Note Taking

Note Taking
Student Disability Services
Aim: to capture the essence of content using as few words as possible
Use abbreviations and symbols
 Use acronyms, the first syllable of words, conventional symbols such as
digits, + @ & < > etc.
 Many mathematical symbols can be put to use in non-mathematical
notes – you will find an extensive list at
 You can also devise your own symbols – after all, your notes are for
your own personal use. Think text-speak – it works well for notes and
you can develop your ‘vocabulary’ by looking at a few websites
 You could also devise abbreviations or symbols for subject words that
crop up frequently
Leave out unnecessary words
You don’t need to write everything down, sentence by sentence; in lectures
you will quickly fall behind and when taking notes from texts you will put
yourself at risk of plagiarism. Again, think in terms of texting language. It’s not
going to dumb down your written language expression when the formal
academic writing is required.
Use headings and numbers
You can make your notes more readable (and understandable) if you build in
some sort of structure. Main topics can have a heading with information that
relates to them under subheadings. These can be numbered 1, 2, 3 (main
headings); 1a, 2b,3c subheadings etc.
When making notes while researching for an essay, cross reference your notes
to your essay plan, using the same numbering (see Essay Writing).
Leave spaces
You may want to add information later when you come to review your notes,
so after each topic or sub-topic, leave some space.
Note- taking in lectures
Before lectures, print out power point presentations as hand-outs (if available
on Moodle) with three slides to a page or upload the presentation straight
into a program such as Audio Note-Taker. You can then annotate the slides by
hand or on your computer, adding to the information already provided.
Preview power point presentations before lectures. As you read, ask yourself:
 What are the key concepts/ideas in this lecture?
 How do they apply to any examples mentioned and /or to the wider
topic/theme/subject area studied?
 What is likely to be the most essential information to remember from this
 Are several things being compared?
 What are the relationships between the ideas/processes?
 Is any of the content controversial?
If you know you have difficulty recognising or spelling new vocabulary
mentioned in the lecture you can use text to speech software to say the words
aloud (Text Help Read and Write/ Claro-Read) or you can use an online
pronunciation tool such as
Previewing lectures will provide you with a context, and you will be more
likely to absorb the content. Note-taking during the lecture will be easier, and
having some idea of the content you may realise you don’t need to write so
During the lecture be aware of phrases that lecturers use to signpost what is
being said:
This will signal the introduction
To start with...
Tells you the structure
The lecture is divided
However, on the other
hand, but, conversely, despite
In addition, in other
words, as I said previously
For example, that is to say,
Especially, significantly,
most importantly
Firstly, secondly, next,
then, penultimate, ultimately
Contrasts opposing information and
Repetition of information or alternative
What follows will be examples of the
main point
Link is important and special attention
Be ready to record a series of linked
Cause and effect
Therefore, thus, because,
consequently, accordingly
I’ll expand/ give more
detail/ take up this point later
In conclusion/ summary/
recap/ in brief/ to wrap up
Be on the alert to note and listen out for
more information
The overview and recap is coming. Be
alert to clarify points
Table: Thanks to David Mooney Imperial College London
Remember there is a place for sitting back and listening; thinking about what
you are hearing and making notes of your ideas about the subject rather than
just making a record of what the lecturer is saying. Listen to a complete point
before writing. Try to record your own reactions to what is being said. Do you
agree with what is presented? What questions do you have?
When recording a lecture
1. As you are note taking, ensure that you can see the time counter on
your recording device. Make a note of the number (at all points on the
recording) where you think there was an important piece of
information that may need further development after the lecture.
2. Use the same strategy if you didn’t understand something or missed
something out.
3. Rewind to listen to those points to amend and complete your lecture
notes. You should only really be listening to edited highlights. You don’t
have time to listen to the entire lecture again. Only consider this if
lecture is particularly good or will help you with an assignment or exam
Using visual spatial notes
Many students like to use visual note taking tools or approaches. These can be
paper based or digital. Using a different ‘radial’ approach to notes can actually
fit better with the natural flow of a lecture. Lecturers don’t always deliver
points in a logical sequential order.
Review your notes after lectures to make sure you can make sense of them
and to add any other information.
Useful software
Audio Note-Taker
Mind View
XMind (free to download)
Natural Reader (free to download)
TextHelp Read and Write Gold /
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