How To Take Notes: 7 Effective Note Taking Tips

Before jumping into the techniques and rules of taking notes, let’s pause for a moment. One must be sure of the purpose of taking notes. The purpose could be for an exam, a presentation, a class, or anything. 

As the purpose changes, the process of taking notes will also change. For taking notes in a class, you have to be very fast and precise. Take a break for a few seconds, and the teacher will move on to the next topic, and you’ll be left with half-written notes.

Taking notes in a business or client meeting is also important. When you’re working for someone else, chances are there will come a point where you’re invited to an important meeting. Now, this is a chance for you to prove yourself at the workplace. 

You should always be prepared to write down the important points said in that meeting. Make sure that you capture what’s important, and reiterate to your boss what you learned, by relying on your notes. This shows the struggle to do good, and it’s admirable for a lot of people. 

It also helps you rectify the mistakes you might have made or misheard during the meeting. It does you no harm whatsoever in the end.

And if the purpose is to remember a few pointers, then keep your notes brief. It depends on what you’re doing, and that changes the whole process. So, before making notes, be clear about why you want to make notes.

Below are some tips to help you take better notes:

Effective Note Taking Tips

1. Spacing Matters

Figure out the best way to utilize your space. Everything has to look clean, easy to read, and should sound comprehensive once you’re done with your notes. Whether you’re taking the notes digitally or on a piece of paper, make sure there’s proper line spacing between each paragraph and between each note.

It’s not your closet where you can just shove the things that you don’t like into one place. The guests are not coming home, and you’re not forced to clean your room, so don’t treat your notes like garbage. Note-taking is important, not just in the moment, but in the future when you revise them. It matters not what you write if you don’t understand it.

Take care of your paragraphs, space them out a bit, make sure each word is clearly visible. Make charts, diagrams, boxes, or anything that separates the important points. There should be a clear distinction between what’s important and what’s general. The things you need to remember should be highlighted and given their own space.

Thankfully, the option of line spacing on computers makes our lives easier. This option is readily available on Google Docs or Microsoft Word, depending upon your choice of program. Personally, I love 1.5 for my line spacing, whenever I am doing anything. I try to make the font size to be at least 12 so that more space is given to each word. 

The advantage to this is, the information will be spread out a bit more, and like I said earlier, easier to read. The disadvantages of this are none unless you hate looking at more pages.

It matters not whether you’re taking the notes on a piece of paper or on your computer, just spread out the information as much as you can. Dealing with specifics doesn’t mean everything should be cramped in one place.

If you love writing on a piece of paper, or if you have a specific book for note-taking, good job. I am in the same boat as you. On paper, it’s much harder to “edit” than it is on a computer. Once you’ve written down something, it’s hard to erase it, unless you’re working with a pencil. Having a separate column, or dividing the page into two parts, can help in creating space for your notes.

Have a different page for diagrams, flowcharts, your own personal thoughts, or anything of that sort. But make sure everything is organized for convenience. Because in the future, you will know where to look, if you want to find something.

2. Cite The Sources

This is most helpful for students, whether they are in school or in university. Let’s just say, the person teaching you a subject has a vast knowledge of it. More often than not, he’ll casually drop you a name or two of a book, or the literature he relied upon, or the paper he got the information from. You should definitely write those down.

If your teacher is kind enough to drop the source of his knowledge, you should be greedy enough to write them down. If you can learn from where your teacher got his knowledge from, you’d already be one step ahead. Whilst taking notes, make sure you do write down every source the teacher might have mentioned, and every source he wants you to write.

You never know when you will require those sources. Maybe when you’re reviewing the notes that you’ve written down, you can feel like some information is missing. Unless you have the lecture recorded, there’s no way to go back in time and play back what your teacher says.

In such cases, the sources they probably cited will help you. It could be a book, a research paper, an article, maybe a journal, or just a simple blog, anything that you can use to expand on what you’ve written, you should. It gets you bonus points for doing it as well. There’s no harm in learning more, and there’s no harm in trying to learn more.

You should just be mindful of the information that’s presented to you, and whether you should write it down, or not. And let me say it in clear words if you haven’t understood it by now. Cite The Sources!

3. Simplify

Make the above-italicized sentence your motto for making notes. I want you to understand the importance of that line.

It’s habitual to us, but we unknowingly make situations complex for ourselves. Initially, in my note-taking journey, I used to make complex notes and I used to note down everything I could find in a textbook. When I used to look at my notes, it felt like I was looking at the textbook again. It was boring and hectic.

The problem with this strategy is you already have a textbook and you don’t need to make another one. The purpose of the notes is to briefly explain the concepts. And if you end up writing a textbook instead, then the whole purpose is defeated.

The best advice that I got for note-taking was when I read the quote: explain it to me like I am a 4-year-old. Ever since then, I have been simplifying and making my notes easier to understand. Once you get your basics right, then you can move on to complex problems. But start off simple.

You can also relate it to other things in your life. 

One more trick that is very useful is to write your notes in a way that you’re explaining yourself. Make it in the first person, and pretend that the notes you’re writing are just a presentation for a topic that you are explaining to yourself. And whatever comes to your mind, write that down on paper.

Read whatever comes out of you on that paper, that would make sure that you were clear about all points you needed to talk about. This would also help you realize what pointers you didn’t need to talk about. This will make the process much quicker and more convenient.

That’s all that’s needed! The more simple, the better.

4. Rewrite

Rewriting is the process of going through your notes and making notes again. This is fruitful for when you start with note-taking, and you’re still rusty. Don’t rewrite if you are making notes just before an exam, otherwise, you’ll be miserable.

Rewriting is best done a few weeks before the exams or assignments. You have all the materials necessary for the preparation, and you just have to filter out the most important concepts and make those notes as brief as possible.

I used to use a technique for challenging myself and making the notes as brief as possible. Part of the challenge was to fit everything on one paper. That doesn’t mean you’ll fill the paper with tiny alphabets on it. You have to neglect and cancel all the excessive verbosity and use only pointers. Use your own words for this. 

However, be careful and don’t just make it a piece full of random words. It should make sense, at least, to you if not anyone else.

We try to put in everything we know in our notes and it might be a good strategy when you start on your note-taking journey. But you have to realize that you are going to read them eventually, and if you use everything you have, then you’d be put off by the length of your notes.

Make the rewritten direct and to the point, as much as possible. The notes are made to save your time. This not only applies to students, but to anyone in any profession. There are a lot of commitments in everyone’s life and this solves a lot of these problems. Keep in mind that these notes are going to make your life easier, so make them in that way.

5. Pointers For Life

If it works for me, chances are it will work for someone out there. I love writing and taking notes in pointers, as it helps keep my workspace clean. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, as long as there’s a pointer, I will point my direction towards it. That’s what they are there for, right?

One of the great things about writing in pointers is that it limits your words, but keeps the information to the point. You will never write big paragraphs in pointers, it’s not needed for that. Pointers are synonyms for important pieces of information. Whenever you are out grocery shopping, do you write a Paragraph? No. And if you do, then shame on you.

Why’s every important piece of information written in pointers? Because they are so easy to work with. You can jump from one point to another quite quickly.

You don’t have to worry about keeping a straight line of thought with them, as long as you understand what you’re writing. Ever read a piece of contract?

Maybe the bank statement? Anything of importance that has too much fancy information? Any important piece of paper, with even more important information, contains points.

I’m not really selling the story here while writing in paragraphs, because this is also important. It’s important to understand when to use pointers.

6. Acronyms

Acronyms Will Save You A Bunch. AWSYAB. Yeah, doesn’t make sense, but you get the point. Whenever I am taking notes, I try to make acronyms with my pointers, paragraphs, or anything in general. They are quite easy to remember, and even fun to work around.

The more Acronyms you create, the better. Now one clear distinction that you have to keep in mind is that acronyms are not abbreviations. They are two different concepts, although they both work for keeping your notes short.

Abbreviations include short forms of words, for e.g., for People you would use Ppl, or for Government you would use Govt, you get the idea.

Acronyms work with pointers. They go hand in hand if you want them to.

Otherwise, no one’s stopping you from creating acronyms out of long paragraphs, although it will be a bit difficult, but still doable. And remember, because the practice is so easy to follow, it can often get confusing at times. If you have a bunch of acronyms and somehow they overlap, this practice can be counterintuitive. So make sure you’re doing it right.

Creating an Acronym however is easy. Just write down pointers, focus on the first word, and you’re good to go. Mixed with the pointers technique, this lesson can help improve your memory exponentially. You will never have to carry a piece of paper around to remember a piece of information. As long as you know how to make the process of note-taking fun!

7. Relate To Something

When you’re trying to learn something new, it’s a given that it will take a while before you grasp it completely. When you’re taking notes on a particular concept, you are forced to stay focused on it.

Your mind is not drifting to some other place. Notes are just records of information that you can keep with yourself and utilize in the future. This is mostly helpful for students, but that’s not to say people who’re working can’t utilize it.

You can use everyday examples to relate something to your new learning lesson. Something that you already know and you’re well versed with. There’s no need for both concepts to be remotely similar, but the similarity can be created. 

Let’s just say a person who’s good at writing a story, because of his experience in the world and story building, can give an awesome presentation. Maybe you’re good at knowing the fundamentals of accounting, and you can relate that to chemistry.

As long as you can relate the new practice with your old one, you can be good. As long as you can write that down on a piece of paper, you’ll be fine. This is really important for people who are still in their teenage years. 

Different concepts that are taught in school relate to something that you’re already familiar with, the point here is to find out what you know best, and relate the new subject with that.

You can learn formulas for a new math equation, by playing a story in your head about a boy who had alienated chickens in his farm, that resembled numbers and different signs. You can make references to something you see on your commute to work, to something your boss is saying. 

But remember, whatever the concept is, it should be strong. The point is to build strong bridges that can help you in note-taking and recalling. The freedom is left to you!

Conclusion

Don’t feel obligated to use the tricks. Try them once if you haven’t before. Sometimes we find tricks that match our own style of working. 

Like how I found the small quote, which explained about keeping it simple. That has worked out great for me. It’s all about finding what works the best for you.

Create your own style, and keep improving it by refining it with your tools!

Leave a Comment

error: