How to Take Notes: The Ultimate Guide to Efficiency Image

Writing solid notes in an efficient way is a skill that many require but few have mastered.

Whether you’re a student in need of efficiently-written notes to study for an upcoming exam, or a business representative coming out of an important meeting, great notes can spell the difference between success and failure.

So how can you make sure that the notes you take will serve you well?

First we’ll take a look at different tools you can use to write great notes. Then, we’ll discuss ways to do so efficiently, before examining the top 5 methods for note-taking.

Tools for Taking Notes

Some people like writing notes by hand, while others type more efficiently. Studies show that writing things by hand help to cement them to memory.

Another theory is that transcribing on a computer can easily be a mindless exercise, whereas writing things down by hand forces you to choose only the relevant information to keep up with the person talking.

So if you are writing notes for a class that you need to study for in the future, you might consider doing your note taking manually: in this case, brushing up on your cursive may save you much time.

Handwritten Notes

For taking notes by hand, the following tools will come in handy:

1. A Big Notebook

A big notebook allows you the freedom to write so much more before needing to turn the page. This saves you valuable time, especially in a live class or meeting.

In terms of the pages, lined notebooks work best for plenty of text, but if the notes you’re taking will include illustrations, consider a dotted-page notebook or one with blank pages.

Blank pages also allow you to decide on the size of your handwriting: some people find it faster to write small for note-taking.

Find the best notebooks that can help you to maximize your efficiency while note-taking.

2. A Trusty Pen or Pencil

Quality writing tools can really make a difference when it comes to your efficiency. Some people prefer the quick flow of a pen, while others thrive by the pressure that a pencil makes on paper.

If you’re using a pencil, make sure you either have a sharpener, in case the lead breaks, or at least one or two extra. Also bring an eraser. However, crossing things out tends to be faster when taking live notes.

3. Different Colored Pens

If you’re writing notes from someone talking live, you probably won’t have the time to switch pen colors. However, when taking down notes from a book or a webinar, using different colored pens to color-code certain themes in your writing will help you when you come back to review your notes.

A little trivia for you: studies show that you can memorize words written in red ink more easily than those written in blue or black ink.

4. Highlighters

Used to be every student’s best friend, highlighters may not be as popular now in this digital age. However, serious note taking from thick textbooks may still benefit from having certain passages highlighted before you copy them onto your notebook.

Eyeglasses or Hearing Aid

While this may seem common sense, if you wear glasses or a hearing aid, also make sure you have them with you before you go into a class or lecture!

Taking Notes Digitally

If you want to take notes on your laptop or smart device, make sure you have and know how to use the following:

1. A Fully Charged Battery

You don’t want the frustration of running out of battery right in the middle of an important lecture or meeting.

Make sure you have fully charged your laptop battery or at least plugged it into a power outlet. Coming to the classroom or meeting venue ahead of time will help you find the nearest power outlet.

However, if you are coming into a venue not familiar to you, it’s best to have a fully charged battery just in case you can’t find a power outlet!

2. A Good Word Processing Program

MS Word is the most popular, but Mac users will have Pages pre-installed. Familiarize yourself with the program before you start using it to take notes, particularly the “Save” function.

Although they typically come with an Autosave function, you don’t want to type notes over a few pages only to lose your work because you forgot to hit Save!

3. Keyboard Shortcuts for Copying and Pasting

When taking notes from soft-copy documents, such as online articles or Portable Document Files (PDFs), you will find keyboard shortcuts for copying and pasting to be your best friend in timesaving.

4. Noise-Canceling Headphones for Video Calls or Webinars

If you will be taking notes from a webinar or a video chat, make sure you have either noise-canceling headphones or good ear buds.

You will be able to capture details more accurately instead of just relying on your laptop speakers.

5. A Recording Device

A good note-taker always has a backup plan. When taking notes from a live speaker, you will feel more confident if you have a recording to look back on, just in case you miss anything.

However, continue to take your own notes, as you are never sure just how clear the words will be in your recorded file. Look at the recording simply as a backup.

How Do You Take Good Notes?

The following tips can help you to take thorough notes quickly and efficiently, saving you time while also ensuring that you’ll remember everything when you look back at them.

1. Determine what kind of notes you are taking.

Are you taking a live class, where you need to jot down important information you need to remember at a later date? Or are you listening to a story where you only need to remember the basic outline?

