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President Jimmy Carter's Notes from his private meeting with Pope John Paul II, October 6, 1979.

Note-taking (sometimes written as notetaking or note taking) is the practice of recording information captured from another source. By taking notes, the writer records the essence of the information, freeing their mind from having to recall everything.[1] Notes are commonly drawn from a transient source, such as an oral discussion at a meeting, or a lecture (notes of a meeting are usually called minutes), in which case the notes may be the only record of the event. Note taking is a form of self discipline.


Note-taking has been an important part of human history and scientific development. The Ancient Greeks developed hypomnema, personal records on important subjects. In the Renaissance and early modern period, students learned to take notes in schools, academies and universities, oftentimes producing beautiful volumes that served as reference works after they finished their studies.[2][3] In predigital times there were many kinds of notebooks used by adults, some of which included accounting waste books, marginalia, and commonplace books.[4] Philosopher John Locke developed an indexing system[5] which served as a model for commonplace books; for example, it inspired another book, Bell’s Common-Place Book, Formed generally upon the Principles Recommended and Practised by Mr Locke nearly a century later.[6]

Cognitive psychology[edit]

Note-taking is a central aspect of a complex human behavior related to information management involving a range of underlying mental processes and their interactions with other cognitive functions.[7] The person taking notes must acquire and filter the incoming sources, organize and restructure existing knowledge structures, comprehend and write down their explanation of the information, and ultimately store and integrate the freshly processed material. The result is a knowledge representation, and a memory storage.[1] Studies comparing the performance of students who took handwritten notes to students who typed their notes found that students who took handwritten notes performed better on examinations, hypothetically due to the deeper processing of learned material through selective rephrasing instead of word-for-word transcription which is common when typing notes.[8]


Many different formats are used to structure information and make it easier to find and to understand, later. 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. Note-taking is an important skill for students, especially at the college level. Many students gain skills as they go through High School and most grasp onto the best and easiest note-taking techniques. Practice in note-taking may lead to great skills in it that may also lead to success in the future.[9] 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 being of secondary importance. Historically, note-taking was an analog process, written in notebooks, or other paper methods like Post-It notes. In the digital age, computers, tablet PCs and personal digital assistants (PDAs) are common.

Note-taking is a race against time. The note taker typically is under severe time pressure, and different note-taking styles and techniques try to make the best use of time. The average rate of speech is 2–3 words per second, but the average handwriting speed as only 0.2–0.3 words per second.[7]

Regardless of the medium (paper, computer), note-taking can be broadly divided into linear and nonlinear methods, which can be combined.

People tend to write down the most important information to prevent losing time and be ready to note subsequent information provided.

It's also always important to go over the notes you write down on a loop to easily remember any of the information you went over.

Linear note-taking[edit]

Linear note-taking is the process of writing down information in the order in which you receive it. Paper is itself two-dimensional so linear notes follow the natural succession of time 1,2, and so on, beginning, middle and end. However, the human brain is thought to be multi-dimensional: the more connections one makes to current knowledge, the greater the likelihood of understanding, remembering and applying the information.


Outlining [10] is one of the most common but still one of the best note-taking systems. Notes and thoughts are organised in a structured, logical manner, reducing the time needed to edit and review, allowing a lot of information to be digested in a short period of time. Outlining is less effective for classes that involve many formulas and graphs, like mathematics or chemistry. In these situations, a system such as Cornell notes[11] may be superior.

Outlines tend to proceed down a page, using headings and bullets to structure information. 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
  3. Detail
B. Subtopic
  1. Detail
  2. Detail
  3. Detail
II. Second main topic
A. Subtopic
  1. Detail
  2. Detail
  3. Detail
B. Subtopic
  1. Detail
  2. Detail
  3. Detail

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 you can be creative in making your own method. (See Category: Outliners for more about application software that supports outlining).

