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PSY 101: Introduction to Psychology

Guide for Psychology students

How do I make sure I'm understanding the source well enough to use it in my paper?

Reading and understanding academic sources can be one of the most challenging parts of the research process. Even if you're reading popular or general sources, close reading requires critical thinking and analysis. This is even more challenging when you are reading in a second language!

When you're reading, you'll want to try to understand the source on multiple levels.

  1. Understanding what individual words and sentences mean.
  2. Understanding what argument and the evidence presented.
  3. Understanding the context, audience, scope, and purpose.


This can be challenging, especially if you're trying to work on all three levels at once.

Ideally, you'll read a source three times, focusing on each element respectively in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd read-throughs.  This takes time, so it is best to start your research early. 

Review the Understanding Your Source guide for more information on how to master the three levels of understanding.

Taking good notes

There are many ways to take notes - and taking notes is very important - here is one suggested format you can use.

A downloadable copy of the Word Template for this note format is provided below. You can hand-write your notes, but typing them into the template will make it easy to copy and paste your quotes when you need them later on.

Reading Notes

Before you read

Citation of source


What is the author’s purpose in writing this article?

What part of my research question does this article address?

While you read

Page number

  • Quote 
    • Detailed notes
    • Detailed notes
      • Questions requiring further research
      • Other articles cited that I should read

After you read

Short summary of the article:

Author’s main points:


New evidence/arguments:

Questions I still have:

Did this article address my research question the way I expected?

Relationship to other articles I’ve read: