Even in the era of information technology with the boom of office computing, manually writing down notes still proves its advantages over other digital methods of note-taking.
Manual notes help writers get a stronger impression of the material, which helps them remember the information longer. They also force the writer to be active in the process of receiving information, making sure they catch every detail so as to not be confused later on. Plus, pen and paper is more convenient to carry around than a laptop or other piece of hardware. Classic ink on paper is hard to beat!
However, with all the advantages that manually writing down notes has, not everyone knows how to apply manual notes most effectively.
There are a lot of note models out there to suit your style and needs. So much so, it can be hard to pick out which one is best. In this article, I provide an overview of the six best note-taking methods, how to apply them, and when. This guide will be useful to you whether you’re a college student looking to improve your study habits or someone in the workforce wanting to improve the way you take notes.
Let’s get started!
Structured Outline Method
This type of notation is a traditional way of writing and is quite familiar to everyone. It’s great for those who like the simplicity and quickness in taking notes. For students, this way helps you keep up with professors during lectures and allows you to carefully focus on recording the information in the classroom.
One of the only downsides to this method is that when looking back to review, it can sometimes be difficult to understand how everything connects. In a lecture, the presenter is giving you information in a way that benefits understanding in the moment, rather than something to be read back later on, which causes your notes to become mixed and information to be spread around.
This issue can be easily solved by writing down the main ideas and remembering only the relevant information.
The outline method is simple to use when you want to avoid writing whole paragraphs. In the beginning, it can be difficult to find important ideas in books or lectures. This method can be used in combination with the Cornell method or structural analysis method (seen below).
How to Use the Outline Method:
- Write down each topic: Main idea => Subtopic or key concept => Supporting details.
- Record information during class or when reading a textbook.
- After finishing the class, check the notes; if necessary, write them down.
- Main topic 1
- Subtopic 1
- key author/ date
- main idea 1
- Subtopic 2
- model A
- detail 1
- strength 1
- limitation 1
- Main topic 2
- Key concept 1
- supporting info
- main idea 1
- Subtopic 1
- model Z
- theory A
- key author/ date
Source: Chloe Burroughs
- Highlight the main points of the lecture in a logical way.
- Easy to use and allows students to concentrate.
- Reduce time to review and edit.
- Provide a clean and consistent structure for your notes.
2. Cornell Method
This style of writing is suitable for revision. In this method, you divide the paper into three parts: Cues, Notes, and Summary. In the Notes section, you can write arbitrarily, but most people choose to write all the ideas in a system. In the cues section, you write down the main points of the test or questions that may be included in the test. A Summary can be written after the class is over or during revision, abstracting the main idea of the whole lesson.
The Cornell method is a good way to note if you really take the time to review the notes. Since it summarizes the information, you don’t need to spend time writing notes again.
A minor downside to this method is that it can be very time-consuming for the note taker. While it does help in being detailed, it can easily overwhelm those who are pressed for time.
Before using this method, first consider if you will have enough time to write down all of the information. If not, you may need to use a faster form of notation, like ones we’ll get to below. If you do however have enough time to take extensive notes, then this is a great method to help you learn and remember the material.
How to Use the Cornell Method
- Firstly, divide your paper into three parts: leave three or four lines at the end for your Summary, then draw a line dividing the rest into two parts, the left side about 1/3 for Cues and 2/3 on the right side for Notes.
- Start writing in the Notes section: write down class lectures or notes when you are reading a book. Here are the items to emphasize:
- Main ideas, sub-ideas
- Dates, people, important places
- Charts, graphs
- Examples, illustrations
- Strengths and weaknesses
- When you have finished, read the lecture notes and write down the Cues keywords in the left column as the notes: important words, titles, dates, and authors. This step helps you quickly find out the position of each section, as well as the main idea of that section.
- As a final step, you summarize the Notes page in the Summary section below in your language, or you can answer the following two questions:
- Why is this information important?
- What conclusions do you draw?
- Use symbols and group ideas instead of writing a long sentence.
- Use abbreviations.
- Leave one line between the big ideas.
- Do not copy exactly from the textbook, but use your own language because it will help you remember the ideas longer.
- When studying: cover the Notes and Summary, use the Cues to recall the lecture, or cover the Notes and Cues section, and only use the Summary section to recall the content.
- Flexible to write because it can be applied in any classroom/workspace and you can add charts and illustrative maps to the notes.
- The writing method is neat and can be combined with the outline method.
- Create effective learning methods and exam preparation papers.
- Understand the lecture in more depth by summarizing in your own language.
3. Mind Map
The method of using a mind map is becoming more and more popular because it is being applied in many schools today. Knowledge-intensive subjects such as chemistry, history, philosophy, and abstract ideas are well suited to using the mind map method.
This method can be used when you need to review before an exam, or to give you another way of thinking about the material by gathering the main ideas and the sub-ideas when writing an essay or when reading books.
There is now a Simple Mind app for phones or laptops that lets you organize your notes, thoughts, or ideas in a simple-to-use interface. You can move branches and links easily, and choose images instead of drawing so you can save more time.
How to Create a Mind Map
1. Select a central theme: Draw an illustration or keyword in the middle of the blank paper.
2. Branch for main ideas: Choose keywords for main ideas and draw them to the central topic with thick lines, or main roots.
