Taking Notes and Tracking Sources

Learning Objectives

Explain how to take notes.

Note-taking for speech preparation is similar to what you do preparing for a research paper or similar assignment. Note-taking in an organized and deliberate manner will save you from unnecessary stress and wasted time and ultimately contribute to a great speech! Communication professor and author Stephen Lucas recommends the following four steps to keep your research focused and efficient:

  • Take lots of notes. Even if you’re not sure if you’ll use a particular material, still make detailed notes of what it is and how you can easily access it again. Write down plenty of notes so you’ll know why you thought it was relevant. If you conduct an interview, you might record it (with permission) or take notes during it, then add detailed notes immediately after the interview while the material is fresh in your mind. Throughout your notes, you might also include messages to yourself (e.g., “This might be a strong hook,” or “Great quote relevant conclusion,” or “Is this relevant? Maybe re-think?”) so you can retrieve your thought process at later research sessions. Trying to figure out “what was I thinking here?” when your notes are sparse and confusing is annoying and inefficient.
  • Use a system. Regardless of the type of materials you are recording, maintain a consistent formatting system. Typically, each entry will include your actual notes, the source, and where it might fit in your speech (a heading or subject, such as “Main Point #2” or “Pros of Self-Driving Cars”). Labeling the subject of a note will enable you to quickly see which materials fit where in your speech and possibly where you might need to do additional research.
  • Separate Entries. Make each note a separate entry using the system above. A variety of information (examples, quotes, statistics, etc.) from a single source should still be divided into unique entries with individual subject headings. Doing so will also allow you to stay organized and quickly review and keep track of your research.
  • Label Clearly. To avoid accidental plagiarism, make it 100% clear whether your notes are quotations or paraphrasing, and always include sources. Some students put any quoted material in bold and colored font in addition to including quotation marks in their notes so they don’t inadvertently present it as their own words in their speech.[1]


Try It

  1. Lucas, S. (2019). The Art of Public Speaking. McGraw Hill Education: New York.