How To Succeed in College/Taking Notes

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Notetaking is the practice of recording information captured from a transient source, such as an oral discussion at a meeting, or a lecture. Notes of a meeting are usually called minutes. The format of the initial record may often be informal and/or unstructured. One common format for such notes is shorthand, which can allow large amounts of information to be put on paper very quickly. Notes are frequently written in notebooks, though all sorts of paper may sometimes be used: for instance, some people like to use Post-It notes. Notetaking is an important skill for students, especially at the college level. Many different formats are used to structure information and make it easier to find and to understand later. Computers, particularly tablet computers, are beginning to see wide use as notetaking devices. In some contexts, such as college lectures, the main purpose of taking notes may be to implant the material in the mind; the written notes themselves are of secondary importance.

Professional notetakers provide access to information for people who cannot take their own notes, in particular the deaf and hearing impaired. Manual notetaking requires pen and paper, while Electronic Notetaking (or Computer-Assisted Notetaking) requires a laptop, often with special notetaking software. Professional Notetakers most frequently work in colleges and universities, but are also used in workplace meetings, appointments, conferences, and training sessions. They are usually educated to degree level. In the UK they are increasingly expected to have a professional notetaking qualification, such as that offered by the Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People (CACDP).



Charting involves creating a graph with symbols, or a table with rows and columns. Graphs and flow-charts are useful for documenting a process or event. Tables are useful for facts and values.


While notes can be written freely, many people structure their writing in an outline. A common system consists of headings that use Roman numerals, letters of the alphabet, and Arabic numerals at different levels. A typical structure would be:

I. First main topic
A. Subtopic
1. Detail
2. Detail
B. Subtopic
II. Second main topic
A. Subtopic

However, this sort of structure has limitations in written form since it is difficult to go back and insert more information. Adaptive systems are used for paper-and-pen insertions, such as using the reverse side of the preceding page in a spiral notebook to make insertions. Or one can simply leave large spaces in between items, to enable more material to be inserted. The above method is effective for most people, but this method can be creatively adapted for a user's specific needs.


Here, ideas are written in a tree structure, with lines connecting them together. Mind maps are commonly drawn from a central point, with the purpose or goal in the center of the page; branches then extend outward to identify all the ideas connected to that goal. Colors, small graphics and symbols are often used to help to visualize the information more easily. This notetaking method is common among people who prefer a visual style of notetaking and is a core practice of many accelerated learning techniques. It is also used for planning and writing essays.

Sentence method[edit]

Every new thought is written as a new line. Speed is the most desirable attribute of this method because not much thought about formatting is needed to form the layout and create enough space for more notes. When taking these notes, they can be numbered or bulleted. This method can allow the reader to tell where a new thought ends and begins. This strategy is short and helpful, specially when a professor or teacher may need to read the notes.


SQ3R is a method of taking notes from written material, though it might be better classed as a method of reading and gaining understanding. Material is skimmed to produce a list of headings that are then converted into questions. These questions are then considered while the text is read to provide additional depth concerning what is being covered. Notes are written under sections headed by the questions as each of the material's sections is read. One then makes a summary from memory and reviews the notes.

Guided Notes[edit]

Sometimes lecturers may provide handouts of guided notes, which provide a "map" of the lecture content with key points or ideas missing. Students then fill in missing items as the lecture progresses. Guided notes may assist students in following lectures and identifying the most important ideas from a lecture. This format provides students with a framework, yet requires active listening (as opposed to providing copies of powerpoint slides in their entirety). Research has shown that guided notes improve students' recording of critical points in lecture as well as their quiz scores on related content.

Electronic notetaking methods[edit]

The growing ubiquity of laptops in universities and colleges has led to a rise in electronic notetaking. Many students write their notes in word processors. Online word processor applications are receiving growing attention from students who can forward notes using email, or otherwise make use of collaborative features in these applications and can also download the texts as a file.

Online notetaking has created problems for teachers who must balance educational freedom with copyright and intellectual property concerns regarding course content.

See also[edit]