government documents; the section on documentation shows you details on the information to record on many different types of sources, but remember these general guidelines:

Information on the notecards

In the traditional note-taking system, a notecard typically looks like this:

                                                               BWR—fuel rod (III,A,1,b)

                        fuel rod
                        (same as PWR fuel rod)
                        148 in. long X 0.493 in. diam.
                        slightly longer >' PWR fuel rod

    16                                                                                D, 749

Figure 3. A typical notecard

This notecard has the following features:

Locator. The "locator" phrase or number tells you where the note fits into the outline, that is, when and where you'll use this information in the report. Locaters must be updated regularly. As you read, take notes, and learn more about your subject, you can flesh out, or "elaborate," your outline more and more, subdividing it into third, fourth, and even fifth levels. This process is illustrated in the section on updating the outline.

Bibliographic information. Each notecard must also contain bibliographic information, those details about the source of the note: the author, title, page number, and so on. Rather than write all such information on each notecard, use abbreviations: assign a letter to each source, and keep track of the sources on bibliography cards, as shown above.

Methods of recording information on notecards

The actual information that you record on the index card is rather small: a few statistics or a sentence or two, and not much else. You take such small bits of information to make it easier to "shuffle" your notecards into the sequence in which you'll use them in writing the rough draft. There are three ways of recording the information on notecards:

See what the Purdue OWL has to say about these methods.

Direct quotation. In most technical reports, direct quotation is needed only for the following situations:

Here is an example notecard with a direct quotation:

   Myers, author of The Nuclear Power Debate and somewhat of
   a supporter of nuclear, emphs heavy inspect and penalties:

        During the period between July 1, 1975 and September 30,
        1976 the NRC listed 1,611 items of noncompliance. Only six
        of these were considered serious violations, 923 were classi-
        fied as infractions, and 682 were noted as deficiencies. The
        NRC issued fines to ten utilities totaling $172,250 between
        July 1, 1975 and December 15, 1976. NRC officials report
        that the limited use of fines and the efforts to get industry
        to regulate itself have worked. "By and large," one NRC offi-
        cial told IRRC, "I think our enforcement program is working."

                                                                      H, 46

Figure 4. Original passage and notecard with direct quotation

When you copy a direct quotation onto a notecard, remember to do a few extra things that will save time and frustration later on:

There are essentially two types of direct quotation: "block" quotations and "running" quotations. Here is an example of a block quotation (any quotation over 3 lines long, which is indented):

   In Myers' view, the nuclear power industry has every reason
   to comply with the NRC's regulations to the very letter:

        The NRC issues an order to shut down or imposes
        civil fines only after repeated violations have in-
        dicated what the NRC considers "a pattern of non-
        compliance." The NRC argues that, particularly with
        power plants, civil penalties are unnecessary for the
        most part. "The greatest penalty," one official said,
        "is to require the plant to shut down, forcing it to
        buy replacement power (often at a cost of $100,000 to
        $200,000 per day) elsewhere. A civil penalty's largest
        cost—the NRC is limited to a $5,000-per-violation
        ceiling per 30 days—is the stigma attached to it."

   The "stigma" refers to the fact that, once a nuclear power
   plant is fined, it will likely be the target of public con-
   cern and even more stringent and frequent NRC inspection.

Figure 5. Block quotation and a running quotation

"Running" quotations are direct quotations that are trimmed down and worked into the regular sentences of a report. Notice how much smoother and more efficient the running quotation is in the revised version below:

                       Ineffective direct quotation

   There are two types of light water reactors: the pressurized
   water reactor and the boiling water reactor. 

        LWRs of both types convert heat to electricity with an 
        efficiency of about 32 percent—significantly less 
        than the best fossil-fueled plants, although about equal to 
        the national average for all thermal electricity generation

    As for harnessing the energy potential of uranium, LWRs are 
    estimated to average only between 0.5 and 1.0 percent.
                  Revision with running quotation

   There are two types of light water reactors: the pressurized
   water reactor and the boiling water reactor. According to Paul
   Ehrlich, who has been a consistent critic of nuclear power, both
   these types of LWRs "convert heat to electricity with an
   efficiency of about 32 percent—significantly less than the best
   fossil-fueled plants, although about equal to the national
   average for all thermal electricity generation" (13:438). As for
   harnessing the energy  potential of uranium, LWRs are estimated
   to average only between 0.5 and 1.0 percent.

Figure 6. An ineffective block quotation revised as a running quotation

Guide for using direct quotations

When you use direct quotations in your report, keep these guidelines in mind.

