Skip to Main Content

Art History

Tips and Tricks for Art History

Pierre-Auguste Renoir- Chestnut Tree in Bloom, 1881

Before You Write

Thinking through your paper before you start writing can be a game changer; it allows you to develop your ideas more thoroughly and stave off the dreaded writer’s block. While this process can happen anywhere⁠—in a notebook, a napkin, or the back of your hand with a Sharpie⁠—why not try a brainstorming app to get things started?

Apps like MindMup and iThoughtsx are free, easy to use, and help to unpack your brain in a fun and visual way. For those with a more methodical style, however, Little Outliner and Workflowy boast clean, organized templates for making lists and outlines.


Image courtesy of MindMup

James Sherman's tips on taking notes in history class

Some Tips on Taking Notes in History Class

Listed below are a few things that worked really well for me when I was a student. Change/amend/modify anything so it works for you.

I. Seeing the Big Picture in Class

  • Give your notes a title everyday; ex. “Weird Habits of the Romans.”
  • Date your notes everyday to give you a reference point for studying.
  • Your notes are a code for success. Develop a system of symbols or shorthand that you can easily recognize: arrows, stars, exclamations, equals, text abbreviations, etc.
  • Use bullet points.
  • Diagram, illustrate, and/or draw to make connections.
  • Be organized. Keep all your notes in one place, preferably in a binder with pockets and dividers. Notes are useless if they're scattered all over the place.
  • Develop a pattern and stick to it. You’ll be surprised how quickly and easily it happens.
  • Don’t try to write down everything; you’ll miss a lot. Try to listen for points of emphasis, clarifying questions, etc. See 3rd point above.
  • If you use a computer to take notes, STAY OFF THE INTERNET during class unless specifically requested or given permission. You will be surprised how much more you get out of class.

II. Studying/Reviewing Your Notes

  • Briefly review your notes everyday, or as often as possible.
  • Rewrite anything/everything that is illegible or unclear. If something you wrote doesn’t make sense, make a note to ask a clarifying question at the beginning of the next class.
  • If you have very few/no notes for a particular day, chances are good that you missed something important. Ask at the beginning of the next class or stop by during Office Hours.
  • IF YOU MISS A CLASS OR CLASSES FOR ANY REASON, BE SURE TO GET NOTES FOR THAT DAY. Get them as quickly as possible, and make sure they are from a reliable source. Rewrite them yourself as soon as possible.
  • Before quizzes or tests, make flash cards, quizlets* and/or a review outline.
  • Pick a good study buddy (or two, three) to share notes and review with.
  • Prepare questions to ask during review sessions.



Art history uses the Chicago Style for citations and bibliographies. While proper citing can often seem daunting, full of obscure rules and exceptions, there are several resources that can make the job easier.

The library maintains an online subscription to the Chicago Manual of Style, as well as a printed copy at the Art Library Service Desk.

The Purdue Owl (Purdue Online Writing Lab) is a comprehensive resource for information on academic citations in general, with basic guidelines and detailed examples for several citation styles, including Chicago.

The College Art Association maintains an extensive set of guidelines relevant to art history publishing, including notes and examples of proper formatting, captioning, etc. The guide can be found here.


Your writing will naturally build on the work of others, while simultaneously adding your own voice to the academic conversation. That conversation requires, however, that you acknowledge the contributions of the authors and artists whose words and ideas you use. Failing to do so is plagiarism, a serious academic offense that consists of submitting work that is not the author's own, without acknowledging the sources on which it relies.

Take a moment to read the RMCAD statements on academic integrity and plagiarism.


Library Email: | Student Learning Center Email: