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"A great deal of creativity is about pattern recognition, and what you need to discern patterns is tons of data. Your mind collects that data by taking notes of random details and anomalies easily seen every day - quirks and changes that, eventually, add up to insight."

- Margaret Heffernan (Entreprenuer)

Scholarly Environment

In her work, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming of a Dark Age, Maggie Jackson reminds us that our technology, which is not inherently bad, has diminished our capacity to keep our attention focused. When I met her, we spoke about how our loyalties are divided and how notifications can diminish our capacity to focus, not only on our tasks, but also our relationships. Think about it: Have you ever been in class or out to dinner when a classmate or friend spent more time looking at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or a text than engaging with the activity or conversation at hand? How, then, do we create an environment of intentionality?

  1. Block off time to study in a calendar or a bullet journal. Click here for bullet journaling and other note-taking tips.
  2. Pick a quiet place where you can study. Libraries are perfect places because there are many quiet areas. At home, there are a multitude of distractions: laundry, video games, or binge watching your favorite Netflix show.
  3. Turn off all notifications to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, e-mail, and texts. Tell your loved one where you are studying so that, in case of an emergency, they can get a hold of you.

By considering these steps, you are eliminating interruptions. Interruptions cost you time. Think back to a time when you were reading or writing an assignment, and you were interrupted by a notification from your device or by a friend who wants to engage in a conversation. Did you have to take valuable time to remember what you were reading or writing? We all have at some point. The idea here is not to become antisocial, but to limit your distractions, as they cost you your most valuable commodity: time.

Scholarly Engagement

Curiosity is one of the most critical traits for a scholar to have. We are naturally not curious about every subject matter. How can you become curious about a subject matter in which you have no interest?  

  • Find your “in”: how do your interests relate to the topic?
  • Find appreciation for the topic: Why is the topic important? How does it relate to our society or our experience?
  • Find a friend or relative with an interest in the topic and figure out why they are enthusiastic about it.

Close reading and note-taking skills are critical to the research process. Not only are these skills important in your academic life, but they are important in your professional life too.

  1. Read with a pencil or pen in your hand, and annotate everything you read. You can't take extensive notes in the margins, but you will be able to create annotations that help summarize, make connections between ideas, and raise questions about what you are reading.
  2. Keep a reading journal using 3x5 cards, a legal notepad, MSWord, OneNote, or a note-taking app like Evernote. Remember, all students have access to Office 365, with OneNote and MSWord. With this product, you can share your notes with each other. Education is communal but make sure that all members contribute equally.

a. Summarize and paraphrase ideas into your own words.

b. Write out observations and assumptions: You can verify these later when doing research.

c. Be curious. Write out questions that you seek to answer.

Video Tutorial

To retain information, you need to store it in a place you can access later on and put them in your own words. 

The first step in honing your new study skills is to take better notes. In this video Thomas will tell you everything you need to know to come to class prepared and find a note-taking system that will help you retain and review like a champ.

Dear Student,

Developing a scholarly mindset is more than just paying attention to the conversation academics hold in their field. It’s a skill of intentionality and deliberate practice. Like developing a muscle, developing a scholarly mindset will have its moments of struggle. Students who practice these skills, over time, will find that they will focus longer, read closer, take better notes, ask strong questions, know what resources to use, develop analytical skills, and present their findings with confidence. Our college and faculty develop experiences for you to hone these skills. When you’re finished at PPCC, our goal is for you to be equipped to handle more complex challenges either in your transfer institution, or in the work place.

When I first started college, I could not sit down and read my text for fifteen minutes without thinking about what’s going on with my family, my job, or what next blockbuster movie was being released in theaters. My reading rate was well below the college average of 240 words a minute. With time and intentional practice, my reading rate increased to the point of where I was able to sit for hours at a time to complete my reading assignments.

Like any ability, it didn't come overnight. These pages are designed to teach you basic skills, helping you through these obstacles. This guide is not the definitive resource. Your faculty, The Learning Commons reference librarians, and educational coaches are your best resources. This just starts the conversation; After you've gone through these pages, I hope you have a better awareness of the research process.


Glenn Rohlfing

History Faculty and Co-Director of PPCC Undergraduate Research

Note-Taking: Video Tip


Any system of note-taking in class can be applied to taking research notes. This video will help you get started. What's important to remember is that you will get better with deliberate practice. Stick with it!