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How to Read, Take Notes On and Understand Journal Articles | Essay Tips

941 ratings | 45914 views
The first pilot to my Essay Tips series! I share my method for reading and understanding a journal article or paper quickly and efficiently including how to take good, concise notes and remember useful citations. If your method differs from mine or you think you can give me some pointers then let me know in the comments! This is the first in a series of videos I'm hoping to produce while undertaking my PhD at the University of Exeter on tips for students at university or college whether undergraduate, postgraduate or otherwise. Note: The programme to the left (which I highlight in) is Mendeley. Apologies for forgetting to state this in the video!! If you've enjoyed this video then please do check out the rest of my channel. I generally put out new videos every Tuesday and Friday discussing theatre and playwriting from the perspective of an aspirant and (some might say) emerging playwright, theatre maker and academic. My tagging system was borrowed from this article on The Thesis Whisperer: https://thesiswhisperer.com/2015/10/28/how-evernote-can-help-you-with-your-literature-review/ Useful Links [Amazon Affiliate] My Favourite Intro to Theory Book Series US: https://amzn.to/2SpdLsz UK: https://amzn.to/2OThW1N My Camera US: https://amzn.to/2Q5nJhj UK: https://amzn.to/2OTyneu My Favourite Camera Lens US: https://amzn.to/2Q1s3xZ UK: https://amzn.to/2D8Rk6l
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Text Comments (128)
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
Thanks for watching everyone! A bunch more of my Essay Tips videos can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLIVcDWpMT7KfEYHOg54Lk6Wy-cyhkR84Z
TheVratilo (5 days ago)
Hi, how did you create split screens with evernote?
Atef Almalky (5 days ago)
so helpful, thanks for sharing
Rehan Baloch (1 month ago)
how can I find a meta-analysis on my desired topic?
Tom Nicholas (1 month ago)
This shouldn't be too hard to find, I'd suggest keeping your search terms broad. The good thing is that meta-analyses tend to get cited a lot and so you should be able to sort search results by number of citations and one will usually be near the top somewhere!
Fábio Caravieri (1 month ago)
Tom you can post an example of the notes you make in evernote
Jingzhi Wang (1 month ago)
I think he is asking whether you could share how extensive you need to go for in each note. You only showed that you typed down a quotation in this video, but I guess people struggle the most with how to efficiently summarize papers but also have enough material when trying to find the exact text?
Fábio Caravieri (1 month ago)
Tom, I wanted a more complete example of your notes in evernote
Tom Nicholas (1 month ago)
Hey Fábio, I’m not entirely sure what you mean beyond what is included in the video itself?
Eilis O'Sullivan (2 months ago)
thank you, i needed this
Tom Nicholas (2 months ago)
Glad to have helped Eilis!
JenineJ.E.M. Pingol (2 months ago)
G thanks I'm having trouble on how to tackle this confusing article and your video helped a lot
Tom Nicholas (2 months ago)
Really pleased to hear that, hope you've cracked the article now!
Jarred Allison (2 months ago)
please do a video on planning and writing a lit review please Tom
Jarred Allison (2 months ago)
Tom Nicholas thank you it would be really helpful!
Tom Nicholas (2 months ago)
Hey Jarred, thanks for the suggestion! Have been meaning to make a video on lit reviews for ages. Will certainly bump it up my list of vids I haven't yet made!!
happygj79 (3 months ago)
Thanks for the tips! Keep up the good work!
happygj79 (2 months ago)
Absolutely. Going for my Education Specialist degree now (after my masters) so I continue to refine my study skills! :)
Tom Nicholas (3 months ago)
No worries, hope they were useful in some small way!
great, just great.
tah sumonta (4 months ago)
you are cute :)
Nasir Uddin (4 months ago)
What is the application you mentioned to take notes? I did not hear properly maybe not clear to me!
Tom Nicholas (4 months ago)
The one I'm using here is called Evernote. However, I have, more recently, moved to an app called Bear. While I would recommend a dedicated note-taking app, I would suggest that which you use is largely a matter of personal preference.