Experts explain that listening for information differs from listening for understanding, and they will also result in different sets of notes.

If it is a class that focuses a lot on facts, you may want to pay attention to key information such as who, what, when, where, and why, and jot them down accordingly.

Having these keywords listed on the side of the paper ahead of time will help you fill them in quickly.

For taking notes on a storyline, you will likely be writing bullet points in an outline form, taking you less time. Some people even add little sketches or diagrams as part of their notes.

If it’s a board meeting where you need to find out what each member thinks about an issue, you’ll do well to note down even nonverbal cues, such as a frown or a smile.

Clearly, the notes you make for someone talking without stopping will also look different from those that you write from a book you’re reading or a YouTube video you can pause and replay along the way. For the latter, you will be able to write more details and even rephrase them with your own words.

2. Develop your narrating skills.

Experts say that you only retain what you tell back in your own words. This means that the best notes you can take would be those that you rephrase. It could be in bullet points or in full sentences, but the key is that you state them as you understand them.

You will get the added perk of having the information ingrained in your memory. If you are note-taking for school, that means you already have the bonus of not needing to review the contents as much.

Rephrasing ideas in your own words also forces you to listen to the speaker, instead of mindlessly jotting down facts without understanding them.

3. Brush up on your transcribing and abbreviation skills.

Perhaps the days are long gone when shorthand was a required subject taught in school. But if you take notes often, having certain symbols or abbreviations to use for regularly-used words will save you valuable time.

Examples of common words that you can use a symbol or abbreviations for include:

Full Text Shorthand Abbreviations
because b/c
before b4
especially esp
approximately approx.
compared to cf
different diff
each Ea
for example e.g.
and so on etc
that is i.e.

The transcription symbols you use will also depend on whether you will be sharing your notes with someone else or not. If you are, make sure you use standard symbols.

However, if it’s only for your own consumption, you can invent your own shorthand symbols, but just make sure you use them consistently to avoid confusion.

Top 5 Note-Taking Methods

Outline Method

The Outline Method is one of the fastest ways of notetaking. You simply pay attention to the main points and write them down as bullet points. This is the most helpful method for taking in a lot of detail.

  1. During a class, start your notes by writing the main topic as a bullet point.
  2. Indent slightly to the right and write down the first subtopic.
  3. Organize the bullet points by making use of indentations, keeping whole themes together on the same indentation level.

Cornell Method

The Cornell Method organizes class notes into easily understood summaries. You take down the main points, the details, and summary of a given topic or lecture.

1. Draw a line to form a 2” margin on the left side of your notebook page, and a 2” summary section on the bottom. A large notebook will give you about 6” to work with for the main notes.

2. Take down your main class notes in the large section of the notebook page.

3. During the review, write study cues or prompts on the 2” margin on the left. Vocabulary definitions will also go into this section.

4. Write a summary of the contents of the page on the 2” summary section.

Mapping Method

The Mapping Method is a more visual-oriented note taking strategy. It helps you see how each topic relates to another.

  1. Begin mapping by writing the main topic on top of the page. You may choose to encircle or draw a box to highlight the main topic.
  2. Write the subtopic headings by drawing a branch off the main topic.
  3. Under each subtopic, write down the main points. Branch off some more if needed.

Charting Method

The Charting Method makes use of a table to organize the information. You can use charts to show relationships or comparisons between different items.

  1. When a class mentions categories, start by drawing a table. The number of columns will depend on the number of factors being discussed. You can get around this challenge by starting with a thin column and adding more as you go along.
  2. Alternatively, you can put the topics on the top of each column and write down the details underneath. This way you can simply add another table below the first one if needed.

Sentence Method

The Sentence Method means simply writing notes down in sentences. This works especially for lectures or interviews that may not have a fixed outline or flow.

  1. Listen carefully and jot down key thoughts or ideas.
  2. Leave space in between key thoughts to give you room to elaborate on them as the speaker goes along.
  3. Use visual cues such as boxes or lines to group ideas together.

How to Take Notes Efficiently

Taking good notes is an essential skill for your studies, your work, and your life. It can help you to remember details and stay organized, ensuring that you’re always up to date on the most important information.

Now that you have the tools, skills, and techniques that you need, you can be sure to take better notes and remember them quickly and easily.

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