18 Dialectic Notetaking

A dialectical approach to taking notes sounds much more complicated than it is. Dialectic just means a dialogue—a discussion between two (or more) voices trying to figure something out. Whenever you read new material, particularly material that is challenging in some way, it can be helpful to take dialectic notes to create clear spaces for organizing different sets of thoughts.

Start by drawing a vertical line down the middle of a fresh sheet of paper to make two long columns—leave some space at the bottom of the page. Table 2.5 provides an overview of what you should put in the left and right column. It’s a good idea to leave space at the bottom of the page (or on the back) for additional notes about this piece or cite the source.

Table 2.5: Dialectic note-taking

Left column – main ideas Right column – your response

This column is a straightforward representation of the main ideas in the text you are reading. For example:

  • What are the author’s main points in this section?
  • What kind of support is the author using in this section?
  • Other points of significant interest?

Note the source and page number, if any, so that you can find and document this source later. You can directly quote these points, but write these down as you encounter them, not later. If you quote directly, use quotation marks.

The right column includes the questions and connections you make as you encounter this author’s ideas. For example:

  • Questions you want to reflect upon further, discuss with your peers, and/or ask in class.
  • Bigger-picture questions you might explore further in writing.
  • Connections to other texts you’ve read or viewed for this course.
  • Connections to your personal experiences or clinical practice.
  • Connections to the world around you (issues in your community, health and illness stories on the news, or texts you’ve read or viewed outside of this course).


Also, take a look at Table 2.6 for an example of dialectic notetaking, which demonstrates how to document the main ideas of a text and your comments.

Table 2.6: Example of dialectic note-taking

Main ideas My comments
  • main blood pressure (BP) methods: manual and automatic
  • both arms (measurements should be within 10 mm Hg)
  • sitting position with feet flat on floor, “bare arm at heart level” and resting for 5 minutes before measurement
  • accurate cuff size based on the person’s arm: “width of cuff 40% of the person’s arm circumference … length of cuff’s bladder is 80-100% of the person’s arm circumference” (see video)
  • palpate brachial artery firmly (2 cm medially from bicep tendon and 2-3 cm above antecubital fossa)
  • place cuff over bare arm with artery marker aligned with the artery
  • will need to figure out where to place the client’s arm (e.g., on a table)
  • how much pressure does “firm pressure” involve?
  • I have had my BP taken and the healthcare provider took it over my clothing. How come?
  • talk with teacher about how to pronounce “sphygmomanometer”?
  • >need to re-watch video when I get a chance
  • does it hurt to have your BP taken?

Source: Lapum, J., Verkuyl, M., Garcia, W., St-Amant, O., & Tan, A. (2018). Vital sign measurement across the lifespan – 1st Canadian edition. Retrieved from: https://pressbooks.library.ryerson.ca/vitalsign/


Once you have this set of dialectic notes, there are several ways you can use them. For example:

  • These notes can help you contribute to class discussion about this piece and the topics it addresses.
  • Significant questions you encountered while reading are already written down and collected in one place so you don’t have to sift through the reading again to find them.
  • Your observations and thoughts about the piece are already organized, which can help you see patterns and connections within those observations. Finding these connections can be a strong starting point for written assignments.
  • If you are asked to respond to this piece in writing, these notes can serve as a reference point as you develop a draft. They can give you new ideas if you get stuck and help keep the original connections you saw when reading fresh in your mind as you respond more formally to that reading.

Activities: Check Your Understanding




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With editorial and formatting changes, content from this page was adapted from:

The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted. Download for free at: https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/wrd/


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The Scholarship of Writing in Nursing Education: 1st Canadian Edition Copyright © 2019 by Jennifer Lapum; Oona St-Amant; Michelle Hughes; Andy Tan; Arina Bogdan; Frances Dimaranan; Rachel Frantzke; and Nada Savicevic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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