This post is a response to a query made by Amy Coffin over at We Tree. She is looking for input on how other researchers take notes. Since this a topic that grabbed my attention, I thought I'd do a post on how I take notes. I'm always interested in how others take notes too so that I can improve my methods. I encourage readers to head over to Amy's blog and see what she and other bloggers have had to say on this topic and leave her a comment if you have something to add.
One of the tools I've found to be extremely helpful is Microsoft Office OneNote. I use it not only as a research log but also a document log, data collection, transcriptions and much more. For instance, when I was at the Family History Library last week, in the Genealogy Notebook that I created, I have a tab for Research Log. I just started a new page titled FHL with the date and listed the items that I searched, including the call number or film number, who I was looking for and what the results were. If I found something of interest that I didn't want to bother copying, I made a notation right there of the pertinent information, including citation. The next time I am doing Family History Library research, I can quickly review the FHL pages to see what I have/have not done and where I left off if I wasn't finished with something.
In the genealogy data base that I use (The Master Genealogist), I extensively use the Memo field for the individual Tags (events) to make notes. I also can create a Tag called Note that can be used for those items that don't fit neatly into the other Tags. This is similar to what Amy is doing with Roots Magic. Since I give the documents I obtain a document number, I can use this in the notes to refer back to the document.
As for the actual documents, I am now trying to follow what I learned in Pamela Boyer Sayre's BCG Workshop, "Synchronized Research & Reporting." I am taking each document and writing down what I've learned from it and then put the relevant information in TMG. Maybe it's a formal research report, if there is a lot of information gleaned and analyzed, or maybe it's just a few lines. I'll keep the document and notes together so that when I need to refer back, I won't have to relearn the document.
One of the really interesting tips I took away from the workshop was that it takes almost as long to write a report as it did to do the research. It's a lot easier to write as you go instead of trying to go back and write up a report on a ton of research that you have done. By writing up little bits on each document as you examine and analyze it, you are really giving yourself a head start. So I am trying to follow that format in research, notetaking and writing from now on. As a side note, I've got a lot of catching up to do in this area with the stacks of research that has been accumulated but not processed.
Amy, I hope this helps. It's a subject that I'm really interested in too. So if anyone has any comments on how you take notes, I encourage to pop over to We Tree and leave Amy a comment.
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