Christine Johnson (5 months ago)
so Tom, I quickly downloaded Mendeley on Internet Explorer after view/reading comments, however, I had to close it using the task manager because it quit responding. I have Evernote, and what I was originally looking for was a tool that allows highlighting and notetaking on screen with the article. I like Evernote but find that I haven't been using it because it doesn't do what I want.....you know this almost makes me miss actual books. Lol
Tom Nicholas (5 months ago)
I know that you can highlight in Mendeley, I'm not so sure about notes however. Some notetaking apps allow you to import PDFs too (in fact, Evernote may do...). Fairly recently I switched to Bear which is an alternative notetaking app which I kind of prefer as its got a few less features and is a little more streamlined. Hope you manage to find a solution that works for you!
Neeru Earnest (6 months ago)
Hi Tom, which programme/app are you using to highlight as you read and taking notes?
Neeru Earnest (5 months ago)
Thanks, I am in the UK. It is part one the module on professional doctorate at our university. No worries, thanks for getting back. You are doing a great work, thanks for sharing your knowledge.
Tom Nicholas (5 months ago)
Ooh, PhD programmes vary a fair bit from country to country and this wasn't something required in the UK so I'm afraid I'm not able to be much help there. Apologies!
Neeru Earnest (6 months ago)
Thanks Tom. That’s great and thanks for your swift response. Another query, do you have any tips/ideas for portfolio of evidence for Doctoral module, to meet the learning outcomes.
Tom Nicholas (6 months ago)
Hi Neeru, it's called Mendeley and is essentially a freeware version of EndNote (however I'd argue for it entirely on its own merit!). A really useful way of storing papers in the cloud with annotations.
hibou647 (6 months ago)
Very interesting videos ! I was wondering, do you only note down quotes or do you paraphrase or start memoing/adressing how you would use the quotes in your writing ?
Tom Nicholas (6 months ago)
Usually, I tend to just note to begin with however, often, I will return to papers/books which I think are of particular interest and read them with the very direct objective of considering how I will make use of them for a particular piece of writing.
Faye S. (6 months ago)
I think Shinobu is the surname and Kitayama the given name....
Faye S. (6 months ago)
Tom Nicholas Tom Nicholas Tom Nicholas lol you're right in the video. Afaik, Kitayama is a fairly known surname and Shinobu the given name. I don't know why i wrote that comment. Also i think it's only East Asians who uses the "Surname GivenName" but the article has used it the other way for continuity... Anyways, great video tho!
Tom Nicholas (6 months ago)
Ah, thanks for letting me know. That's my anglocentrism poking through! Actually, I do wonder what the accepted practice is with referencing when citing from work by scholars from cultures where the "last name" is not necessarily the "family name"...
Sandip Paul (6 months ago)
i find your method useful..thanks for sharing your technique..
Tom Nicholas (6 months ago)
Glad to hear it Sandip, no worries at all.
QFDkamp08 (7 months ago)
I downloaded the Evernote app for my MacBook after seeing this. I like the side by side double window option so I can take notes while going through my online lessons for college. However, on the Evernote app I can not seem to figure out how to remove the side bar that shows all of my notes. I was able to "hide the side bar" but there is another side bar, the "card view" I think they call it? is there any way to remove that so I have a full screen of strictly text? Side by side already narrows everything down and I am trying to figure how to utilize as much typing/viewing space as possible.
Tom Nicholas (7 months ago)
Yeah. I do miss the tagging system with Evernote as I did like having both tags and notebooks (where Bear only has tags). Bear's so much cheaper however and, as you say, does away with all the annoying bells and whistles that I don't actually need!
QFDkamp08 (7 months ago)
Tom Nicholas Thank you for the reply. I agree and removed Evernote. I just want a simple note taking app. I don’t need a ton of bells and whistles. Just take notes with breaking them up by subject...etc.
