Effective Note Taking

Taking effective notes while at a lecture or when reading, can assist in many ways. This brief article will explain how.

  • Having readymade revision material
  • Providing a comprehensive list of further questions and research topics
  • Giving you a chronology of what you have learnt

Effectiveness depends upon being consistent and organized. Your notes will be of little use to you if you change the way you take notes and if you don’t have a simple way to access them. Furthermore, you should always be wary that your note taking isn’t getting in the way of reading and listening – this is the only real negative of keeping extensive notes (i.e. you might spend more time on the notes than you need to).

Here are some useful tips on getting it right:

Decide on style

There are essentially two types of note taking: skeleton notes and longer notes. You could also use a mix between the two. Either way, deciding on a the style that suits you best and keeping to it is liable to pay dividends in the end, as you will be better able to access your ideas.

Skeleton notes are better at showing a structure of an argument, and is not too dissimilar to mind mapping in its aesthetics. If you are studying a book closely, this method is excellent at not only representing the structure of the book, but also allowing you to start making interesting connections as you look through the notes. If your notes are to be effective, you should keep page numbers and other information so that you can access the text and reference with ease.

Longer notes, that is, notes that take the form of more than one sentence, are excellent if you want to jot down your own ideas. At worst, however, they might act as a transcript of a reading or lecture. This method, depending on the amount of notes you take, can be time consuming.

Primary and secondary info

Central to being able to utilize your notes is to understand what the notes are about. This is more than just recording the date of a lecture or jotting down the name of the book. Often, when scribbling away notes, we add questions or write short comments on what we have read or heard. It can be very difficult to know whether the notes you have taken are the authors / lecturers ideas or you own if you don’t consciously try to differentiate between the two. By having a clear system you can avoid plagiarism when it comes to using your notes to produce a piece of writing.

Expand on your questions

Another common tendency is to jot questions during note taking. This is healthy and shows a good level of interaction with the subject matter. What isn’t as common is to treat these questions with the amount of care that they deserve. In other words, these queries can be excellent further questions or future research topics. It is worth extracting, or at least copying, these questions and keeping them as a separate document so that you can revisit them with better ease.

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