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Notes taken during lectures, seminars and research will form the basis of your work, helping you to prepare essays and dissertations and revise for exams. Effective note-taking is a very useful skill which can help you to:

  • focus and concentrate
  • organise and record key details
  • gain a fuller understanding of the information and improve your recall
  • save time and energy by working more efficiently.

Tips for effective note-taking

  • be critical about the material - assess its importance to the subject matter, and its credibility
  • don't copy large amounts of text verbatim
  • always keep detailed notes of any resources used so that you can reference properly later
  • review and summarise your notes afterwards
  • organise and store your notes so that they are easy to retrieve.

Note-taking techniques

The following are examples of note-taking techniques:

  • mind maps (e.g. spider diagram) - help you to visualise key points and the connections and overlaps between them
  • tabular notes - help with making comparisons between points
  • flow charts - help to visualise steps in a process
  • index cards
  • highlighting and annotating.

Note-taking from lectures

To get the most out of your lectures, you may find it useful to:

  • find out the subject of the lecture beforehand and read up, so that you'll be prepared for the key themes and ideas
  • don't try to write down everything - keep to main points
  • create a wide margin on each page so that there's room to expand on your notes later.

Note-taking from written material

When note-taking from written material - whether from a printed source, or online - it is helpful to:

  • take reference details down before you start reading
  • if you write down a direct quote, make sure you specify this in your notes to avoid later confusion
  • reading the introduction and conclusion is useful for ascertaining the main arguments and context
  • read critically.