Taking Historical Notes



17 July 2014

Four basic rules should guide our notetaking when we do historical research:


Any notes we take must (not should but must ) clearly distinguish between (a) the exact wording of the source; and (b) our own interpretation of what we think the source is saying. 


When we transcribe a document or passage from a source, we must—there's that word again—faithfully reproduce capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. If we feel we need to "clarify" something, then we place our addition or alteration in square editorial brackets [these things I'm using right here].


When we abstract a document, we should (yes, we have a bit of leeway, here) preserve every essential detail in original sequence and context. Any string of three or more words copied from the source—or any distinctive or peculiar word—must, must, must carry quotation marks around them. When we create abstracts with no quotation marks, we are silently saying that we have paraphrased what the document has to say—that is, we have reworded everything to put the information into our own words. If we choose to do a brief "nutshell," then we label it as such.


We must (boldface and italicized) always identify our source. That means we provide not only enough identification to find it again but also enough descriptive detail to support a judgment as to the nature and the quality of the source.

Four guidelines. Just four. If you can remember these, you can avoid all kind of needless heartache, dead ends, and charges of plagiarism.


IMAGE SOURCE: Can Stock Photo (http://www.canstockphoto.com/images-photos/note-taking.html#file_view.php?id= 19186127 : downloaded 28 June 2014), "Young african american woman taking notes for her study," csp19186127, by ammentorp; used under license.

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