However, computerized note-taking, whether with a word processor, an outliner like Workflowy, or a digital notebook program such as OneNote, Evernote or TiddlyWiki, provides the opportunity to revise easily and add more entries or rows to the outline.

Non-linear note-taking[edit]

Non-linear note-taking involves using mind maps and spidergrams that start with notes in the middle of a page, commonly in an oval representing the topic. Non-linear note taking may require additional sheets of paper extending the notes at the top, bottom or sides, giving an holistic overview of the information. The many types of non-linear note-taking include clustering,[12] concept mapping,[13][14] the Cornell system,[15] idea mapping,[16] instant replays,[17] Ishikawa diagrams,[18] knowledge maps,[19] learning maps,[20] mind mapping,[21] model maps,[22] the pyramid principle,[23] semantic networks,[24] and SmartWisdom.[25]


This method of note taking is useful for subject matter that can be broken into categories, such as similarities, differences, date, event, impact, etc. Charting works best if students are able to identify categories and draw a table prior to the lecture. This method is also useful as an editing tool. Students may review and rewrite notes using the charting method. The method may work well for students who like to organize information neatly and who learn by recognizing patterns.[26]

A mind map connects ideas together visually


Mapping is one of the many forms of note-taking that employs geographic organizers and diagrams to assemble information. This specific method encourages students to continually practice and also to create flash cards because mapping method doesn't come naturally to everyone in the beginning, so practice is essential. Here, ideas are written in a tree structure, with lines connecting them together. Mind maps, also referred to as brain-storming are commonly drawn from a central point, purpose or goal in the center of the page and then branching 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 note-taking method is most common among visual learners and is a core practice of many accelerated learning techniques. It is also used for planning and writing essays.

This method are also for people that have a visual mindset when they take notes better on drawing pictures with different shapes and diagrams. Those who feel comfortable using this method tend to use a lot of colors in their diagrams to make them focused and concentrated in what they are writing. For instance, many who use this method might feel more focused when their teacher or professor who use a lot of colors in their power point slides since, the person themselves might like to use colors and use different colors to categorize different kinds of information.[27]

Sentence method[edit]

Sentence note taking is simply writing down each topic as a short, simple sentence. This method works well for fast-paced lesson where a lot of information is being covered. Everyone should record every new thought, fact or topic on a separate line. All information is recorded but is not organized into major and minor topics. Every new thought is written as a new line. Speed is essential, because not much thought about formatting is needed to create space for more notes. Notes can be numbered or set off with bullets showing where a new thought begins. This strategy is especially helpful when a professor or teacher asks to read the notes. It also saves the time required to formulate and write long, complex sentences.


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 whilst the text is read to provide motivation for 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. (SQ3R—Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review.). However, there is another updated version called SQ4R,[28] which has been used by students since the early 60's. It provides a systematic way of comprehending and studying the content that is being spoken. Students are able to monitor their own comprehension through review. Research shows that students who use the SQ3R strategy retain more information and achieve higher test scores.[29]

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 power point slides in their entirety), and promotes active engagement during lecture or independent reading, provide full and accurate notes for use as a study guide, helping the student to identify the most important information covered. Research suggests that guided notes improve student recording of critical points in lecture, as well as quiz scores on related content. In addition, an investigation carried out on students with learning problems showed that the use of the guided notes is an effective strategy to improve the performance of these students.[30]

Electronic note-taking methods[edit]

The growing ubiquity of laptops in universities and colleges has led to a rise in electronic note-taking. Many students write their notes in word processors or prepare digital hand-written notes using a graphics tablet or tablet computer and styli or digital pens, with the aid of note-taking software. Online 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 (txt, rtf...) in a local computer. It has also become common for lecturers to deliver lectures using these and similar technologies, including electronic whiteboards, especially at institutes of technology.