Tom Nicholas (7 months ago)
I’ve recently moved to an app called Bear for multiple reasons but partly because of some of the unnecessary complications that Evernote seems to like to throw in users’ paths! Sorry I can’t be more helpful!!
Mamoon Rashid (7 months ago)
Which camera did you use to record yourself? Built-in webcams in most of the laptops are horrible. Great video indeed!
Tom Nicholas (7 months ago)
Hey Mamoon, I’ve got a Canon 440d which is a little old now. I believe it has a slightly different name in many other countries, it’s the Rebel series, maybe the T2i I think.
Ann Teve (7 months ago)
What is the PDF reader you’re using? I annotate articles using Goodreader on an iPad Pro. It allows highlighting by colours, underlining, and stroke through. Additionally, it will print/export a page-referenced summary of annotations. I export to Word or Pages and digitally file with the .pdf.
Tom Nicholas (7 months ago)
This is Mendeley which is specifically designed for storing academic papers and can also export bibliographies etc and organise citations for you within Word if that's something you find useful. I actually don't know if it lets you export just the quotations. Sounds like you've got a decent method there though!
Ann Teve (7 months ago)
Why would you retype the selected highlight instead of a copy and paste? I’m assuming that was an APA in-text citation appended to what could then be a quotation in a consequent paper. Very clever side-by-side arrangement of the PDF reader and Evernote. Great videos.
Tom Nicholas (7 months ago)
I simply find it helps me to remember where I got the citations from and to help me to develop a really indepth understanding of the field so that, if I'm presenting or similar, I can recall the bits that I've found most useful. It's not the most time-efficient way of reading each paper but, in the long run, the repetition is something I find useful--won't necessarily be for everyone though!
hussam shamek (7 months ago)
The excellent tool I use every time is Zotero. More than amazing.
Tom Nicholas (7 months ago)
I've never tried Zotero but have heard good things!
aswin ganesh (7 months ago)
poda kena piyalae
lisa watkins (8 months ago)
thank you this is brilliant
Tom Nicholas (8 months ago)
Glad you found it useful Lisa!
Kristina Gavran (8 months ago)
Hi Tom! great vlogs, I love the selection of topics you cover. I am first year Phd student, and after 6 months I have tons of word documents and no system at all. I was wondering - how do you organise your notes on books, not just pdf articles? where do you put them? do you use Mendeley at all? thank you for the amazing content you put online.
Tom Nicholas (8 months ago)
Ahhh, sorry, I understand now!! I use the same method for books actually. Trying to avoid having loads and loads of notes I find to be a good way of making myself think about whether I REALLY need to jot that extra sentence down or not and therefore to be a little more strict on myself. Ah, I will think about doing one of those actually. I should maybe do it for some kind of anniversary or milestone...
Kristina Gavran (8 months ago)
I did watch it, of course :) here you are taking notes on a article. How do you manage big books? also in evernote? and do you use something for referencing or manualy? thank you! btw. I would be really interested to see a vlog about why you started this channel, why is it important to you. it is definitely important to us! tnx!
Tom Nicholas (8 months ago)
Hi Kristina, Thanks for saying so, glad you've been enjoying my vids! Have you watched this one? I feel like this will answer many of those questions! Although, if you want me to explain a little more about my Evernote system then I'd be more than happy to let you know!
Kallee Tang (8 months ago)
Hi Tom, glad to watch your Essay reading skills here. I notice you using Evernote app? does it work? i wondered any note APP could be more convenient?thank you!
Tom Nicholas (8 months ago)
No worries!
Kallee Tang (8 months ago)
Thank you for replying me hahaha
Tom Nicholas (8 months ago)
It should be fairly simple to adapt this method to another note app. I’m currently debating switching to Apple Notes as it works on more devices however it does have less features. Whichever you feel most comfortable with should work—even paper!
