Effective note making

It’s easy to make notes.

But figuring out how to make them a useful tool for study or assignment writing can be a whole other thing.

It’s important to ensure your notes are systematic, organised and can help you effectively recall, understand and apply information.

Here’s some tips to help you improve your note making skills.

Have a purpose

The first step to making good notes is to know what you need the notes for and how you plan to use them.

If you are making notes from texts (like course readings, journal articles or books), you will need to understand the purpose of your notes. Is it for an assignment? If so, make sure you have read through the assessment task. That way, you know what kind of information to watch out for. It’s also a perfect time to employ your critical thinking skills! 

Taking notes in a lecture? The purpose of your notes is to help you recall key points and relevant details about the lecture (usually for an exam!). If the information in the lecture is not available elsewhere (e.g. it’s not in the PowerPoint slides or course readings) then your notes will need to be as detailed as possible. However, if the information is available then you will need to focus on the points or issues highlighted by the lecturer.

Find a technique that works for you

There are many different note taking techniques you can use. Find one that works for you!

Underlining and highlighting are two well-known techniques. Use them to draw attention to the main points or helpful examples in a text. You could use them to stress unfamiliar words or definitions that you want to follow up on later.

But don’t overdo it. if everything is emphasised, nothing will stand out.

Review and improve your notes

Review and improve your notes so they are ready to use when studying or writing your assignment.

Check the information is relevant and useful for its intended purpose. Think about how your notes fit in with other information you have on the topic. Does it build on, support or extend your ideas and knowledge?

Reflect on the reading or lecture. Do you need to consider other perspectives or find more information?

Make your notes visual

Use a visual tool to organise your notes. Visual tools can help you summarise information, find links and gaps, think critically and understand the content.

Here are three visual tools that you may find useful:

  1. Concept maps can help you brainstorm, connect, communicate and expand on ideas.
  2. Tables can help you track ideas and determine how they are related.
  3. Timelines help you see when key events happened. This allows you to link ideas and connect events.

Watch this video for some note taking strategies