Online note-taking has created problems for teachers who must balance educational freedom with copyright and intellectual property concerns regarding course content.[31]

Electronic note-taking has shown ineffectiveness when compared to traditional methods of note-taking. A study done by Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California have shown that students who take notes digitally against students who take notes on paper retain less information and have difficulties remembering what they've typed down.[32] Electronic note-taking has created computer-aided distractions in class as multitasking on laptops is very easy to accomplish.[33] However, this research only applies to typing notes on laptops, not writing on tablets.

Laptops are usually a controlled device in classrooms and students may or not be able to take notes on their digital devices when required.[34]

Cornell Notes[edit]

A diagram showing the three sections of a page of Cornell notes

The Cornell method of note-taking was developed by Dr. Walter Pauk of Cornell University and promoted in his bestselling 1974 book How to Study in College. It is commonly used at universities today. The Cornell method consists of dividing a single page into three sections: a right-hand column for notes, a left-hand column for cues, and a strip at the bottom for a summary. Cues are key words or questions that help evoke key aspects of the topic. Cornell notes may be more effective for understanding concepts or producing readable notes, but studies found they had no significant effect on student performance. [35] [36] [37] [38]

Professional services[edit]

Professional notetakers provide access to information for people who cannot take their own notes, in particular the deaf and hearing impaired. They 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.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b British Journal of Educational Technology (2008) doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2008.00906.x Optimising the use of note-taking as an external cognitive aid for increasing learning Tamas Makany, Jonathan Kemp and Itiel E. Dror
  2. ^ Eddy, Matthew Daniel (2018). "The Nature of Notebooks: How Enlightenment Schoolchildren Transformed the Tabula Rasa". Journal of British Studies. 57: 275–307.
  3. ^ Eddy, Matthew Daniel (2016). "The Interactive Notebook: How Students Learned to Keep Notes during the Scottish Enlightenment". Book History. 19: 87–131.
  4. ^ Commonplace Books. Harvard University Library Open Collections Program.
  5. ^ Locke J. (1706). A new method of making common-place-books. Google Books: [A new method of making common-place-books]. Also included in Locke's
  6. ^ The Glass Box And The Commonplace Book.
  7. ^ a b Piolat, A., Olive, T. & Kellogg, R. T. (2005). Cognitive effort during note-taking. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19, 291–312.
  8. ^ Michael C. Friedman (October 15, 2014), Notes on Note-Taking: Review of Research and Insights for Students and Instructors (PDF), Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching, Harvard University, retrieved January 31, 2018
  9. ^, Thompson Rivers University. "Note-taking: History: Thompson Rivers University". Retrieved 2018-10-04.
  10. ^ "Note Taking: Outline Method". Retrieved 2018-04-12.
  11. ^ "Reading a Textbook for True Understanding - Cornell College". Retrieved 2018-04-23.
  12. ^ Rico, G. L. (1983). Writing the natural way: using right-brain techniques to release your expressive powers. New York: Penguin Putnam.
  13. ^ Canas, A. J., Coffey, J. W., Carnot, M. J., Feltovich, P., Hoffman, R. R., Feltovich, J. et al. (2003). A summary of literature pertaining to the use of concept mapping techniques and technologies for education and performance support. Report to the Chief of Naval Education and Training Pensacola FL 32500.
  14. ^ Novak, J. D. & Gowin, D. B. (1984). Learning how to learn. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  15. ^ Pauk, W. (2001). How to study in college. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
  16. ^ Nast, J. (2006). Idea mapping: how to access your hidden brain power, learn faster, remember more, and achieve success in business. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  17. ^ Turley, J. (1989). Speed-reading in business. An action plan for success. Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Publications.
