Islay Shelbourne
IHR MRes Candidate

Our Postgrad Survival Guide has explored multiple notetaking and study hacks over the past few months. Whichever method(s) you utilise in your research, chances are you have a few beloved stationery items that you just couldn’t live without. Today’s blog, ‘N’ for ‘Notetaking’, shows off some ‘notetaking stationery must-haves’. Whether you’re looking for new items to take your notes to the next productive (or aesthetic) level, or you just want to see if your notetaking favs made the list, keep reading for a peek into a postgraduate pencil case!


Highlighters are a staple of any researcher’s pencil case, either for skilful colour-coordinated note organisation, or in my case, for endless highlighting of journal quotes that each feel more important than the last. I found early on in my undergraduate degree that the typical fluorescent highlighters often ended up being overwhelming to look over when an entire page was daubed in shades of bright yellow, orange and green, and so I made the switch to pastel highlighters and now will never go back!

My shades of pastel purple, green, yellow and pink are still colourful enough to draw the eye, while also leaving the text underneath clear to read and not too overwhelming to glance over when recapping what I’ve read.  Pastel stationery is all the rage now, so thankfully there are a lot of options to choose from highlighter wise, from drool-worthy Zebra Mildliners ( I don’t know what exactly a grey highlighter will do to improve my research but I am sure it would 😍) to pastel versions of the classic Stabilo Boss highlighters. If you do a lot of highlighting or just want a way to keep your notes organised but not too ‘in-your-face’, I’d really recommend you give pastel a try!


 Another staple of my, and I’m sure many others’, pencil case is a mechanical pencil. This past year hasn’t included as many library/archive visits as usual for any of us, but usually most archives’ ban on ink in the collections means that without a pencil I’d be lost. It may seem a really basic bit of stationery to recommend but going from having to remember a sharpener with a regular pencil, to having very flimsy cheap multipack mechanical pencils that broke constantly, to now owning a few sturdy and long-lasting pencils that write as well as pens has made the world of difference. I currently use Bic ReAction mechanical pencils but there are so many other good ones on the market. Make sure to have a decent mechanical pencil in your library-reopening stationery arsenal and you won’t have to waste any time with your notetaking when you sit down at your desk and crack open those long-awaited tomes.

Sticky Tabs

I know opinion is divided between transcribing notes and using tabs to mark your place, but if I’m on-the-go or working somewhere without my laptop I always default back to marking my page for later with reusable sticky tabs. I wish I could be the kind of person who has a colour-coded system for my research but instead, for the moment at least, I embrace all the colours of the sticky tab rainbow and just know to always check what past-me has flagged up even if I don’t get a colour clue as to its relevance. Again, there are loads of options for these, but I personally prefer ones that are relatively transparent, durable enough to be reused and not come unstuck, and considering the number of books I have tabbed up, cheap! These are the ones I have currently, and they fit the bill on all counts!

Did any of your notetaking favourites make our list? Or have we inspired you to try something new to take your notetaking to the next level? Let us know, and happy notetaking!

Written by Islay Shelbourne, IHR MRes Candidate

Check out the other A-Z Challenge participants as well!


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