I will soon start my thesis, and have read a bit of literature, particularly a few short papers. One professor recommended using a template, displayed below. However, I generally feel that the questions in the template don't apply well to the papers I have read, and my answers get very "artificial" or "forced", while some aspects are not answered by the template at all. Obviously no template can fit perfectly for every paper, but perhaps there are better templates out there.

Are there any standard templates for this purpose? Perhaps a list of questions to ask oneself when reading? Or other structured ways of note writing for scientific papers or similar literature?


Title of paper




A short summary of the paper.


What are the issues that the paper addresses? Describe the problem.


What did the authors do? How did they approach the problem. What did they do? What methods did they use?


What are the authors conclusion? What do they claim about their results.

My Conclusion

What do you think about the work presented in the article? Explain


Give a score [0 - 10] 0: awful, 10: brilliant.

  • 1
    This is actually pretty general, so it fits most papers well. Can be more specific about what you think the shortcoming is? Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 18:04
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    I'd suggest adding a date variable and your set of index numbers so that you can keep a track record of how your idea developed and cross-reference on the notes if necessary. Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 20:05

3 Answers 3


It can't be any more minimalistic than that.

Basically you have some metadata: title, citation, abstract, comment (your conclusion) and rating.

That fits every intellectual work, you could apply it to movies, songs or anything that has an author and about which you can have an opinion.

Then there are a few other fields that cannot be any more minimal:

  • issues: why is the paper written and published? There has to be a reason for that work to have been done, presumably people don't enjoy wasting their time.
  • approach: which is basically what they do. There was a reason to do something (and then publish it) an "issue" and something has been done about that "issue" so that it is less of an issue in the future.
  • conclusion: there was an issue, something has been done, is it still an issue? are there more open issues?

Quite simple if you think about it.

Survey papers and so on basically solve the issue of summarizing something, they cite other papers, so you should also fill this template for those other papers.

Are you having trouble with some other kind of papers? This seems to capture everything that is relevant. Do you miss something?


I had a template for myself, pretty similar to that one:

  • Journal name, article name, reference information
  • One-line description of the problem
  • "What They Did"
  • My conclusions

The issue was that, in almost all cases, I was studying their paper to better understand either (1) the field in general or (2) how to solve a problem I was having. I found that, for note-taking purposes, focusing on mainly what they did and then recording for posterity my own conclusions and thoughts about their research was much more useful than re-reading my synopsis of what they concluded.


I have been thinking about this since asking the question, plus I have done some actual note taking.

For me personally, I have found the following points to be helpful:

  • Why did I read this paper: Perhaps my professor recommended it, in which case it probably is relevant despite what it initially seems to me.

  • My takeaways for the thesis: Ideas, inspiration or references, that I can use for my thesis

  • General takeaways: What I learned, that is relevant/interesting/useful, which however are not directly useful for my thesis.

  • What I did not understand (entirely): Maybe some terminology, maybe some theory. I am writing them down, so I might get a chance to ask them later, or I might revisit it later after having gotten a better understanding.

  • What I should (perhaps) look into: Projects, literature, websites. Typically other papers that they reference in the paper.

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