  18. ^ Ishikawa, K. (1984). Guide to quality control (2nd revised English ed.). New York: Unipub.
  19. ^ O’Donnell, A. M., Dansereau, D. F. & Hall, R. F. (2002). Knowledge maps as scaffolds for cognitive processing. Educational Psychology Review, 14, 71–86.
  20. ^ Rose, C. & Nicholl, M. J. (1997). Accelerated learning for the 21st century: the six-step plan to unlock your master mind. London: Judy Piatkus Publishers.
  21. ^ Buzan, T. (2000). Use your head. Harlow, England: BBC Active.; Catchpole, R. & Garland, N. (1996). Mind maps: using research to improve the student learning experience. In G. Gibbs (Ed.), Improving student learning: using research to improve student learning (pp. 211–222). Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff Development at Oxford Brookes University.; Gruneberg, M. M. & Mathieson, M. (1997). The perceived value of minds maps (spider diagrams) as learning and memory aids. Cognitive Technology, 2, 21–24.; Hartley, J. (2002). Note-taking in non-academic settings: a review. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 16, 559–574.
  22. ^ Caviglioli, O. & Harris, I. (2000). Mapwise accelerated learning through visible thinking. Strafford, NH: Network Educational Press.
  23. ^ Minto, B. (1987). The pyramid principle. Harlow, England: Financial Times, Prentice Hall, Pearson Education.
  24. ^ Lehmann, F. (1992). Semantic networks in artificial intelligence. Oxford: Pergamon Press.; Sowa, J. F. (1991). Principles of semantic networks: explorations in the representation of knowledge. San Mateo, CA: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.
  25. ^ Kemp, J. (2006). SmartWisdom, Retrieved January 15, 2008, from
  26. ^ "Charting Method". Ms. Liew's Class. Retrieved 2018-04-23.
  27. ^ Cristine, Goldberg (November 2004). "Brain Friendly Techniques: Mind Mapping". School Library Media Activities Monthly. 21 (3). ISSN 0889-9371.
  28. ^ "SQ4R Reading Method". Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  29. ^ Carlston, David L. (2011-06-14). "Benefits of Student-Generated Note Packets". Teaching of Psychology. 38 (3): 142–146. doi:10.1177/0098628311411786. ISSN 0098-6283.
  30. ^ Hamilton, Sheri L.; Seibert, Marilyn A.; Gardner, Ralph; Talbert-Johnson, Carolyn (May 2000). "Using Guided Notes to Improve the Academic Achievement of Incarcerated Adolescents with Learning and Behavior Problems". Remedial and Special Education. 21 (3): 133–170. doi:10.1177/074193250002100302. ISSN 0741-9325.
  31. ^ "How to take notes as a law student - Becoming A Lawyer". Becoming A Lawyer. 2017-01-06. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  32. ^ "Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away". Retrieved 2018-04-18.
  33. ^ Cain, J; Bird, ER; Jones, MK (2008). "Mobile computing initiatives within pharmacy education". Am J Pharm Educ. 4 (7): 72. doi:10.5688/ajpe797107. PMC 4812780. PMID 27168620 – via US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. American Journal Of Pharmaceutical Education.
  34. ^ "The Advantages of handwritten notes vs. digital". NoteShel. April 25, 2018.
  35. ^ Jacobs, Keil. A Comparison of Two Note Taking Methods in a Secondary English Classroom Proceedings: 4th Annual Symposium: Graduate Research and Scholarly Projects [79] Conference proceedings held at the Eugene Hughes Metropolitan Complex, Wichita State University, April 25, 2008. Symposium Chair: David M. Eichhorn
  36. ^ Broe, Duane (Summer 2013). "The Effects of Teaching Cornell Notes on Student Achievement" (PDF). Retrieved 2017-05-12.
  37. ^ Quintus, Lori; Borr, Mari; Duffield, Stacy; Napoleon, Larry; Welch, Anita (Spring–Summer 2012). "The Impact of the Cornell Note-Taking Method on Students' Performance in a High School Family and Consumer Sciences Class" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-10-10.
  38. ^ Zulejka, Baharev, (2016). The effects of Cornell note-taking and review strategies on recall and comprehension of lecture content for middle school students with and without disabilities (Thesis). Rutgers University - Graduate School of Education. doi:10.7282/T3HD7XZ8.

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