"Smith, pp.??"In some cases, filling the gaps is a cinch, but in others it takes significant effort not only to track down the relevant works and page numbers, but also to recollect whatever I intended for that footnote to do.
"Jones, pp.??; also maybe Brown?"
"Fine and O'Brien disagree, but [EXPLAIN]."
"BIG LIST OF CITATIONS HERE!"
Part of the problem is that I don't have a standardized notetaking system. Perhaps half of my notes are on my computer, organized into files under general subject headings. I always print out hard copies, though, and it's these hard copies that I usually refer to when I'm working--I like to go back and underline or bracket important things or write additional notes in the margin.
A second group of notes exists only in hardcopy, since I often read in bed, in coffee shops, and other places where it's troublesome to lug my laptop around; I also focus better when I write in longhand. These notes fill legal pad pages organized by author, but with big blocky headings to remind me of the main topic on any given page.
A third group of notes consists of marginal annotations, either in books I own or in the many photocopied articles or chapters I acquire over the life of a project. I like this method the best, though it's probably the least efficient from the standpoint of information retrieval--since I often wind up leafing back through every single page of a given book.
I think there are benefits to my continually rereading my notes and reencountering my sources; for one thing, I don't retain information particularly well, especially when that information isn't immediately useful and only becomes so as a project develops. Still, I have the sense that most people use methods that are less ad hoc and more efficient than mine--methods that also don't threaten eventually to bury their authors alive in paper.
So tell me: how do you take, organize, and refer back to your notes?