Note-taking is a skill that we use in many walks of life: at school, university and in the world of work. However, it will be obvious to many people that they have not honed the skills needed to get maximum potential from their note-taking, so here are 10 tips on how to be an efficient and successful note-taker. These can apply equally to taking notes from someone else’s verbal presentation or from a written text.
1. Don’t write down every word
The whole point of note-taking is to be able to summarise information in a different, shorter form to use later. Therefore if you try to write down every word of a lecture or book then you will soon get behind and lose the thread of what is being presented to you.
2. Decide what is important
Listen/look out for key phrases such as ‘the most important factor is…’ which is like a large signpost directing you to the fact that a vital piece of information is coming up and instructs you to ready your pen to take a note of it. The author or lecturer you are working with will have their own particular style and phrases that you should look out for, so become familiar with their signposts.
3. Be an active listener/reader
It is easy to drift off and lose the thread of a lecture or written argument, so try some of these tips to help keep your concentration. http://ctl.clayton.edu/listening.htm
4. Use symbols and abbreviations
When you take notes you will not have time to write in full sentences, and sometimes the information comes so thick and fast that you cannot even write full words. Develop your own set of symbols and abbreviations. Some obvious ones are + or & for ‘and’; = for equals. Other examples seen less often are w/ for ‘with’ or wch for ‘which’. There will be subject-specific short hands that you can use too.
5. Use colours
For extra clarification and to improve your active listening/reading techniques make sure you use different coloured inks when taking notes. You can show different themes and approaches by changing to a different colour for example. This is especially useful if you will need your notes later for report writing or revising for exams.
6. Revise your notes as soon as possible
Do not simply take your notes and then file them away and forget about them. The best use of your notes is to read over them a short time after and perhaps re-write them again, more neatly or in a different order, depending on how or why you want to use them. This will help you to use the information actively and it will stay in your memory for longer.
7. Be consistent
If you are listening to an hour-long lecture, don’t be tempted to take a lot of notes for the first 10 minutes and nothing at all for the rest of the session. Make sure you pace yourself and gather information consistently throughout the lecture. A good lecturer will provide quality information throughout their lecture slot, so don’t lose concentration.
8. Improve your handwriting
Do not be so immersed in note-taking that you forgot to notice that your handwriting has become unreadable! Remember to write or type clearly and legibly throughout, however, tired your hand becomes.
9. Forget spelling and grammar (as long as your meaning is clear)!
This is the one time in academic or professional life when no one is going to blame you for a few spelling and grammar mistakes. Achieving perfection in these areas is not important; rather, focus on the gathering and recording of information. And if that means your spelling and grammar has to slip, so be it!
10. How to avoid plagiarism and use paraphrasing instead
This is an issue, especially when taking notes from written texts. Do not copy down material from another source without putting it in quotation marks and noting its origin. If you do, you will forget that these words are not your own, include them as yours in a report or essay and then you will have committed plagiarism. If you do not want to use someone else’s words, while you are note-taking make sure you paraphrase (i.e. put a passage into your own words). If you do this at the note-taking stage, there can be no confusion later on.