Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Reading: Note Taking

Reading

Taking notes and making notes

Note-taking and note-making are an integral part of successful study and learning, helping you to organise and transform the content you hear or read into your own structure and words. But what’s the difference?

 

Note-taking is what you would do in a lecture or tutorial, capturing key ideas or messages. It helps you to listen actively and to retain the information. 

 

Note-making is an active process for assimilation of information. It integrates notes taken in lectures with the information you gain from your readings. Note-making is the stage where you make meaning, seeing the connections between different sources and establishing a fuller picture of the topic. It’s a necessary step to increasing knowledge and understanding. 

 


 
Be sure to keep accurate records of the things you read for referencing, including the details of the author, date, title and source (where you can find the work). You can use EndNote, a reference management tool to assist with this task, but you shouldn't rely on the program to create accurate reference lists. Check out our EndNote Essentials guide for more information. 

 


 

Note-taking strategies

 

Good notes are useful notes. They should be a stepping stone between the information you receive – from your lectures and readings – to enabling you to demonstrate your knowledge on a topic in an assignment.  

 

So, how do you take good, useful notes? That all depends on you and your learning style. There are many ways of taking notes – we're going to expand on a couple; however, if you don't see anything that works for you, check out #studyspo for some inspiration (but remember, beautiful notes are only useful if they help you bridge the gap between information and knowledge). 

 

All note-making styles do have a few things in common. When recording your notes: 

 

  • Keep your assignment question and thesis statement in mind as you read and take notes. It will help guide you to the most useful information in the source
  • Record useful information in your own words, rather than copying from the source word for word. This is important in ensuring that you understand the content, as well as for avoiding accidental plagiarism 
  • Always record the details of the source for your reference list (and so that you can find it again!).

 

Watch this short video for 10 tips when note-making:

 

 

 

Let's look at a couple of note-taking/note-making strategies – Cornell note-taking, mind mapping, and the outlining method – in more depth: 

 

 

 

The Cornell note-taking system requires you to divide your notes into three sections: 

 

  • Cue column where you write down any questions you may have for yourself after recording your notes
  • Notes column where you write down facts, important details and generally capture the gist of the reading or lecture
  • Summary section where you summarise what you've learned

 

So, what does this look like in practice? See an example below or watch this 60 second video, produced by Cornell University to learn more.

 


I have an assignment where I need to establish the most effective way to take notes to improve academic performance. I've read the following article and captured my notes using the Cornell note-taking system.

  1. Complete the notes section first, capturing important information, definitions and conclusions. 
  2. Summarise the key findings in the Summary section. What have you learned? How does it relate to your assignment question? 
  3. Pose questions for yourself in the Cue section. Is there anything that you didn't understand? Obvious connections or contrasts to other readings? Any gaps you need to fill? 

 

Source: Bui, D. C., Myerson, J., & Hale, S. (2013). Note-taking strategies with computers: Exploring alternative strategies for improved recall. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(2), 299-309. https://doi.org/10.1037/a00030367

 

image/svg+xml Bui , Myerson & Hale ( 2013 ) Note taking strategies with computers Https :// doi . org / 10 . 1037 / a 00030367 NOTES CUE SUMMARY Positive relationship between note - taking and grades Encoding act of taking notes External storage act of studying notes Working memory hold info & form connections (++) Generation effect better recall for info that has been generated ( into notes ) rather than just read / heard Translation hypothesis getting different parts of the brain involved improves memory ( phonological orthographical = listening to a lecture writing notes ) STUDY 3 experiments Hand writing vs . computer , transcribing vs . organising . Which lead to better performance in an immediate test ? Same strategies as exp . 1 but delayed testing ( no revision ) Same strategies as exp . 1 , delayed test , notes revision RESULTS Exp . 1 . 80 UG students = quantity of notes > quality Exp 2 . 76 UG students = quality > quantity Organised notes better for deeper learning and recall Exp 3 . 72 UG students = quantity > quality Note taking is positively correlated with improved academic performance as it improves memory and recall in two ways : through encoding and external storage The most effective strategies for note taking in lectures is to record EVERYTHING you can and review notes before tests . Note taking on a computer is better as most people can type faster than they can write If you need to remember information , being selective about what to record , establishing connections between things makes it more likely you will remember without reviewing . This study is focused on lectures and exam performance . Does it apply to assignment writing ? How does this relate to the Smith article which found hand written notes better than computers ? Good sample size

 

Mind mapping is a visual note-making style that emphasises the connections between ideas. The main idea is usually presented in the centre of the map with related concepts linking out from it. 

