Note Taking – The Dos and Dont’s

When I began college I had very little experience in taking notes. I can only remember one time in a high school class where we were taught how to take notes in college, however, this form of note taking was rather extensive and focused more on getting the information down rather than getting the main ideas and pertinent information written. Note taking was a skill that was developed by the individual student. When I took my first college course, I was quickly discouraged by the dense lectures where information spun at a million miles an hour.

I wanted to retain the information from the lecture and believed that to make sense of the lecture later, I could copy notes down by TRANSCRIBING.

Yes, the dreaded word. This form of note taking is disorganized, messy, stressful, and relies on copying down most of what a lecturer says – not just the main ideas, and not just important information – rather most everything in an unstructured, not hierarchical manner. This form of note taking, while it may seem beneficial, may actually be doing more harm than good.


Some tips for note taking:

Stick away from transcribing: 

  • I already mentioned my discontent with transcribing, but to add, transcribing takes a lot of work, captures unnecessary details, quickly becomes a smudged page of illegible graphite, and sifting through pages of lecture doesn’t help you capture the important ideas.

Finding your style – never taken notes? It’s okay to not know – you’ll learn:

  • It takes practice and exploring your style, but it also might require questions! There are resources available and everybody comes into school with vastly different skill sets. Taking notes is not yours or reading academic papers seems like a forever long process? These things can get better with practice and finding out what works for you. Question your friends, ask an instructor, or access a campus learning center. They can work with you to develop strategies.


  • As described in our class reading,”When you make an outline, you’re showing a hierarchy. You’re deciding what idea is the main idea, what are the details, and which details belong together. A traditional outline uses numbers and letters for the various levels. You can also use bullets if the information does not fit together in a strict hierarchical manner.” This form of note taking can be incredibly organized. By starting with the main idea, you can add small details underneath, separated by bullet points, indents, or by whichever means of formatting works best for you.

Paper or print – online applications: 

  • I have found that outlining on paper can become messy if I am trying to write too quickly. With online classes, where you may have the option of pausing the lecture, I often write my notes in Microsoft Word. Other online applications are available such as Google Docs and OneNote, however, I prefer to split the computer screen into two halves: one with the lecture, and one with Microsoft Word. With Word, you have the option to format using tools within the application, such as underlining, font sizes and colors, highlighting, etc. The formatting options are vast, and typing may be a quicker and cleaner option than writing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *