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An Exercise in Note-Taking

To provide you with a little practice in identifying the "right stuff," read each of the following paragraphs, including the instructions that precede each paragraph. Then, using your own words, write the main thoughts or principal ideas for the paragraph in your notebook or on a sheet of paper. This may or may not be the topic sentence of each paragraph. Feel free to abbreviate or use your own version of shorthand.

You are listening to a panel discussion regarding the presidency of Abraham Lincoln as part of an American history course you are taking. You eventually will participate in an open discussion of the 16th president of the United States, based on the panel's discussion.

Paragraph 1

"The Civil War began when Fort Sumter was fired on by Confederate troops in the spring of 1861. Fort Sumter is situated in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, where it remains today as a national monument. When the war ended in April 1865, a tribute to both the North and the South was planned for Fort Sumter. A prominent northern politician was invited to these ceremonies, but had to decline the invitation because he and his wife were to attend a play at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. Abraham Lincoln sent a representative in his place to Fort Sumter and attended Ford's Theater instead. Had President Lincoln attended the ceremonies at Fort Sumter, perhaps the history of the post–Civil War South would have been different.

You are preparing for your final exam covering the history of the Civil War by attending the last class of the semester, two days before your test.

Paragraph 2

"The cause of the Civil War was economic. The North threatened the abolishment of slavery. The South viewed this movement as an attempt to destroy their economic way of life and their very culture. Doing away with slavery would bring economic ruin to the South, as an entire institution would be destroyed and, in the process, a way of life and living also would be destroyed. The South's economic survival was at risk. Attempts at political compromise had not worked. Finally, the election of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th president of the United States was the final insult. In the spring of 1861, Confederate troops opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. Thus began the bloodiest war in American history."

Paragraph 1: Here, your need is for information to help you with a later discussion regarding Abraham Lincoln. Primarily, you should be concentrating on Abraham Lincoln. Secondarily, since the Civil War is closely related to President Lincoln, information regarding the war may be helpful, also.

Thus, the principal thought or idea in this paragraph should probably be a note with reference to the impact of Lincoln's assassination on the post–Civil War South. How might history have been different if Lincoln had attended the ceremony at Fort Sumter instead of the play at Ford's Theater?

The start and end of the Civil War are not as important as the impact of Lincoln's death, in the context of the subsequent discussion about Lincoln.

Thus, you may have written your notes as: "AL death, changed hist."

Paragraph 2: Here your focus is broader, or more general. You are preparing for a final exam covering the Civil War, not simply an open discussion about one historical figure from that war. Therefore, your notes need to be broader.

The economic cause of the war is a major concept. Failure to resolve the issue by compromise and the election of Lincoln led directly to the war, which began in the spring of 1861.

Your notes may have been written as: "Cause of war -- econ. Threat to abol. slavery & election of AL = war -- Ft. Sumter, SC, spring 1861."