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How to Write a Term Paper

Take Efficient Notes

Keeping complete and accurate bibliography and note cards during the research process is a time (and sanity) saving practice.

1. If you have ever needed a book or pages within a book only to discover that an earlier researcher has failed to return it or torn pages from your source, you understand the need to remind students that honor among scholars demands respect for materials as well as for ideas.

2. Bibliography and note cards: Every researcher has a favorite method for taking notes. Below are some suggestions to customize for your own use.

a. Bibliography cards

1) There may be far more books and articles listed than you have time to read, so be selective when choosing a reference. Take information from works that clearly relate to your thesis, remembering that you may not use them all.

2) Use a smaller or a different color card from the one used for taking notes.

3) Write a bibliography card for every source.

4) Number the bibliography cards. On the note cards, use the number rather than the author's name and the title. It's faster.

5) Another method for recording a working bibliography, of course, is to create your own database. Adding, removing, and alphabetizing titles is a simple process. Be sure to save often and to create a back-up file.

6) A bibliography card should include all the information a reader needs to locate that particular source for further study.

7) Most of the information required for a book entry (Gibaldi 112):

a) Author's name

b) Title of a part of the book [preface, chapter titles, etc.]

c) Title of the book

d) Name of the editor, translator, or compiler

e) Edition used

f) Number(s) of the volume(s) used

g) Name of the series

h) Place of publication, name of the publisher, and date of publication

i) Page numbers

j) Supplementary bibliographic information and annotations

8) Most of the information required for an article in a periodical (Gibaldi 141):

a) Author's name

b) Title of the article

c) Name of the periodical

d) Series number or name (if relevant)

e) Volume number (for a scholarly journal)

f) Issue number (if needed)

g) Date of publication

h) Page numbers

i) Supplementary information

9) For information on how to cite other sources refer to the MLA Handbook

b. Notes cards

1) Take notes in ink on either uniform note cards or uniform slips of paper. The slips of paper are easier to carry if you are working on a very long paper

2) Devote each note card to a single topic identified at the top. Write only on one side. Later, you may want to use the back to add notes or personal observations.

3) Include the number of the page(s) where you found the information. You will want the page number(s) later for documentation, and you may also want page number(s)to verify your notes.

4) Most novice researchers write too much. Condense. Abbreviate. You are striving for substance, not quantity.

5) Keep direct quotations at a minimum. If you must quote, use ellipses (...) wherever possible. Be sure to copy patiently word for word. Save time. Be accurate when you first take notes. Quote from the original source, if possible. A secondary source may have misquoted the original.

6) Suggestions for condensing information:

a) Summary: A summary is intended to provide the gist of an essay. Do not weave in the author's choice phrases. Read the information first and then condense the main points in your own words. This practice will help you avoid the copying that leads to plagiarism. Summarizing also helps you both analyze the text you are reading and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses (Barnet and Bedau 13).

b) Outline: Use to note a series of points.

c) Paraphrase: Do not quote words and phrases from the original. Simplify the language and list the ideas in the same order. A paraphrase is as long as the original. Paraphrasing is helpful when you are struggling with a particularly difficult passage.

d) Combination: Blend the above techniques.

7) Be sure to include your own insights or flashes of brilliance. Ralph Waldo Emerson warns you to "Look sharply after your thoughts. They come unlooked for, like a new bird seen on your trees, and, if you turn to your usual task, disappear...." To differentiate these insights from those of the source you are reading, initial them as your own. (When the following examples of note cards include the researcher's insights, they will be followed by the initials N. R.)

8) Run a hardcopy of a promising essay. Highlight key sentences and passages and make marginal notes. Note those areas that apply specifically to your thesis.

9) When you have finished researching your thesis and you are ready to write your paper, organize your cards according to topic.

10. As you research, create a working outline that includes the note card headings and explores a logical order for presenting them in your paper.

3. Below are examples of bibliography and note cards compiled while researching Beloved. Formats follow the MLA Handbook for Writers. For more examples of MLA style for bibliography and note cards, refer to the above handbook

a. Thesis: Both the spiritual and physical enslavement of Baby Suggs, Sethe, Denver, and Beloved are shaped by chattel slavery and reflected in their houses at Sweet Home and on Bluestone Road.

b. Bibliography card : A book by a single author # 1 Otten, Terry, The Crime Of Innocence in the Fiction of Toni Morrison. Literary Frontiers Edition, #13. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989.

c. Note cards from above source:

#1 [bibliog. cd #] spiritual state of women [topic] p. 81: T. M. deals with good and evil and their relationship. She explores the ability of an evil system like slavery to corrupt slave owner and slave; both carry responsibility for action.

#2 isolation of 124 p. 92 In all TM's novels isolation from the community leads to tragedy: necessary to reconnect for "recovery of order and wholeness."

d. Bibliography card: A work in an anthology compiled by two editors #2 Henderson, Mae G. "Response" to "There Is No More Beautiful Way" by Houston A. Baker Jr. in Afro-American Literary Study in the 1990s. Eds. Houston A. Baker Jr. and Patricia Redmond. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, 155-163.

e. Note card from the above source: #2 Afro-Amer. writers break with traditional role of home p. 161 Henderson responds to Baker's view of the role of place in Afro-American literature. African-American women break with traditional views of space. If a home can be a place of growth and maternal nurturing, it can also be a place of destruction. 124 is a place where Baby Suggs nurtures, where Sethe nurtures and murders, and where Beloved, Denver and Sethe enter into a struggle for survival. Beloved must be driven out and Denver must find the courage to leave the front porch. N. R.

f. Bibliography card for a book by two authors: #3 Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1984.

g. Note card from the above source: #3 Houses as prisons/ agoraphobia and anorexia p. 85. 19th century women wrote about imprisonment and escape in novel after novel. Ironically, houses were depicted as both "woman's place" and a prison. In the lives if these trapped women's agoraphobia and anorexia are closely associated with their imprisonment.

h. #4 Horvitz, Deborah. "Nameless Ghosts: Possession and Dispossession in Beloved." Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 17, No. 2, Autumn, 1989, pp. 157-67. Republished in Literature Resource Center. Gale. (1 January 1999).

i. Note card from the above source: #4. Connections between and among generations of slave women pp. 1-2 Although the ghost of Beloved represents all the slave women who have never had a voice, she is not limited to being a symbol. She is "rooted in a particular story and is the embodiment of specific members of Sethe's family." She is the spirit of all women dragged on board a slave ship, of Sethe's hanged mother, of Sethe's murdered child, and of all the black women who try to trace their roots back to Africa. No wonder 124 is so filled with pain and anger! N.R.

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