Hints on note-taking and proper referencing

In all fields students must develop a system for keeping track of references and any thoughts or ideas they may have while reading a particular source.

Techniques for note-taking

In all fields students must develop a system for keeping track of references and any thoughts or ideas they may have while reading a particular source. They also need to distinguish between a quotation from a source, a paraphrasing from a source, and their own ideas or thoughts while reading that particular source. The student's notes must clearly identify what is a direct quote, or a paraphrase, or their own thoughts.

For note-taking in the sciences, it is crucial that laboratory notes be written up immediately. Notes must be complete and accurate so that, for example, experiments could be replicated exactly no matter how much time has passed.

One of the challenges is the size of the project and therefore keeping track of the number of sources consulted over a long period of time. As illustrated in the Academic Writing Help Centre’s “Information Management for a Research Project”, one note-taking technique involves constructing a table which organizes information on each source and where to find it. 

Note-taking technique

  • Go to a source.
  • On a blank page on the computer screen, type today’s date and the whole bibliographic reference at the top of the page.
  • While reading, type (or cut and paste) any important quotations. Put the quote in quotation marks and, at the end of the quote, put the page number or source URL for the quote in brackets. Go back and double-check what you have typed to make sure you have typed the quote completely accurately, although during the editing phase you will still want to go back and check with the source to verify that all quotes are completely accurate.
  • If you want to paraphrase or summarize in your own words, do so and then put the page number plus some clear identifier at the end of the paraphrase.
  • While you are reading and typing you will likely get ideas about how to organize your chapter or paper, new material or ideas, new headings, etc. If a thought or idea strikes you while reading about a particular issue or event, one technique is to type it in bold or italics on a new line in the text. This way you will be able to easily distinguish between the author’s ideas, quotes from the author, and your own thoughts, and you won’t lose the thought.
  • Some researchers use stars or highlighting to indicate what they think are very important quotes or paraphrased thoughts.

Citations and references

One of the most common errors in researching a thesis is poor record-keeping and note-taking when it comes to directly quoting or citing sources. This unfortunately leads to charges of plagiarism, placing the entire degree in jeopardy. For further information, please consult the Student Academic Success Service's plagiarism page.

If the student does everything properly, they shouldn't be worried about breaching the University's academic integrity regulations. However, if the student is charged with having committed a breach, he or she should not panic. It that case, the student can get advice from the Graduate Students’ Association (GSAÉD) and from the Student Academic Appeals Centre. If the student wishes, these entities will be present at any meeting and help the student understand the consequences of any sanctions. However, a professor who discovers academic fraud is obligated to report it. The student must be especially careful when submitting proposals and drafts. These must be referenced as meticulously as the final thesis.


If in the research and writing the student is using a source written in another language, and translates and paraphrases that source to include it in the text, the source text must be meticulously and completely referenced.


The best strategy is to gradually build the bibliography as the student does the research and writing. There are software programs that may help with this. The academic unit may require the use of a particular style guide in the preparation of thesis reference matter, and may have prepared some tailored referencing resources. The student should ask the thesis supervisor if the academic unit offers this type of resource. Another good Website on documenting sources is the Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab.