I’ve been doing some more technical and/or research-oriented writing lately, and I thought I might share a tip I’ve used for research since I was in elementary school. (No kidding). In college, particularly, I had to re-teach myself this skill, and I’m hoping maybe there are a couple of people out there that are like me who can benefit from this tip.
Getting a Little Note-Happy
My method of researching, particularly where note-taking was concerned, used to involve lengthy, full-sentence, pseudo-articles that started looking a lot more like the text I was researching from and not much like anything else. I understand this – it’s a desire to be thorough. I realized that one can be too thorough when I turned in a 97-page research report in middle school and was asked to please “condense the text”. My first lesson in writing with brevity. Although some lessons I’ll never learn.
Anyway, once I started realizing that my note-taking was turning into rewriting, I went a step further and realized that if my note-taking was simply re-writing (or sometimes copying verbatim) what the research text said, my writing was probably going to end up sounding like a cheaply spun version of the original text. And most of the time, it did.
I didn’t do this because I wanted to be lazy and copy the text. I had all the best intentions in the world. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss a single thing the author said about the subject. Surely it was all important, right?
Not so much. If you suffer from ONT (obsessive note-taking), then let me help you out. This will make your research easier, your writing more original, and maybe even let you sleep at night instead of copying down manuscripts by candlelight. Ready?
Just the Facts, Ma’am
My rule for research is that I only copy down the facts. No fancy descriptions, no compound sentences, no fluff. Simply the facts. So what does this look like? Here’s a few examples.
Here’s a sentence about parrots from Wikipedia. (I’m not advocating Wikipedia as a research source, I’m just using it as a literary example.)
Take a moment and write down what you would normally jot down were you diligently taking notes about parrots.
This is what mine looks like:
- latin – psittacines
- order – psittaciformes
- one of 372 species (86 genera) in above order
- live in tropical/subtropical regions
What my research looked like before was something like this:
- parrots are also known as psittacines
- they are birds of the roughly 372 species in 86 genera that make up the order of psittaciformes
- found in most tropical and subtropical regions
Do you see the difference? I try to leave sentences out of it. Once you start making sentences you’re writing, not taking notes. I would suspect that if I took the first set of notes and created a sentence about parrots, it would look a lot different than the original text. Without the added description and sentence structure, we tend to combine what we already know about a subject with the notes in front of us. However, when we’re looking at sentence structure, it tends to take away that creativity and we simply rewrite what’s in front of us.
I’m not saying this is the end-all, be-all form of note-taking and research, I’m just hoping that it will save someone the doctor’s trip where they get diagnosed with carpal tunnel for hours and hours of writing over encyclopedias.
You’re a lot more likely to come up with high quality, unique, original, and factual writing if you limit your note taking to just the facts. Take apart the sentence structure and pick out the meat. It will make your life a lot easier. 🙂
Until next time, happy writing and God bless!