Kerry Sauer (8 months ago)
I enjoyed your video and how you take notes. Love that you are noting content for citations in your notes. My only suggestion is to note the name of the author cited in the original content into your Evernote citation because if you chose to use that sentence, your citation in APA should include that author (citing a secondary source) and you might forget otherwise.
Tom Nicholas (8 months ago)
I will admit I haven’t watched this back for a while so hopefully am remembering what’s in the video right but... I’d generally avoid citing sources which are citing sources and, instead, dig out the original source that is being cited. That’s why, usually, I jot down just the source they’re referring to and then go away and appraise that on its own merit. It can look a little lazy to have not have done so (although sometimes it’s unavoidable). But, yes, if noting down a citation within a source, important to have the ‘cited in’ in your notes.
Sarah Davison (8 months ago)
Another great video :) Have you got any videos (or plans for videos) about overcoming self-doubt problems during a PhD? I know it's quite a personal one, or perhaps not something you struggle with at all, but I know myself and a few other students in MA and PhD sometimes find it hard to overcome that nagging feeling of "Am I good enough for PhD study?" when you don't fully understand a difficult theory, or trip up on a journal article etc. TIA!
Tom Nicholas (8 months ago)
Perhaps, I can imagine our friends in the sciences aren't exactly immune either though!
Sarah Davison (8 months ago)
Definitely something which goes hand-in-hand with some of the theories in the humanities. Look forward to the video!
Tom Nicholas (8 months ago)
Ahhh, I actually MUST make a video on this, good shout! You are definitely not alone in this and I think this is something the vast, vast majority of people who are doing a PhD go through. I certainly, very regularly wonder how I’ve managed to blag my way into this position!! In fact, I think I may just fast track this one to be a video very soon. Thanks for the suggestion!!
Anne Ucu (8 months ago)
Hello Tom, i have struggle searching full journal article on the internet. Most of the time i just found out an abstract , not the full text or i need to pay . How? any idea or can you do a video about it?
Tom Nicholas (8 months ago)
Journals will often require a subscription to read more than just the abstract. Are you a member of a University or other kind of educational institution? These should have subscriptions to many journals which allow you access. If not, you could ask at your local public library if they have access to many academic journals.
Fábio Caravieri (9 months ago)
I liked a lot
Tom Nicholas (9 months ago)
Fábio Caravieri Awesome. Hope it’s helpful!!
Fábio Caravieri (9 months ago)
Tom Nicholas I'm going to watch
Tom Nicholas (9 months ago)
If you pop over to my channel page you should find (by pure coincidence!) my latest video might be useful.
Fábio Caravieri (9 months ago)
Tom if you can make more videos like this will be of great use. For example one with tips on how to write a paper
Tom Nicholas (9 months ago)
Awesome, that's great to hear Fábio!
Caroline Da Silva (9 months ago)
I love this! Very clever, simple and effective! Definitely going to be using this! Thank you so much! 😁
Tom Nicholas (9 months ago)
Glad you found it useful Caroline! Best of luck with your studies!
freakespionage (10 months ago)
This is really helpful, thank you!
Elina Kim (10 months ago)
Thanks! God bless you!
Tom Nicholas (10 months ago)
No worries! Hope you found it useful Elina!
Obey Silence (11 months ago)
One can see the smartness in his eyes. Disgusting! Just kidding, thank you for your work!
Tom Nicholas (11 months ago)
Haha, if I wear shades in all my future videos will I look more modest? Glad you found it useful!
Mona English (1 year ago)
You're awesome!! Thank you so much! This was helpful. Why don't you drag the pdf to the evernote note and use annotation? It should offer annotation summary in the same note. Not sure how do you think about this.
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
Ooh, I'll have to check out Read Cube, I've not heard of that one before. Sounds like you've got a great system that really works there. And thanks for saying nice things about my videos, much appreciated! Best of luck with the MA!!
