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Reading Well and Taking Research Notes

How to read critically and well and take good research notes. Includes information about tools that can help you do this effectively on your computer or mobile device.

The Basics

Your professor may have a preferred citation style. Ask at the Research/IT desk or the Writing Center if you need help following a specific style. But if there's no preferred style, here's a flexible and simple one that you can use. It's the Chicago Manual of Style Author/Date system.

As you're writing:

When you refer to someone else's words or ideas, include a citation at the end of the sentence that has the author's last name, the date, and a page number or page numbers, all enclosed in parentheses. So, for example, (Weiss 2008, 15). This refers to the 15th page of Weiss's book, the full entry for which is included at the end of the paper in a Reference List.

The Reference List:

When you make your bibliography it should be alphabetical by author last name, and it should use a "hanging indent" so that the first line lines up with the left-hand margin but the second and subsequent lines are indented half an inch (which I can't do here in this guide). The whole bibliography should be double spaced with no extra space between entries.

(Note that your class is using the "Author Date" system of reference, so if you click through to the Chicago Manual of Style everything will be identical except the placement of the dates. You should put the date immediately after the author's name.)



Weiss, Andrea. 2008. In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Note that Newspaper citations look a little different.

Olson, Hope A. 2006. “Codes, Costs, and Critiques: The Organization of Information in Library Quarterly, 1931–2004.” Library Quarterly 76 (1): 19–35.

Whitney, Frank P. 1929. “The Six-Year High School in Cleveland.” School Review 37, no. 4: 267–71.

Chapters of books:

Ellet, Elizabeth F. L. 1968. “By Rail and Stage to Galena.” In Prairie State: Impressions of Illinois, 1673–1967, by Travelers and Other Observers, edited by Paul M. Angle, 271–79. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


“Google Privacy Policy,” last modified October 14, 2005, accessed July 19, 2008,


Currier & Ives. ca. 1866. "Gray Eagle." Lithograph. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, (accessed September 25, 2010).


Cleese, John, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. 2001. “Commentaries.” Disc 2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail, special ed. DVD. Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. Culver City, CA: Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment.


Pink Floyd. 1970. Atom Heart Mother. Capitol CDP 7 46381 2, 1990, compact disc.

Data & Statistics (More information on the Sociology Guide Here):

Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2010. "Table 38: Arrests by Age, 2010." Crime in the United States. (accessed November 10, 2012).

Book Reviews:

Ben Ratliff. 2009. Review of The Mystery of Samba: Popular Music and National Identity in Brazil, by Hermano Vianna. Ed. and trans. John Charles Chasteen. Lingua Franca 9: B13–B14.

David Kamp. 2006. “Deconstructing Dinner,” review of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan. New York Times. Sunday Book Review, April 23,

An Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is made up of a bibliographic reference (like the examples to the right) followed by a brief description (called an annotation) of the content and importance of the work. The annotation begins one line down from the reference, and it's best to press the Shift key and the Return key together so that it behaves as if the entire thing is one paragraph. (See this example)

Citations are Cool!