Organizing Your Reading and Reading Notes

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 You’ve been reading for the past 10 minutes. Your phone buzzes on the table beside you, and you check your text message. Or you get an e-mail notification and you toggle over to your inbox.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 You realize, suddenly, that you have no idea what you’ve just read. Your eyes moved over the page. You may have picked up a couple of words. But if someone walked into the room and asked you what the article was about so far, you couldn’t summarize any of it.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 This is, of course, what reading looks like for many 21st century readers. Try as you may, getting through an entire article without drifting off or doing something else can be a challenge.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 In the previous section, I discussed a technique for reading strategically as opposed to reading everything on the page. However, even strategic reading won’t necessarily help you to retain what you’ve read for longer than the time that you need to discuss it in a seminar.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Giving yourself a task while you read — a task that is not “count down the pages until I’m finished” — can help with retention, and it can also help you to manage the stress of writing a seminar paper.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Of course, there are lots of ways to do this. Some people swear by The Cornell Method of taking (and synthesizing) notes. Others use tablets and annotation software. Some Disability Studies scholars, like Patricia Dunn, advocate for a more complete rethinking of the way that learning and demonstrating knowledge happens in universities and graduate schools in the first place and suggests strategies for learning and synthesizing knowledge that move beyond reading and writing alone.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Just like with reading, there isn’t one “right” way to organize your notes and reflections: there are just a bunch of strategies, and you should try a lot of them to find out what works for you. And, as I mentioned in the introduction to this guidebook, we should all interrogate the idea that reading and writing are the only ways, or even the best ways, to learn and produce new knowledge.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 That said, in the meantime, having a plan for how you’re going to organize and synthesize all of this new information is a critically important task. So, in this section, I’ll describe a technique that I learned from Dr. Mark McBeth, which has helped me tremendously to organize and remember what I’ve read. Do you have other strategies? Please share them in the comments!

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Mark calls this a CRAB (Collective Reflective Annotated Bibliography), and he requires CRAB entries of all of his dissertation advisees and seminar participants. Though making entries for the CRAB can be a labor-intensive process, I have retained perhaps the most of what I’ve learned in graduate school from taking Mark’s classes. Here’s how to set one up.

Components of the CRAB

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 A CRAB is similar to an annotated bibliography, but with a reflective component that asks writers to make connections between the various entries.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 You can do the first three steps after you’ve strategically read the article:

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 1. Citation: Depending on the class you’re taking, there will probably be an accepted citation style that you’ll need to use in your seminar paper. Is it APA? MLA? Chicago? Something else? Put the article’s citation info in bold at the top of the entry. This way, you can easily copy / paste it into a Works Cited or Reference page if you use this piece while you’re writing your seminar paper.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 2. Key terms: After you’ve strategically read this piece, predict which 4 or 5 words or phrases you could use to describe it. If you just saw the citation and the key terms, you should be able to remember what this article is about.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 3. Précis: Here, you’re summarizing the article’s purpose and exigence. Why was this written? Why now? What’s the major argument? What are the methods that the author uses to make the argument? Keep this section as “objective” as possible (in other words, don’t insert your critical opinion about whether or not the article “makes good” on its claims.)

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 You’ll now need some more information in order to finish the CRAB entry.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 4. Quotables: In this section, you should place some key quotes from the article. You’ve already got an idea of the “rough sketches” of the argument, so you can easily copy / paste the sentence(s) that describe the article’s purpose and exigence.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Now, you want to further investigate the methods the author is using to make a claim.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 To do this, skim the headings of the sections, and then skim the first sentence of each paragraph. Do these sentences preview what this paragraph is likely about? They might, and they might not. But let’s see what happens when we revisit Kunsa’s article that we investigated in the previous chapter and look at the first sentence that comes in each full paragraph after the first heading. Do we notice any patterns? The patterns you notice will be different than the ones that I do: that’s OK:

a. Writing after the publication of McCarthy’s seventh novel, The Crossing (1994), Arnold notes the difficulty of identifying good and evil in McCarthy’s work (“Naming” 54) (59).
b. In the world of The Road, basic differences divide the good from the bad (59).

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 c. This religious quality extends to the novel’s overall approach to character naming, which demonstrates a search for the prelapsarian eloquence lost in the postlapsarian babble (60).

d. More typical of McCarthy are the more than seventy named characters of Blood Meridian (Kirves 337–53) (60).
e. Free as it is of proper names, The Road often relies on pronouns for character identification (61).
f. The pronouns in Blood Meridian at times seem purposely to lack clarity, suggesting the interchangeability of actors and actions, but, while The Road favors pronouns more heavily than Blood Meridian or any other McCarthy work, its pronouns are very clear and correspond to the sharp difference between good and evil (62).
From these sentences alone, I’ve reached the following conclusions about the nature of her argument:

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 a. The Road has a more binary view of good vs. bad than other books that McCarthy wrote (like Blood Meridian).

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 b. The Road and Blood Meridian have different approaches to character naming. The Road doesn’t have a lot of named characters, and Blood Meridian does. Kunsa thinks this relates to the binary view of good / bad.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 c. According to Kunsa, looking at the difference between The Road’s use of pronouns and Blood Meridian’s use can also tell us something about the book’s point of view on good vs. evil.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Now: will this add anything to our “key terms” section (maybe “good from the bad,” “pronouns,” and “naming”)? Can we round out the précis a bit more? Are any of these conclusions key to our understanding of this text?

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Add any of these important sentences to the “quotables” section. And then, repeat this exercise with the first sentences that come under the second heading.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 5. Reflection: Now that we have a handle on some of the more nuanced pieces of Kunsa’s article, we’re ready to compare it and contrast it with other things that we’ve read. If you have other entries in your CRAB (I recommend keeping everything in the same document), you can even hyperlink between them.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 In order to do this, we will have needed to strategically read the other articles for class this week (or previous weeks) and also to think about the purpose and exigence of what we’ve already read.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Ask yourself the following questions:

a. In what ways does Kunsa’s purpose / exigence compare and contrast with the purpose / exigence of the other pieces? Is she saying something similar? Something completely different?

b. What pieces of Kunsa’s argument resonates with my interpretation of the book? Do I agree with her argument?

c. What might I challenge about Kunsa’s argument? Why?

d. What do I think of Kunsa’s methods? If I don’t agree with her conclusions, is it because I don’t agree with how she’s gathered her evidence, or how she’s interpreted it?

e. What questions do I have for Kunsa?

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 6. Borrowed sources: Finally, I want to skim Kunsa’s Works Cited page for articles that look like they may relate to questions I developed in my reflection. This might help me to develop a research question for my seminar paper — especially if Kunsa’s article (or The Road) sparks my interest.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Copy and paste the citations from Kunsa’s article into your CRAB entry. This way, when you’re developing a seminar paper, you’ll have a handy reference of sources where you can begin your research.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 ————————————————————————————————–
Now, what makes the CRAB a collective reflective annotated bibliography? In Mark’s class, all of the seminar participants work together to create entries. Every week, each group is responsible for one entry of one article that we read. In some cases, we’re also required to extend or speak back to the responses that our colleagues have left. We also read each other’s entries in order to hyperlink between them (when the occasion arises).

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Since all of the entries go into the same Google doc, the CRAB becomes a living artifact of all of our reflections that we can continue to access well after the course has ended. This is immensely useful: the readings we complete become much less ephemeral, and many semesters after completing the class, we can revisit our collective labor and thinking.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Though RABs are useful to produce for your own work, I find CRABs to be even better. Benefiting from the collective knowledge of your class (and understanding how other people are interpreting the same text) is half of the fun of graduate school! While I recognize that the work can be hard to maintain when you’re not required to do it (and you are required to do so many other things), my own experience of the CRAB has been that it front loads the work of a seminar paper. Instead of scrambling to remember everything that you’ve read, you can review the entries that you’ve already made. Instead of struggling to find a good research question, you can review the questions that you’ve had all along and build on those.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Go to the next page to see a completed model of a RAB entry.

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Source: https://malswrites.commons.gc.cuny.edu/organizing-your-reading/

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