Thoughts on note taking…

The entire first section of my last course, Digital Photographic Practice, was taken up with the exploration of work flow in photography, that is: the systems a photographer uses to use their time effectively, be productive and to enable creating work. The exercises seemed simplistic to me when I first read through the course notes and I felt a little disheartened as workflow was a skill I felt I had already mastered. However, I quickly began to understand and appreciate the value of having to take a step back and analyse my ways of working – this focused me to be objective and face head on difficulties I faced: that is – acknowledging the difference between how my workflow worked in my mind versus the reality of a hard drive full of unedited images. This eventually helped me to focus on what was important rather than trying to achieve everything and deliver little or nothing.

With this in mind and as I begin this very academic course, I felt a similar reflective exercise about note taking could help me. I struggle with note taking in that I am inconsistent and often find it difficult to use the notes I have taken usefully. One of my course aims is to improve this, and after a couple of exercise I now understand that taking effective notes could be the difference between success and failure with the course. I understand I need to be consistent with my approach-my aim here is that through the act of writing down my study workflow I will be setting myself a of rules to follow throughout the course. The process itself will also force me to analyse the way I work and make me think about what works and what does not.

  1. Read course materials:
  • Highlight (with different colours):
    • Authors/artists etc.
    • Books/texts/artworks
    • Keywords or phrases
    • Extended points of interest
  • Note points from further research (usually the items above) onto a post it note.
  1. First read through of text for given project:

The course notes early on reassure that most texts will require multiple read through to be understood, which is reassuring as the article for the first project might as well have been written in Spanish for the amount I understood on first reading! I am finding myself become more used to the academic language and way of writing that the course is introducing me to.

For the first read through I allow the words to flow over me and do not worry too much about gaining a full understanding.

  • Note (again on post it notes):
    • Authors, artists, key figures mentioned. (draw rectangle around to highlight)
    • Unfamiliar words, phrases, concepts. (circle)
    • Key or interesting points of interest. (underline)
    • Note any questions that occur to me – this is the part of that I am finding most difficult at the moment, however, when I manage to do this I find the questions raised to be great jumping off points for my thoughts.
  1. Further Research:
  • Based on the keywords/figures I have noted already.
  • Transfer these onto an A4 sheet and mentally assess the points that are most important and tackle in order of importance. (Often points not directly relevant to the questions posed can be answered through researching the main keywords.
  • Read different sources about each point and make notes in an A5 notebook. Reading from different sources is important as authors often approach a point from a different standpoint and give varying emphasis to different areas.
  • Note any further key points, authors etc. on post it notes and add to the A4 list if appropriate.
  • In previous courses I have struggled to keep momentum. I have usually ended up falling behind and then burst into a short period of extensive activity after which I slip back into inactivity. Hopefully, the process of breaking research down into smaller parts will help – early indications are good as I am managing to study for a short amount of time most days. So far this has meant I have not experienced the anxiety that knowing I am not working as hard as I should brings.
  1. Re-read set text:
  • At this point my understanding should be increased and the text should make more sense. I would probably reread a number of times however.
  • At this point I am thinking about completing the project and the notes I take are based upon this as well as appearing in the form of questions as mentioned above.
  1. Plan project write up:

This is the major area I need to improve. Too often I try to rush into this without prior planning. This is probably due to being conscious of time wasted, not planning properly though means that I can look over what I have written and realise I have not captured everything I wanted or answered the project brief fully. With that in mind, the notes here are more aspirational and a work in progress:

  • Make bullet points of areas to be discussed
  • List any relevant quotes form texts to be included.
  • Tick off bullet points as writing progresses.
  1. Write up:

I have been thinking a lot recently about how I can improve my writing, the main conclusion I have reached is planning (as detailed above) and practice. I usually end up with many half written blog posts and I intend to let that happen with UVC.)

  1. Read fellow students blogs:

I think at it is extremely important to read fellow students blogs as an aid to understanding subjects tackled. I am conscious however that I do not want to be influenced by what they write before I have tackled a subject myself so have taken the decision to not look at other blogs until I finished a particular project or assignment.

At this stage of the course the thoughts above represent a set of aspirations rather than system and practice, early indications are that this approach is working, however, only time and further reflection will tell. As I have indicated at some points, there are areas here that require more emphasis than others.

An early consideration is how much research should I do? With every piece of research I invariably end up with another extensive list of further points to consider. I need to get the balance right between doing enough reading to be able to respond to the projects in an informed way and yet not become bogged down in details which prevent my progress. So far I would have to say I have not done enough research, this is probably driven by me thinking about deadlines too much. One of my first considerations for this course was not to let it over run and stick to a tight deadline. I have already fallen behind which suggests that the timescales I had set were not achievable or realistic as I have not taken into account the impact of external factors. The summer break is a good example of this as my children being off school meant a massive change to the routines I was beginning to set in place. The last thing I want is to rush through the course for the sake of it. I am coming to the realisation that the amount of reading I need to do is far more than I had originally anticipated and need to adjust my expectations accordingly. Despite this I recognise I need to keep a tight track of my progress so I can evaluate where I am on an ongoing basis. Being honest with myself is the only way I can be here – if it takes two weeks rather than one to complete an exercise but I have worked hard and consistently over that two weeks to understand the issues raised then that is acceptable, if I have not applied myself and then rush to complete then that is not.

Another thought is how much of my research I should write up for my blog. Initially I anticipated posting all of my notes as evidence of the extra work I was doing. I quickly learned this was not practical – notes should be quick and if the main thought is publishing them for an audience too much time is taken worrying about grammar, spelling and logical construction which impacts speed. If I have done the right amount of research then this should be evident in the projects and assignments. Spending time thinking, reflecting and then writing this up is a much more effective use of my time with potentially much greater benefits.