I need your help! How do you take notes?
As the semester opens, I am embarking on the exam-preparation phase of a PhD in English. In my department, that means I will spend (roughly) the next two semesters reading literature, historical documents, and scholarship relating to my primary field (early Atlantic literature) and two secondary fields. At the end of this period, I will take two timed written exams, in the form of essays, followed by an oral examination, conducted by my committee. This is a conventional structure for a graduate student in literature, but I understand the process is somewhat different across fields.
I am (and have been!) chomping at the bit to start reading extensively on the topics that interest me. But, I am held back by my confusion over how to organize this process. I'm aware that I will have to learn and adapt as I go along, but as an organizationally minded person, I want to have a system set in place so that I can make sure I am properly documenting all the things I'm learning. I know all to well that no matter how interested I may be in a bit of reading, if I don't use the information in a piece of writing, or take comprehensible notes on it, I will completely forget the content! I simply cannot do this in notepads strewn about my house and trust that I will digitize this information in good time.
One of the challenges is that I don't really like to be on my computer while reading. I prefer the scratch of pencil on yellow notepad. I also like using post-it tabs, but then when I really like a book it starts to look like a plastic-neon crime against the environment. I wonder, what do you do? How do you organize your ideas during research? How do you adjust to reading a library book that you can't write in, compared to a PDF of an article?
It seems we all have idiosyncratic methods for note-taking, but I suspect, as with the writing process, we have more in common than we would imagine. What do our habits say about the structure of our disciplines and the state of the humanities? Do you take notes on paper then tranfer them to a computer? Do you take notes on the computer? Do you use your own wiki, blog, or Tumblr to collect your thoughts and data? Do you find that different types of research require different methods of organization? Do you use a writing software like Scrivener? Citation-management (open-source!) software like Zotero?
I'm very seriously considering purchasing Scrivener because it appears to be a dream for organizing notes and creating one's own meta-data. Organizationally, I'm more of a file away in a folder type of person than a mind-map, webby kind of systemetizer. What is your organizational style?
The budding Digital Humanist in me also thinks I ought to share some of my research and notes publicly. How have you done that?
I'm looking forward to your comments and I hope this conversation will be useful to others, as well. If there is an existing blog or thread on this topic -- please alert me! Many thanks!