This guide is about why we make notes, how to make effective notes from lectures and reading, and describes a variety of note-making techniques.
Note making is not just about writing down everything you hear or read. It is a process of reviewing, connecting and synthesising ideas from your lectures or reading.
Making notes helps you to:
- stay active and engaged during your lectures, reading and revision
- understand what you are learning and clarify your thinking
- be selective and identify key ideas
- remember the material
- organise your ideas and make connections
- plan and structure written assignments
- review and revise before exams.
You can also see our note making techniques tutorial, which explores the different approaches you can take to note making. You will learn the various options for note making in different contexts and explore the advantages and features of each approach.
What your notes should contain
All good notes should contain:
- source information (title, author, date etc)
- headings to help you identify the key topics
- key points, examples, names, new ideas
- triggers to make your notes more memorable – such as mnemonics, colour or drawings
- further reading and ideas to follow up later.
Consider developing a system of symbols and abbreviations to help you speed up your note taking. Common abbreviations in notes include “poss.” for possibly, “esp.” for “especially”, and “govt.” for government, but you can create a list that works for you.
Sometimes poor note taking can lead to unintentional plagiarism. To help avoid this you should make quotes, paraphrases and summaries look different from your own ideas in your notes. You could use quotation marks or square brackets, or highlight other people’s ideas in a different colour.
Set up a system to record complete bibliographic details, including:
- name of the author, editor, lecturer or organisation
- date of lecture, publication, or access (for websites)
- title of lecture or source
- page numbers where applicable
- other bibliographic details you might need for a reference.
Three stages of note making
Note making doesn’t only happen when you are reading or attending lectures. There are three stages to making effective notes: before, during, and after.
- Before: Prepare by finding out what you need to know and what the purpose of the reading or lecture is.
- During: Note down main ideas and keywords. Find techniques that work for you.
- After: Reflect and review and then organise your notes.