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:
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:
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|
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
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/