3. Split branches for additional ideas: Select keywords or images and draw links to main points with thinner lines.
4. Check for gaps and links: See if you can draw extra ideas and information, and if ideas are connected, draw lines.
- Use unlined white paper if possible because paper with lines can get in the way of your drawing.
- Use different colors for each branch.
- Use illustrations (if possible) instead of writing a lot of information.
- Use dashed lines to denote relationships.
- A picture is equivalent to a thousand words. Images are easier to memorize than reading whole pages.
- Collect all information on one page.
- Be creative and help you have many new ideas.
- Easily memorize and recall for exam tests or exams.
- Use symbols and abbreviations.
4. Flow Notes
Flow-note (flow-based note-taking) is an “unstructured” notation method. Once you receive the information, you jot down its most important parts in ways that make the most sense to you. You can do this using keywords, phrases, or images and draw arrows that connect the ideas together. This way of taking notes can help you maximize class time and revise old lessons later at home.
The three main principles to follow are to simplify, visualize, and make connections.
How to Use the Flow-Based Note-Taking Method
- Simplify: Write the information in your own words. Use the Feynman Technique.
- Visualize: Use diagrams and images to represent new ideas.
- Make connections: Connect ideas backward, between topics, and externally with what you already know.
- This method encourages you to concentrate on the content of the note so that you can capture the information once, limiting the need to review it later.
- Minimize the amount of note-taking work because the information being recorded has been refined to a minimum and sufficient for you to review later.
5. The Structured Analysis Method
If your notes are meant to help with analysis and not just remembering information, this method is very useful. With the structured analysis method, you can both take notes and analyze them at the same time, which helps you save time later.
How to Use Structured Analysis Methods
- Divide the page into two parts: 2/3 on the left is Notes, 1/3 on the right is Remarks.
- Write lecture notes or notes from textbooks on the left.
- Adding reviews and analysis to the right column helps you deepen your knowledge of the lesson. You can write about:
- Strengths and weaknesses of that theory.
- Thinking about what reference, textbooks have taught you (reflection).
- Collate with other materials—in lectures or outside the classroom (online, for example).
- Refer to known knowledge or experiences, whether this new knowledge can be applied or not.
- Compare with other theories.
- Limitations: Is this theory applicable only in certain circumstances?
- Use different colors to distinguish between different types of information; for example, in the picture: red for weak points/limits, green for strong points, etc.
- Write in line with both sides.
- Leave space to write comments later.
- Divide each main idea/theory with dotted lines to avoid confusion.
- Adjust the width of the two sections if you find you’ve filled the column.
- This type of note-taking is beneficial for lessons that need to analyze the strengths and weaknesses/limitations of the theories, and your further thinking about the lesson and the link between the concepts, like literature or social subjects.
- Help you better understand the lesson and thereby write essays and test scores higher.
- Flexible notes; you can use the outline method in the left column.
- This method is extremely effective in handwriting or typing.
6. Bullet Journal
A bullet journal is a very efficient way to record work and plans created by Ryder Carroll, a Brooklyn designer. This style of writing is becoming more and more popular with pages written in beautiful colors and delicately decorated. It’s suitable for those who absorb well through visuals with colorful images; visualizing knowledge will make the lesson more interesting and easier to learn.
A bullet journal has several specific sections: a table of contents where you list the number of pages for a specific topic, a future diary that keeps track of upcoming events or deadlines for the next six months, a monthly diary for events and deadlines over the next month, and a daily diary that tracks your to-do list, tasks, events, and notes for each day.
How to Use the Bullet Journal Method
- To get started, create a table of contents. You can set aside a few pages.
- Next, create a diary for the current month. Write the month name at the top of the page, and the days of the month on the bottom left line. Add the first letter of the entry next to the dates (like “M” for the second). Then fill in any deadlines or events you have this month. Don’t forget to add your monthly diary to your table of contents.
- Finally, open the next blank page for journaling today. Write the date at the top of the page, jot down any day events, notes for yourself, and the work you want to accomplish.
- Keep the notebook by your side, opening it during work. This way you will be able to focus on what to do and quickly add tasks or notes as you remember.
- At the end of the day, create a diary for tomorrow and move your unfinished tasks into it.
- Easy to get started.
- Efficient and handy.
- Help you become more creative.
- Live more orderly.
- Be done as you like.
- You become more interesting.
- Make free time useful.
- Combine learning new languages.
Choose the Method That Suits You Best
Each of these methods for taking notes has its own focus, and choosing the one best suitable for you depends on your own priorities and stage of your work. If you want to visualize the text in its entirety, the outlining method would suit well. On the other hand, when you take notes for revisions or review, the Cornell method or a mind map, respectively, might be better.
Flow notes are likely better suited for the early stages of your work, when you try to establish the most important parts of the information you receive. Conversely, when your focus has shifted onto analyzing the information, using the structured analysis method is worth considering.
Finally, a bullet journal is something you will find attractive if you are the kind of writer who likes to visualize knowledge and organizes ideas based on colors and decorative patterns.
In the end, we write to communicate our thoughts to others. Taking notes is an essential aspect of organizing these thoughts, so that they remain coherent and effective. Pick a method, start taking notes, and maximize your productivity and efficiency of your texts!