Brooke Notes

Brooke Notes (~45 minutes)
Brooke Notes offer one of many different approaches to systematic annotation for academic reading. Simply, they stand of one example where method and genre intertwine. Brooke Notes are a note-keeping model designed to be routine, generative, usable, and accumulative throughout and beyond your graduate program of study. This approach to note-keeping, which I credit to Collin Gifford Brooke at Syracuse University, takes as its first principle that if a book or article warrants reading, it warrants annotation. Even more, scholarly and curricular reading warrants annotation that is right-sized (i.e., neither excessively thorough nor too thin to be useful later on) and built-up in a database that you can search later on. Whether or not that database is kept publicly is up to you; there are promising arguments on all sides of the decision to post such notes publicly or, instead, to keep them privately, and we will discuss some of these considerations together in class or in office hours, as they come up.

Here are a few general, guiding suggestions--a parameter of sorts--for Brooke Notes:

  • Develop your notes entry while the reading is reasonably fresh, preferably within a few hours of reading and never more than a day later.
  • Set a timer. Try to keep the development of your notes entry to under an hour.
  • An entry's scope should be between 400-1000 words. Longer entries make sense for complex or inspirational articles and book-length works. Briefer entries are appropriate for most scholarly articles.
  • Such note-keeping practices are habitual and accumulative; they will over time amount to a personal archive invaluable to the development of lit reviews and a reliable, lasting resource of personal knowledge.

Learn more about the rationale for this approach and the basic guidelines for developing a Brooke Notes entry over here: Each entry should—at a minimum—include the following:

  • A title. Lastname, Firstname. Title of article or book, abbreviated, if necessary.
  • A full citation adhering to MLA or APA style. This should be complete and correct, ready to copy into a bibliography, references list, or works cited.
  • A one- or two-sentence summary, or an abstract. This should capture concisely what is the focus of the reading. If an abstract is already available, it is fine to copy/paste it into your notes. But writing your own abstract is excellent practice, too, as such summaries are challenging and require a thorough sense of the reading.
  • Keywords/tags. A list of 5-10 keywords or phrases that index the entry in terms of important terminology, methods and methodologies, sites/materials/objects of analysis, and theoretical underpinnings. Present these as a comma separated list (i.e., not running vertically down the page). Many free tools, such as Tagcrowd and the n-gram analyzer from the Guide to Data Mining are available to aid with this process.
  • 2-3 citations. These are sources referenced in the reading that you consider especially important, insightful, and possibly worthy of your tracking them down as reading cascades into further reading. Include the full citation information. This chances building from you a reading list or a set of leads available to follow later.
  • 2-3 quotations. These are gem passages, either for the ways they capture striking ideas, pose questions, or connect with things you are thinking about, working on, or considering important. Include a parenthetical page or paragraph number to make the quotation easy to locate later on.
  • 1-2 questions. These are questions you formulate that articulate the edges of wonder and prime further exploration. For added dimension, consider coding each question with one of six rhetorical stases [fact, definition, cause, action, value, jurisdiction]. Coding questions in this way can help you notice the stases operating in everyday scholarly contexts, whether in the research you are reading, or in the research you are doing and writing, yourself.

A complete Brooke Notes entry will include all seven of these elements. Please remember that this is offered not as the only way, but far more humbly as one possible way, albeit a tried and tested way, and a way that has proven complementary to navigating preliminary exams, the dissertation, and subsequent attempts at scholarly writing and publishing.

Contact Information

Derek N. Mueller, PhD
Professor of Rhetoric and Writing
Director of the University Writing Program
Department of English
Virginia Tech
Office: 315 Shanks Hall
Spring 2022 Office Hours: T, 1-3
Phone: +1-734-985-0485