 

It's a style that can be used in order to capture notes from a single lecture or reading, or to link ideas from a number of different sources together. Mind mapping is an effective strategy for essay planning, allowing you to establish the links between your readings. 

 

What does a mind map look like in practice? See an example below. 

 

 


 

I have an assignment where I need to establish the most effective way to take notes to improve academic performance. I've read the following article and captured my notes using a mind map. 

 

Source: Bui, D. C., Myerson, J., & Hale, S. 2013. Note-taking strategies with computers: Exploring alternative strategies for improved recall. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(2), 299-309. https://doi.org/10.1037/a00030367

 

image/svg+xml Note taking and memory Note taking approaches How does it work ? Strategies Encoding Act of taking notes External storage Act of reviewing notes Generation effect Theory that Writing notes helps you to generate knowledge . You create knowledge as you create notes Bui , Myerson & Hale ( 2013 ) Note - taking strategies with computers https :// doi . org / 10 . 1037 / a 00030367 Translation hypothesis Involve different parts of the brain to improve memory . Translate information you hear to notes that you write Hand writing Computer - Slower - Flexible - drawing - connections - Organised - key ideas - Quick ( typing ) - Less flexible - Good for transcription Transcription Organised - Focus on key messages ( do not try to capture everything ) - Establish connections between ideas - Best strategy for creating long - term memory - Capture all information - Focus on quantity - Best performance on immediate tests and when reviewing notes

 

The outlining method uses dashes and indentation to organise information in your notes. The information which is most general is aligned to the left with more specific information moving to the right. 

 

When using the outlining method, it's a good idea to read the source in full once before you commence your note taking as it will give you an opportunity to identify the main points ahead of time. This will help with your organisation. 

 

So what does this look like in practice? See an example below. 


I have an assignment where I need to establish the most effective way to take notes to improve academic performance. I've read the following article and captured my notes using the Outlining method

 

Source: Bui, D. C., Myerson, J., & Hale, S. 2013. Note-taking strategies with computers: Exploring alternative strategies for improved recall. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(2), 299-309. https://doi.org/10.1037/a00030367

 

image/svg+xml Does note taking improve academic performance ? Note taking theory Encoding effect Encoding the benefit that comes from taking notes External storage the benefit that comes from reviewing notes Studies of the encoding effect go back to the 1920 s Bretzing and Kulhavy ( 1979 ) suggest that " paraphrasing and summarising serve as catalysts for deeper semantic processing , whereas transcribing verbatim does not " ( 244 ) Bui et al ( 2013 ) disagree suggesting that transcribing followed by review is the most effective method Bui et al , 2013 Kobayashi , 2005 Importance of " working memory " " The ability to temporarily store and manipulate limited amounts of information " ( Bui & Myerson , 12 ) Particularly important in lecture settings ( Tsai , 2017 ; Perverly et al , 2013 ) Integral to identifying connections , paraphrasing and summarising content ( Harmer , 2005 ; Bui et al , 2013 ) Preverly et al . ( 2007 ) suggests that working memory is not vitally important to note taking with transcription fluency more important to quality note taking . Generation effect positive links when creating memory through note writing Translation hypothesis translate from one sense to another Overman et al , 2017 Whurr , 2003 Impact of note taking Most studies suggest a positive correlation between note taking and academic performance ( see Bui et al ; 2013 ; Tsai , 2017 ; Whurr , 2003 ) Kobayashi ( 2005 ) suggests positive impact , but modest , benefitting primary school students more than Uni students

Synthesising

 

Note-taking strategies can be used as you read a specific source and also when you are looking at the bigger picture, combining the things you've read, with the information presented in your lectures, along with any pre-existing ideas and opinions you have. This process of putting things together is when you begin to create connections and form a more complete picture of a topic, a process called synthesising.

 

When you synthesise you recognise areas of consensus in your research, points where there are common findings or ideas. You will also be able to see where there are different or contrasting ideas. Establishing these connections is a key step as you move towards writing your assignment. 

 

 

Use mind-mapping or outlining method note-taking strategies to begin synthesising. Your main concepts will become paragraphs or sections in your assignment. See Citing in your Writing module for a synthesising example using the outlining method of note-taking.