Paraphrasing. In technical-report writing, usually the better approach to note-taking is to paraphrase. When you paraphrase, you convey the information fact-by-fact, idea-by-idea, and point-by-point in your own words. The writer of the original passage ought to be able to read your paraphrase and say that it is precisely what she or he had meant. Here are some example paraphrased notecards:

                                                            BWR—fuel assembly

        fuel assembly—63 f rods spaced, supported in a sq
          (8 x 8) arrangement by upper + lower plate
          3 kinds: (a) tie rods; (b) water rod); (c) stand
          f rods
          3rd, 6th f rods on a bundle's outer edge act as
          tie rods
          the 8 tie rods screw into castg of lower tie plate
          water rod: acts as spacer support rod, as source
           of moderator material close to the center of f
                                                                          K, 2001
                                                                   BWR—fuel assem

        fuel channel—enclosure for f bundle; f bundle +
          f channel make up fuel assem
          is a tube with a square shape, made of Zircaloy
          dimensions: 5.518 in. X 5.518 in. X 166.9 in.
          function: channel core coolt thru f bundle and
          guide control rods
                                                                      K, 2001


Figure 8. Paraphrased notecards

Paraphrases are necessary and preferable for a number of reasons:

Here is an example of an original passage and its paraphrases, with the unique wording of the original (which must be changed in the paraphrase) underlined.

                       Original passage

      About a third of light-water reactors operating or under
   construction in the United States are boiling-water reactors.
   The distinguishing characteristic of a BWR is that the reac-
   tor vessel itself serves as the boiler of the nuclear steam
   supply system.  This vessel is by far the major component in the
   reactor building, and the steam it produces passes directly to
   the turbogenerator. The reactor building also contains emergency
   core cooling equipment, a major part of which is the pressure
   suppression pool which is an integral part of the containment
   structure.  . . . . earlier BWRs utilized a somewhat different
   containment and pressure suppression system. All the commercial
   BWRs sold in the United States have been designed and built by
   General Electric.

       Several types of reactors that use boiling water in pres-
   sure tubes have been considered, designed, or built. In a
   sense, they are similar to the CANDU, described in Chapter 7,
   which uses pressure tubes and separates the coolant and mo-
   derator. The CANDU itself can be designed to use boiling light
   water as its coolant. The British steam-generating heavy-
   water reactor has such a system. Finally, the principal reac-
   tor type now being constructed in the Soviet Union uses a
   boiling-water pressure tube design, but with carbon modera-

                                Anthony V. Nero, A Guidebook
                                to Nuclear Reactors, Berkeley:
                                University of California Press,
                        Paraphrased version

      Boiling water reactors, according to Anthony V. Nero in his
   Guidebook to Nuclear Reactors, either completed or constructed,
   make up about one third of the light-water reactors in the
   U.S. The most important design feature of the BWR is that
   the reactor vessel itself acts as the nuclear steam supply
   system. The steam this important component generates goes
   directly to the turbogenerator. Important too in this de-
   sign is the emergency core cooling equipment which is
   housed with the reactor vessel in the reactor building.
   One of the main components of this equipment is the pres-
   sure suppression pool. The containment and pressure sup-
   pression system currently used in BWRs has evolved since
   the early BWR designs. General Electric is the sole design-
   er and builder of these BWRs in the U.S.

      The different kinds of reactors that use boiling water
   in pressure tubes are similar to the CANDU, which separates
   coolant and moderator and uses pressure tubes also. CANDU
   can also use boiling light water as a coolant. The British
   have designed a reactor generated steam from heavy water
   that uses just such a system. Also, the Soviets have de-
   veloped and are now building as their main type of reactor
   a boiling pressure tube design that uses carbon as the
   moderator.  [12:232]

Figure 9. Avoiding the original wording in paraphrases

Guide for writing and using paraphrases

Here are some guidelines to remember when paraphrasing:

Summary. Summaries are usually much shorter than their originals. A summary concentrates on only those points or ideas in a passage that are important. Unlike in a paraphrase, the information in a summary can be rearranged. Here is a passage from which summaries below will be taken:

      Numerous systems are available for controlling abnormali-
   ties [in boiling water reactors]. In the event that control
   rods cannot be inserted, liquid neutron absorber (containing
   a boron compound) may be injected into the reactor to shut
   down the chain reaction. Heat removal systems are available
   for cooling the core in the event the drywell is isolated
   from the main cooling systems. Closely related to the heat
   removal systems are injection systems for coping with de-
   creases in coolant inventory.

      Both abnormalities associated with the turbine system
   and actual loss of coolant accidents can lead closing of
   the steam and feedwater lines, effectively isolating the
   reactor vessel within the drywell. Whenever the vessel is
   isolated, and indeed whenever feedwater is lost, a reactor
   core isolation cooling system is available to maintain
   coolant inventory by pumping water into the reactor via
   connections in the pressure vessel head. This system oper-
   ates at normal pressures and initially draws water from
   tanks that store condensate from the turbine, from con-
   densate from the residual heat removal system, or if neces-
   sary, from the suppression pool.

      A network of systems performs specific ECC [emergency
   core cooling] functions to cope with LOCAs [loss-of-cool-
   ant accidents]. (See Figure 6.) These all depend on
   signals indicating low water level in the pressure vessel
   or high pressure in the drywell, or both.

Figure 6. BWR emergency core cooling systems The systems include low-pressure injection, utilization of the RHR system, and high- and low-pressure core spray systems. The high-pressure core spray in intended to lower the pressure within the pressure vessel and provide makeup water in the event of a LOCA. In the event the core is uncovered, the spray can directly cool the fuel assemblies. Water is taken from the condensate tanks and from the suppression pool. On the other hand, should it become necessary to use low-pressure systems, the vessel must be depressurized. This can be accomplished by opening relief valves to blow down the vessel contents into the drywell (and hence the suppression pool). Once this is done, the low-pressure core spray may be used to cool the fuel assemblies (drawing water from the suppression pool) or RHR low-pressure injection (again from the sup- pression pool) may be initiated, or both. The RHR system may also be used simply to cool the suppression pool. (Two other functions of the RHR are to provide decay heat removal under ordinary shutdown conditions and, when neces- sary, to supplement the cooling system for the spent fuel pool and the upper containment pool.) Anthony V. Nero, A Guide- book to Nuclear Reactors, Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1979, pp. 104-107.

Figure 10. Passage to be summarized

Sentence-length summaries. Often summaries are only a sentence long. To create sentence-length summaries, use one or a combination of the following methods:

Extended summaries. A summary can be longer than a single sentence because of the important information contained in the original passage. (Remember, however, that a paraphrase is a point-by-point recap of the original, while the summary is a selection, reordering and condensation of the original.) Here's an extended summary of the passage above on BWR emergency safety systems (Figure 10):

   Boiling water reactors use numerous systems to control
   abnormalities in reactor operations. If a problem with control
   rods occurs, a liquid neutron absorber can be injected to halt
   the chain reaction. If coolant is cut off from the reactor core,
   a reactor core isolation cooling system can maintain coolant
   inventory by pumping water from various storage areas. This
   system includes low-pressure injection, the residual heat removal
   system, and the high- and low-pressure core spray systems. The
   water supply for these various emergency systems ultimately come
   from the suppression pool.

Guide for using summaries

Whenever you summarize, you must handle the resulting summary the same way you would a direct quotation or paraphrase.

Plagiarism. If you follow the guidelines presented in the preceding, plagiarism should not be a problem at all, but make sure you understand what it is. Plagiarism refers to two kinds of theft:

Plagiarism is bad business: the plagiarizer can fail an academic course or lose his or her reputation among business and professional associates. It only takes simple documentation to transform a report with plagiarized material in it into one with legally borrowed material. The section on documentation explains these procedures in detail.

Updating the outline

As you take notes, you must regularly update the locators on all your notecards because as you read, take notes, and learn more about your technical subject, your outline may either change or become more specific. Imagine that you started with this excerpt of a rough outline and had taken these notecards:

                Rough sketch outline

        IV. Safety Measures
            A. Pressurized Water Reactor Safety Measures
            B. Boiling Water Reactor Safety Systems
            C. Role of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
              Corresponding notecards

                                                       BWR—safety sys.

        safety sys incl control rods, containmt bldg,
        resid heat removl sys
        there work like those in PWR
        unique to BWR: drywell, emergency core coolg sys

        1                                                              I, 100
                                                       BWR—safety sys

        drywell—encloses react vess + assoc equip
        (includes recirc sys, press relief valves on
        main steam lines)

        2                                                              I, 100
                                                       BWR—safety sys
        emergency core coolg sys—handles loss-of-coolt
        accidents; includes reactor core iso sys, hi-
        press core spray sys, lo-press core spray sys
        (figure for this, p.106)

         3                                                           I, 105-6
                                                       BWR—safety sys

        react core iso coolg sys: if loss-of-coolt accidt
          (causg closing of steam lines,feedwtr lines to
          react vessel), RCICS activated (maintains coolt
          inventory by pumpg water to reactor via connex
          in press vess head

         4                                                              I, 104
                                                       BWR—safety sys

        hi-press core spray: lowers press w/in press
           vessel, provides suppl water in loss-of-coolt

          with uncovered cores, spray directly cools fuel
          assemblies (wtr fr condensed wtr storge tanks
          + suppress pool

         5                                                            I, 104

Figure 11. Notecards and the corresponding outline before updating

As you took these notecards, you would update your outline periodically; at the end, the outline might look like this:

                Revised outline

        IV. Safety Measures
            A. Pressurized Water Reactor Safety Measures
            B. Boiling Water Reactor Safety Systems
               1. The Drywell
               2. Emergency Core Cooling Systems
                  a. Reactor core isolation cooling system
                  b. High-pressure core spray

Figure 12. Updated outline

Notice that all five of these notecards are about "IV. B. Boiling Water Reactor Safety Systems." Notecard 1 divides this safety system into the drywell and the emergency core cooling systems. This division produces "1" and "2" under "B." Notecards 3 through 5, about the subsystems making up the emergency systems, produce "a," "b," and "c" under "2."

If you had taken these notes and updated your outline, you would revise the locators on the individual notecards like this:

  Notecard     Original       Updated               Alternate
  no.          locators       locators               locators

     1           IV. B          same           Safety/Boil.Wtr.React.
     2           IV. B          IV. B. 1       Safety/BWR/drywell
     3           IV. B          IV. B. 2       Safety/BWR/Em.Cor.Cool.
     4           IV. B          IV. B. 2. a    Saf./BWR/Em.Cor.Cool/
     5           IV. B          IV. B. 2. b    Saf./BWR/Em.Cor.Cool./

Figure 13. Revised locators

Remember that if you don't like the number-combinations as locators, you can substitute short phrases, as is shown in the alternate locators above.

Final stages in the notetaking process

As you take notes, check off sections of your outline for which you gather sufficient information, as is done in this outline excerpt. In this example, the writer has taken sufficient notes for much of IV.B. but still needs information for the rest of the outline.

        III. Boiling Water Reactors
              A. Description of the Basic Components
                 1. Core
                    a. core
                    b. fuel
                    c. fuel rod
                    d. fuel assembly
                 2. Control Rods
                 3. Core Shrouds and Reactor Vessel
                 4. Recirculation System
                 5. Steam Separators
                 6. Steam Dryers
              B. Production of Electricity
                 1. Circulating Water
                 2. Separating Steam
                 3. Drying the Steam
                 4. Producing Electricity
          IV. Safety Measures
              A. Pressurized Water Reactor Safety Measures
                 1. Residual Heat Removal System
                 2. Emergency Core Cooling Systems
                    a. passive system
                    b. low-pressure injection systems
                    c. high-pressure injection systems
                 3. Containment Building
              B. Boiling Water Reactor Safety Systems
                 1. The Drywell
                 2. Emergency Core Cooling Systems
                    a. reactor core isolation cooling system
                    b. high-pressure core spray
                    c. low-pressure core spray
              C. Role of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
           V. Economic Aspects of Light Water Reactors
              A. Busbar Cost
                 1. Construction Cost
                 2. Operation and Maintenance Costs
                 3. Fuel Costs
              B. Operating Capacity
                 1. Availability Factor
                 2. Capacity Factor

Figure 14. An outline for which note-taking is partially complete

In the final step in notetaking, you arrange the notecards in the order that you'll use them as you write the rough draft. Read through your cards several times to make sure the sequence is right and that there are no gaps in the information you've gathered. When you're sure that the order is right, write sequence numbers on each of the cards to preserve the order (see the sequence numbers on the notecards in the next section). With the notecards in the right order and numbered, you are ready to write the first draft, which is discussed in the section on rough drafting.

Other systems of notetaking

There are plenty of other ways to take notes. The main point of any form of note-taking of course is to make your report work easier and less time-consuming. You may prefer some other note-taking system because of your own work style or because of your report project. Or, you may end up using some other system in combination with the traditional one. Any system that enables you to get your work done efficiently is a good one.

Figure 15. Sample notesheet: taking notes by the source

In this system, the source (book, article, report, etc.) is indicated at the top of the page; the page numbers are indicated down the right margin in parentheses; and the sheet of notes is keyed to the outline down the left margin in parentheses.

I would appreciate your thoughts, reactions, criticism regarding this chapter: your responseDavid McMurrey.