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How To Take Notes

It is assumed that most people know how to make notes. But note taking is a skill that you need to learn if you’re going to make notes that are to be of any use to you. These skills can be used for studying or making notes in meetings.

Why Take Notes?

Simply the act of writing notes helps you to remember. But don’t take my word for it. Dustin M. Wax, a university lecturer in Las Vegas, has written a very interesting paper explaining how the brain works and how note taking aids memory: Writing and Remembering: Why We Remember What We Write

What to Note Down

You don’t need to record everything in your notes – only the most important things.

Firstly you should note down what is new to you and secondly what is relevant. Concentrate on what you’ll need later down the line in an exam or in an essay. Remember, you’ll use your notes for revision as well.

Note-taking Techniques

There are several note-taking techniques and you’ll need to experiment to find which you prefer and is most useful to you. Some techniques are more appropriate in certain situations. Here are three:

Outlining

This is useful when making notes from books or study material. You organise your notes using headers and bullet points. E.g.

How to study:

• Where to Study – somewhere quite, well lit and comfortable

• When to Study – every day at the same time if possible

• Study programme – one hour per day if possible

Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping is fully explained in this month’s Business Bites but in short you take your piece of paper and in the middle you write your central topic. From this you create braches of sub-topics which then can have their own branches of sub topics. This system means you can a lot of information on to one sheet of paper. It’s also a useful method to use when planning projects. It helps you to see all the different aspects that need to be considered. I used mind mapping to plan my wedding.

The Cornell System

The Cornell System is a simple but effective system of note taking.

Divide your piece of paper into three sections (see sample) by making a line across it about three quarters of the way down. Then make a vertical line, about one quarter of the way across, down to the horizontal line you have just made.

Make your notes in the largest section. After you have finished reading or listening to a lecture write cues in the thinner column on the right. These can be questions or thoughts that have been prompted by your lesson. Then in the bottom section write a 2-3 line summary, in your own words, about the material you have covered.

There are other techniques but the most important thing is to find a method that is useful to you. Happy note-taking.

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Susan Metcalfe - head of Business Training - discusses business, training and work issues. Come and join in the conversation or just enjoy the read!