Methods for more Effective Note Taking

There are many occasions when you may have to take notes of someone speaking, for example in a lecture or at a meeting. Good note taking is a skill and like all skills you will become more adept with practice.  If you get it right, you will have a useful record of what you heard, but if you get it wrong, it will simply be a mass of unhelpful words.  There are some methods you can employ to ensure your notes do their job.  Here are some tips to help you get started.

Firstly, think about the purpose of the notes and how detailed the notes have to be.  It is rare that you need to record everything that is said, instead try to paraphrase or simply pick out the main points together with the fewest details required for the notes to make sense. If a drawing or diagram helps, this is often quicker than writing. 

Make use of shorthand if you are trained or, if not, develop your own set of symbols for some common words or phrases.  Use normal abbreviations wherever possible, but make sure that they are ones with which you are familiar and can translate back.  Clearly if you know shorthand, this will speed up your recording of what you need, but if not make use of your own abbreviations of common words.

Use a few marks to help you identify relative importance of the points you are noting, you could underscore, asterisk, highlight or circle stressed points for example.  If it is important that you record who has said what, simply use initials to indicate this in your notes.  You may find that it is only after hearing more that you know you need to go back and make an indication of an important point.  It is useful to leave a wide margin so that you can add to your notes later if necessary.  If you have a highlighter pen, this can also help to emphasise key words or important information.

Look out for some keywords and make sure you record these accurately.  You will have to listen carefully to pick these out and that can be difficult if you are taking notes at the same time.  Examples of keywords are maximum, minimum, usually or any other word indicating a condition or exception from the normal. 

Lastly, do not feel that you have to use normal grammar rules.  You can often cut out articles or other carrier language.  Sometimes it’s a good idea not to even try linear writing.  Use techniques such as mind mapping to show the sense of what you are trying to capture in a more diagrammatic way.