Mona English (1 year ago)
I understand! Honestly, I used to use Zotero, then tried Mendely for a very short while (didn't feel comfortable with it that much I think I should give it another try) and now am using Read Cube. I keep research papers I download and will read in Read Cube and once I start reading and taking notes I move it to Evernote (Just tried that recently). I did subscribe to Evernote though, they have a reduced price for students. It gives 10 GB of storage every month. For an MA this is ok I believe not sure about a PHD. :) The highlighting, annotation features are much better in Evernote than it is in Read cube. Thank you so much for your videos, they are a great recourse for any researcher! Keep up the great work! Greetings from Egypt :)
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
Hi Mona, I know that is an option but I quite like having all my references in Mendeley. Also, there's a limit on how much you can upload to Evernote each month and I read quite a lot of different papers so would probably burn through that fairly quickly. Certainly worth trying if it works for you though! Glad you enjoyed the video!
Giovanni Littardi (1 year ago)
Thank you. With best wishes.
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
Glad you found it useful Giovanni, thanks!
Adam Ripon (1 year ago)
Holy crap you look like Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) from Game of Thrones! Great video, thanks for sdharing.
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
Haha, oh dear, I think this is gonna become a thing...
Celina Wong (1 year ago)
Thank you for the video. After taking a gap year and suddenly plunging into higher level courses, I'm finding myself swimming in readings without much guidance with how to go about with them. Great video!
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
Glad you found it useful Celina and best of luck with your studies!
Arava Glam (1 year ago)
Great video!!! Highly recommend you on Koocam.com They are looking for people Who can give tips on how to understand articles,essay etc (even if you do it as a hobby)
Kimberly Aldunate (1 year ago)
Who is actually searching videos on how to study instead of actually studying lol 🙈
Chiewrt (4 months ago)
THis is part of my beating-procrasting-method obviously, therefore responding to your comment is also very significant for my study. Anyways, have a lovely day, i am gonna cry now
Christine Johnson (5 months ago)
Kimberly Aldunate me unfortunately
wajid Rafiq (10 months ago)
I am doing it, I actually starts to get bore when I read an article so start to search, what is the best of method of reading :D
taylor lerman (1 year ago)
Hey there, I just found your channel and it's quite useful, but as an undergraduate student, my main concern right now is: should I look for a knowledge gap in the literature review for my dissertation? and do you know any good databases for business studies please help because I'm really struggling with the collection of information...!! thanks in advance!!
taylor lerman (1 year ago)
Thank you so much for your reply Tom, i'll definitely check your video !!
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
Thanks Taylor! First off, I'd say these are definitely conversations you can ask one of your lecturers. That's what they're there for and they'll be able to tell you in regard to your particular university. For your undergrad dissertation I wouldn't worry about your dissertation being absolutely groundbreaking but I think you'll find it more fun and rewarding (and potentially get a better mark) if you find something where there isn't lots of research already. And Google Scholar is awesome. I've got a video about how to use it if you wanted to check it out! :)
Essay Help (1 year ago)
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Jessica Royal (9 months ago)
For anyone considering paying someone to write a scholarly paper, I would strongly caution against this. First, most colleges and universities have strict rules against plagiarism which can take many forms, one of which is submitting an assignment which you did not write. This could have serious consequences including expulsion from your program. It can give you a bad reputation in your field of study and undermine your credibility. I would hope that anyone in a graduate program is pursing a higher degree to advance their field of study. By purchasing your work you cheat yourself out of a unique educational experience. I myself am pursing a doctorate, and it would sadden me to know my colleagues were cheating like this. If you are in a degreed program whether it is undergrad or graduate and you are having trouble completing work, please use resources your school has to offer or reach out for guidance. Graduate school is difficult but there are many resources designed to help you succeed (such as this video!). Find what works for you and hang in there. It gets better and you will be rewarded with a degree you earned on your own. If you find that you need to purchase assignments, the program which you are enrolled may not be a good fit for you.
James Hagan (1 year ago)
Question: do you read the whole paper and highlight stuff, and then take notes on it afterwards? or do it as you go? I prefer doing it as I go, but some psychology literature on effective reading seems to suggest that reading through first is better for understanding.
