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Effective Note-Taking Strategies

This guide contains information on how to effectively take notes for future reference.

About This Guide

Taking notes is a critical skill that can impact your academic success.  Therefore, it is important to find the right note-taking strategy early in your academic career.  This guide contains information on the following:

 

            Covers the most important elements of good quality notes.

            Introduces the most common strategies for taking effective notes.

            Provides a list of web resources that can assist you in organizing and managing electronic notes.

            Quick tips on making note-taking more efficient and effective.

            A list of references that were used to help create this guide.

            Links to extra resources for additional help.

Why take notes?

There are several reasons why good note-taking skills are beneficial:

  • The act of taking notes keeps you engaged with the material.
  • Quality notes summarize the main points of a lecture or resource, omitting details that may be irrelevant.
  • They help you retain information long-term.
  • Tests your understanding of the material ("Chapter 11: Note-Taking Strategies," n.d.).
  • They reinforce information by making you identify the most important parts of a lecture or resource.  This process helps you learn the content more quickly.
  • They act as a study guide for exams and projects.

How should I take notes?

There are several ways you can take notes, each dependent on your own learning style and preference.  Here are some of the most common ways to take notes with their advantages and disadvantages listed below.

  • Paper and pencil
    • Advantages: Reinforces learning the information through the act of writing, allows you to summarize the content in your own words
    • Disadvantages: Can be difficult for slow writers, handwriting may not always be neat or legible, can get lost with other course papers/items
  • Using a word processor on a computer, laptop, or mobile device
    • Advantages: Typing is faster than writing, can be highlighted and edited as needed, notes can be shared electronically with others
    • Disadvantages: Less engaging than writing, may not be allowed in certain settings (instructors may not allow laptops or electronic devices in class), not all word processors are compatible on mobile devices, documents can be deleted
  • Recording lectures
    • Advantages: All information is obtained from the lecture, can be helpful if you miss the original lecture or class.
    • Disadvantages: Locating information you need from it can be time consuming, can be deleted from the device not saved properly

 

How should I organize and store my notes?

Depending on your preferences, there are many ways to organize and store the notes you take for a course.  Common ways that you can store your notes are listed below.

 

Storing Paper Notes

  • Binders with loose leaf paper, folders, etc.
    • Advantages: Keeps all your notes in one place, prevents notes from getting damaged, freedom to organize and re-organize them over time, can use color coded binders for different subjects/courses
    • Disadvantages: Limited space depending on binder size, bulkier to carry and store, may need replacing over time due to usual wear and tear
  • Composition or spiral notebooks
    • Advantages: Contains lined paper for clean writing, easy to carry and store, can use color coded spirals for different subjects/courses
    • Disadvantages: Limited space, susceptible to water damage or usual wear and tear, cannot be reorganized
  • Folders
    • Advantages: Protects notes from damage, easy to carry and store
    • Disadvantages: Can get out of order, notes can unknowingly fall out, limited space

 

Storing Electronic Notes

  • Computer/laptop programs
    • Google Docs
      • Advantages: Saves notes automatically, can be shared with others, notes are downloadable to other file formats, can be edited at any time
      • Disadvantages: Requires an internet connection
    • Microsoft Word
      • Advantages: Can be accessed offline
      • Disadvantages: Does not save your progress automatically, program must be installed to your device
    • Notepad/Wordpad
      • Advantages: Available on most laptops and computers, simple functions
      • Disadvantages: Files may not be compatible with other programs
  • Tablets
    • Advantages: Portable and easy to carry, touch screen functions
    • Disadvantages: Does not have a physical keyboard
  • Mobile devices
    • Advantages: Portable and easy to carry, touch screen functions
    • Disadvantages: Small screen, does not have a physical keyboard

*Using electronic devices to take notes can be very distracting, so maintain a degree of self-discipline when you are using them!

 

The following video by Thomas Frank provides a overview of the best ways to take notes and covers general tips to ensure your notes are thorough and effective.

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