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Academic reading: How can you organize your thoughts?

How can you organize your thoughts?

Take notes

Keeping track of concepts and ideas from the text in the form of notes is an excellent way to be able to review and reflect on what you have learned from the text. Take notes with your thoughts or questions about the argument. You can do this on sticky (Post-it) notes if you’re working with paper. Taking notes at university will help you to make sense of what you are learning and to remember it later. It’s best to write it down in your own words - your notes can be brief and informal. You may want to use digital note-making tools, such as OneNote and Evernote or Sticky Notes on your computer.

What do you write in your notes? Make sure you use keywords and not whole sentences. You can use, for example, the outline method. This method allows you to organize your notes in a structured format. You use bullet points to indicate the structure (topics and subtopics). An example of the outline method: 

Main topic 1

  • Subtopic 1
  • Subtopic 2
    • Fact 1
    • Fact 2
    • Study A

Main topic 2

  • Subtopic 1
  • Subtopic 2
  • Subtopic 3

Use arrows and abbreviations and make sure you leave some space between your text to keep your notes organized. And the most important tip: notes are meant only for yourself and that is why it is important that notes are understandable for you but not necessarily to others.

Finally, make sure you clearly state which ideas are the author’s and which are your own ideas. Always include the reference details of each source, so that you know exactly where that information came from (this is especially important when your purpose for reading is to write an essay or thesis), and so that you can easily add citations and references in the first draft of your assignment. In addition, this will help you not to get confused later about whether these are your own words or a quote from the text, which could lead to unintentional plagiarism. Don’t leave this until the last minute, as it often takes more time than you think.

Use a graphic organizer

If you have having difficulty understanding the concept or theory, try using a mind map or flow chart to make it visual.

With organizers, you can summarize many pages of reading and concentrate on identifying the themes. They can be fun and stimulating to do because they are different and visual, but they can be too superficial for complex ideas and quite difficult to revise from, depending on your learning preferences.

One option is to use graphic/semantic organizers such as flow charts, diagrams or mind maps that help you map and understand ideas visually (this is especially important for visual learners). Some digital tools are: Popplet (only one free mindmap per person),, or


Below, you will see different graphic organizers. When would you use which graphic organizer? Match the function with the right image.

Choose from:

  1. Classifying 
  2. Analyzing
  3. Sequencing and ordering
  4. Comparing and contrasting
  5. Summarizing and informing the reader

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

Image 1 = C
Image 2 = B
Image 3 = D
Image 4 = A
Image 5 = E

Make a summary of the text Globalization and corporate social responsibility. Select an appropriate graphic organizer for your summary and put the information from the article into the graphic organizer.