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How to take notes on a chapter

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Using the headings as you take notes provides a way for you to double check how the author's ideas are organized and whether you have taken adequate notes
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Make homework easier with these tips.

Learning how to take notes on a chapter will help with the ease and speed of completing homework. First of all, it's important to recognize why books have chapters and why homework is often assigned on a chapter-by-chapter basis. 

How Books Are Organized

Most textbooks and many other kinds of informational books are organized by chapters. A chapter is a collection of ideas and information addressing a specific subject like The Civil War, Preparing Wood Floors for Finishing, Writing a Business Letter. In some ways, a chapter can stand on its own like an essay. If you were a magazine publisher, you could publish a book chapter by itself or publish a whole book by printing a chapter each month. In England, more than one Charles Dickens novel was published chapter-by-chapter as newspaper serials. American readers would crowd the docks, waiting for the ship carrying the latest chapter to be unloaded.

Authors therefore arrange their books in chapters to help you understand what they are trying to tell you. Before you take notes on a chapter, look at the table of contents and see what the titles of all the chapters are. Just by doing this you will get a general idea of what the writer is trying to teach you, where the chapter you're about to read fits into his or her thinking and where the chapter fits in with other things you know. 

Since even the ideas and information in a single chapter may be too much for a reader to swallow wholely, page through the one chapter and notice the other aids to learning that the writer uses. Main ideas are likely to have large-print headings over them. Smaller, related ideas or information will have smaller-print headings. One good way to take notes on a chapter is to copy out the large and small headings in outline form at the top of your note paper. Using the headings as you take notes provides a way for you to double check how the author's ideas are organized and whether you have taken adequate notes.

Adequate Notes

Adequate is a bit hard to define. With some books filling in your outline with a single topic sentence will do the job. With others you will want to copy examples of things the author has to tell you. The way a book is laid out may help you decide just what you need.

Most headings are followed by several paragraphs. Usually authors try to put one main idea in each paragraph. Finding that main idea and possibly one or two facts to back it up will form most of your outline. Information that is set off by a box or an illustration most likely relates to one of those main ideas. Once you have figured out which idea the concept is related to, you can add that information to your notes. 

Your Outline

Your outline of headings might begin like this:


  • Events leading up to the war

  • Financial concerns, North and South

  • The growth of manufacturing

  • The plantation system

  • Pro-slavery advocates

  • Anti-slavery activists

You have already begun to master how to take notes on a chapter before you have begun to read. If it's possible, read the chapter through once without taking notes. Your outline of the headings has already given you a good idea of what you can expect to learn. 

After you have read the chapter once, go back again and take the notes you will need to bring the ideas and information back to mind. For example using the headings outline, you can add the main idea of each paragraph to your notes:

  •           Financial concerns, North and South:


Depended on each other to trade successfully with Europe.


  •           The growth of manufacturing:

Mostly in the North, poor farmland, towns drew more craftsmen, finished goods. 

  •           The plantation system:


South, lots of land, better farming climate, needed large numbers of workers to raise and harvest raw materials, slavery justified as filling needs for labor.

As you read, you may be able to bring information from sidebars or feature boxes into your notes or put them at the end:


  •       Worked dawn to dark. 

  •       Owners gave housing, clothes, food. 

  •       Learning to read dangerous. 

  •       Sold if owner needed money or was angry. 

  •       Families split up, sold.

Learning how to take notes on a chapter takes a little practice. But it is important to remember that the author of the book wants to teach you something and will use as many ways as he or she can to make it easy for you to learn. Use the help they give, and your notes will help you.

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