Taking Notes Effectively: Techniques to Try

Taking Notes Effectively

Framework Techniques
  1. Come prepared to take notes. Bring…
    • paper or a notebook (preferably bound, 8.5-by-11-inch),
    • pen (with dark, permanent ink).
  2. Leave space for second thoughts.
  3. Attend to…
    • why you are taking notes,
    • vocabulary, new or hard words.
  1. Capture the teacher’s or author’s order if listening or reading.
  2. Note how subpoints (in text, or subactivities in lab) relate to main points:
    • parts?
    • reasons?
    • examples?
    • uses?
  3. Scout the text for clues (heads, charts, summaries) before you read for details.
Get to the heart of the matter…keep important details but trim away trivia:

  1. Date your notes (every page).
  2. Capture key claims, activities, results:
    • Use full sentences if you can.
    • Use verb phrases at least.
  3. Also capture your own “intellectual context” for itemĀ 2:
    • Goals.
    • Problems, setbacks, pitfalls.
    • Alternatives (tried or yet to try).
    • Influences on your work, references.
  4. Record and credit quotes carefully (no plagiarism).
  5. Insert your own questions.
  6. Reread the hard parts (and revisit your own draft notes) after your first pass and apply these techniques again.
Make the format of your notes helpful (for later review and reuse).

  1. Use revealing topic heads and subheads.
  2. Cluster related items into (numbered) lists or clear data tables (with explicit units).
  3. Sketch simple diagrams to show:
    • relationships,
    • physical features.
  4. Add usable cross references:
    • to other notes (by date),
    • to books, articles, or web sites.
  5. Try some version of the two-column “Cornell system” (notes in a big right column, heads and comments in a smaller left column).