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
Hey James! I'd say it really depends on what the paper is. As you say, papers written in different fields can vary massively. Some are really well organised and, then, I tend to be able to go through and highlight and note take once. With some more complex ones (say, really complicated cultural criticism), it tends to take a few reads and I might find myself realising that something I thought was SUPER important before actually isn't or that something I missed before is vital!
james21794 (1 year ago)
I found this very useful!. Thanks Tom!
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
+james21794 Glad to hear it James, no worries! Let me know if there's anything else you'd like me to do a video on!
Evie B (1 year ago)
This is so helpful! I am starting my PhD this September so wanted to use the next few months to create an organisation plan - better to start organised than to get organised later on and then have to review everything you went over before. Thanks for sharing your tips - really appreciated - I've subscribed :)
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
Awesome, that's a great shout. Haha, do I have to limit it to 5!!
Evie B (1 year ago)
Thank you Tom :). I will defo be sure to send some questions and video suggestions your way :). Maybe a video where you mention 5 things you wish you knew/did before starting your PhD?
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
+Evie Bamigbade Glad it was useful Evie and best of luck with starting out, I'm sure you'll find it a really fun challenge! Let me know if there's anything else you'd be interested to hear about before you start, suggestions and questions are always welcome!
myzeedah musa (1 year ago)
I found this useful for my study. thank you.
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
Glad to hear it Myzeedah! Best of luck wth your studies!
Nurul Nadia Nawi (1 year ago)
Hi Tom, Yay! I am happy that I found your channel. I've been looking for this such technical sharing. Good to know how other people doing in 'technical' part of PhD like organising journal articles, reviewing literature, note taking, writing research paper, etc. Not so many people share their methods and I'm glad I found yours. Just subscribed and looking forward for more updates! cheers
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
+Amr Del Yeah, I think I've finally (after a year) become fairly settled on my method but I still look at my colleagues' and wonder whether they've cracked it better than me!
Amr Del (1 year ago)
yeah it s the famous questions we doctorat students have ,is my methode of reading suficient are other effictive methodes been used by others that i may learn and use is my methode too time taking ,how can i read with effeciency by taking notes and extracting the necessary info all by taking less time possible ... its good to see our other friends from phd sharing thiers
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
Hey Nurul! I'm glad you found it too and hope it's in some way useful during your studies! Let me know if there's anything in particular you'd like me to do a video about!
The Nizzah One (1 year ago)
Never thought to use evernote. Thanks for this vid, my good man.
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
+The Nizzah One No worries! I find it has the best balance of having some useful features without being so whizzy as to get in the way. One of the only things that's persuaded me to swap it for the apps that already came on my phone. Also, the free version is more than enough (unless you want to upload loads of photos or something).
Beth dexter (1 year ago)
thank you...for all your great tips...much appreciated
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
+Beth dexter Glad to have been helpful!!
Rufus Mosis (1 year ago)
Well there are some neat ideas there! Going to steal this method. Thank You!
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
+Rufus Mosis Thanks Rufus! Happy to be of help!
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
If you found this useful, you may also like to check out my video on using Google Scholar to carry out literature searches in order to find all those articles and papers: https://youtu.be/dc-vKk205c8
Amr Del (1 year ago)
greetings from algeria
olga solovyeva (1 year ago)
Thats a very nice video, Tom! Thanks a lot. I just wanted to ask why dont you use some tools as zotero or mendeley to organize notes and quotations? It was really funny also that this article been in my to-read list for a past couple days :)
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
Haha, no, apologies, I totally should have said in the video! Cheers for watching!
olga solovyeva (1 year ago)
i see! shame i didnt recognize it though ))
Tom Nicholas (1 year ago)
+ольга соловьёва Thanks, glad you found it useful! The app to the left is Mendeley. I don't think I said that in the video though, apologies! Mendeley is great (if a bit clunky sometimes). I find Evernote that tiny bit more fluent for keeping notes on though. So I use both!

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