How To... Develop Your Note Taking Skills

Why take notes

When you are writing an essay, preparing a presentation, or revising for an exam,
using a set of notes will be invaluable. However, having your purpose in mind as far
as possible at the start will help you to make more useful notes.
Even the words ‘take notes’ and ‘make notes’ indicate different approaches:

when you take notes, you are taking someone else’s words and writing them

when you make notes, you are making the ideas your own for your own

Some of the purposes for taking or making notes are:

  • to focus attention during class and help you learn in class – taking notes
  • to remind you of important points from a talk – taking notes
  • to summarise large amounts of material when studying and revising – making
  • to help organise your thoughts when planning an essay or report – making
  • to help link new knowledge to what you already know – making notes
  • to summarise information from different sources when researching for an
    essay or assignment – making notes
  • to help refresh your memory without having to read a book or text again –
    making notes.

Linear Note Taking

Linear notes summarise the information presented – whether from a lecture or a
written source – in conventional written lines. It is the most common form of note
When taking linear notes, you should remember to:

  • Date the notes
  • Include source of notes if taking notes from a book or magazine, or the date of
    the lecture/talk
  • Make them easy to read
  • Create clear headings and sub-headings
  • Use abbreviations wherever possible
  • Number or underline main points
  • Use phrases rather than whole sentences
  • Use one line for each point – you can then add information in more easily
  • Use arrows to indicate the next point
  • Draw boxes around vital points
  • Use different coloured pens for quotes
  • Use wide margins so you can note key points later
  • Leave spaces to allow yourself room to add in new ideas
  • Put your own comments in square brackets [ ] to remind you this is what you thought rather than what you were told or read
  • Put what you read into your own words

You don’t need to use all these suggestions – but using as many as possible will
help organise your notes and help your studying more.

Notes Example

From Study Skills for All Ages Website

Visual/Pattern Note Taking

Visual or pattern notes – sometimes also known as Mind Maps or spider diagrams –
summarise information in a visual way which often is easier to remember.
When taking visual notes, you should remember to:

  • Date the notes
  • Include source of notes if taking notes from a book or magazine
  • Make them easy to read
  • Use headings and sub-headings
  • Use diagrams or pictures
  • Use arrows, circles, or lines to connect related points
  • Emphasise words with underlining or capitals
  • Leave gaps between different points – so you can add points later
Visual Note Example

From University of Warwick website

Tips for making notes when researching
  • Read the text first time through without taking notes – use skimming
    techniques to get an idea of what is being said
  • Read again and make notes – note down keywords, important points, key
    phrases for each paragraph to build up an outline of the author’s points
  • Insert your own comments using square brackets [ ] to indicate the ideas are
    yours – this helps later when using your notes
  • Note anything which is new to you
  • Note anything which you want to research further e.g., a term you don’t
    understand or want to investigate further – put a question mark at it to remind
    you to follow it up
  • Make a note of anything which answers the questions you need to research
  • At the end of a chapter, review your notes and link any parts which tie
    together – use arrows, numbers, or a highlighter
  • At the end of a chapter, write your own thoughts on what you’ve found so far
    to help get an idea of where your research is going and how far you’ve come
    in finding answers to your questions. It also helps your learning – get it into
    your head!
Organising your notes for revision/study

Re-reading your notes at regular intervals (the next day, next week, next month) will
help you become more familiar with your topic and will also give you the opportunity
to edit them, cross-reference the main ideas, compare and contrast different
theories, and add further comments.
Organising your notes will also include:

  • filing them – you need to set up a system for storing your notes where you
    can find them. It is easy to end up with a huge pile of notes which are so
    disorganised that you can’t find anything. A lot of the time you have invested
    in making your notes will be wasted if you don’t take the time to work out a
    simple and effective filing system. Folders which are clearly labelled are a
    great way to have your notes filed in one location. An index page at the front
    of your folder will help you to see quickly which notes are available in which
    folder in more detail. Once you have found a system that works, stick to it.
  • classifying them – notes could be classified under author, but you may find it
    more useful to classify them under subject. This way you can build up your
    own small library of materials for each subject you are studying. You can also
    classify your notes by date (so they will be in chronological order), or by
    assessment (so notes for your essay or project are all located together). Once
    you have decided on how you will classify your notes, stick to it if it works.
  • keeping them – there will come a time when you will need to discard some of your notes.

However, don’t be too hasty. Being over-anxious to have a clear-
out can often lead to articles being thrown out that could come in useful later.

You will probably find yourself looking back to older notes to build on earlier
knowledge. It’s probably safer and wiser to keep your notes for the entire
length of the course. Remember to clearly label folders to ensure you know
which year of your course they relate to.