Notetaking Techniques

The Purpose of Lecture Notes     
The Cornell Method
The Outlining Method
The Mapping Method
The Charting Method
The Sentence Method
Hints about Notetaking

The Purpose of Lecture Notes

Notes provide a record of the lecture content. They should help you to learn and remember the ideas and facts presented. Reorganized or edited notes may form the basis for integrating all course materials and information. This may help to reduce cramming and going over great masses of unlearned materials at the close of the quarter.

Notes should also represent your understanding of the content. They should encourage you to take an active thinking part in the lecture and to do reference reading. Notes may also represent your questions and reactions. If notes are used in the ways suggested, they may help you overcome nervousness and fear of examinations through more thorough learning and preparation.

The Content of Lecture Material

Instructors have different ideas about what "learning" in their lectures should include. An introductory nature, getting a body of knowledge is a chief aim. In others, comparative viewpoints may be criticized, controversial issues may be discussed, research may be presented, or theoretical brainstorming may be emphasized. It is important that you try to define the instructor's aim since it will help you to focus on the material.

You should also try to recognize where the lecture content comes from so that you can later check and clarify information. Some lecturers will directly follow the course textbook while others will use material from supplemental sources or personal experiences.

Knowing the degree of detail or generalization will help to plan the actual recording on content. Some instructors may cover only a few points with much explanation to make them clear but not necessarily important to the actual notes. Others may pack the lecture hour with facts, leaving you to determine the major points.

The Lecture Format

Most lectures include an introduction to get your attention, a thesis statement to tell what the day's topic will be, a body of content about the topic, a summary statement, and a certain number of irrelevancies. The body of the content is generally organized around one of the following formats:
1.Inductive - begins with a small fact, building upon that to a major conclusion.
2.Deductive - starts with a major point and gradually defends that point down to the smallest fact.
3.Chronological - organized according to time, often earliest to most recent.
4.Spatial - uses diagrams, maps, or pictures to guide the direction of the lecture.
5.Logical - follows some sequence of events or steps in an evolutionary manner.
6.Topical - presents several content areas with no apparent connection.

Most instructors have a typical pattern which they follow in their lectures. If you can recognize this pattern, you will be able to listen and structure your notes more effectively. Both thinking and writing will be more clearly organized.

For each class you will need a different notetaking system. Because the combinations of factors about you, the instructor, the classroom conditions and the task vary constantly, your strategies for one class will rarely be exactly the same as for another.



Review yesterday's notes and edit them. Think about what may be presented today. Study today's lesson, text, or readings. Survey or preview the next lesson.

DURING CLASS - Actively participate

1.Do more listening, thinking, and less writing if you understand the material.
2.Watch for verbal, visual, or postural clues which indicate main points.  Examples: voice inflections material on board, repetitions, gestures.
3.Ask questions or write them down for further clarification when you disagree or are unsure.
4.Sit in front of the classroom if you have difficulty concentrating. Maintain eye contact with the instructor when possible.
5.Have a system of taking notes.


Edit your notes as soon as possible -- the sooner you do so, the less you will forget.

1.Reorganize notes.

1. number, label or underline to stress major and minor points.
2.take out repetitions or irrelevancies.
3.add or clarify where needed.
4.code the margins with key topics.
5.reduce notes.

2.Set up for review.

1.write summary statements.
2.turn major headings into questions to use in selective reviewing.
3.mark points you expect will be included on the test.
4.write possible questions over the material given.

Notetaking Methods

The Cornell Method

The Cornell method provides a systematic format for condensing and organizing notes without laborious recopying. After writing the notes in the main space, use the left-hand space to label each idea and detail with a key word or "cue."

Method - Rule your paper with a 2 inch margin on the left leaving a six-inch area on the right in which to make notes. During class, take down information in the six-inch area. When the instructor moves to a new point, skip a few lines. After class, complete phrases and sentences as much as possible. For every significant bit of information, write a cue in the left margin. To review, cover your notes with a card, leaving the cues exposed. Say the cue out loud, then say as much as you can of the material underneath the card. When you have said as much as you can, move the card and see if what you said matches what is written. If you can say it, you know it.

Advantages - Organized and systematic for recording and reviewing notes. Easy format for pulling out major concept and ideas. Simple and efficient. Saves time and effort.   "Do-it-right-in-the-first-place system."

Disadvantages - None

When to Use - In any lecture situation.

The Outlining Method

Dash or indented outlining is usually best except for some science classes such as physics or math.

1.The information which is most general begins at the left with each more specific group of facts indented with spaces to the right.
2.The relationships between the different parts is carried out through indenting.
3.No numbers, letters, or Roman numerals are needed.

Method - Listen and then write in points in an organized pattern based on space indention. Place major points farthest to the left. Indent each more specific point to the right. Levels of importance will be indicated by distance away from the major point. Indention can be as simple as or as complex as labeling the indentions with Roman numerals or decimals. Markings are not necessary as space relationships will indicate the major/minor points.

Advantages - Well-organized system if done right. Outlining records content as well as relationships. It also reduces editing and is easy to review by turning main points into questions.

Disadvantages - Requires more thought in class for accurate organization. This system may not show relationships by sequence when needed. It doesn't lend to diversity of a review attach for maximum learning and question application. This system cannot be used if the lecture is too fast.

When to Use - The outline format can be used if the lecture is presented in outline organization. This may be either deductive (regular outline) or inductive (reverse outline where minor points start building to a major point). Use this format when there is enough time in the lecture to think about and make organization decisions when they are needed. This format can be most effective when your notetaking skills are super sharp and you can handle the outlining regardless of the notetaking situation.

Example -Extrasensory perception

__ definition: means of perceiving without use of sense organs.

__ three kinds -

__ telepathy: sending messages
__ clairvoyance: forecasting the future
__ psychokinesis: perceiving events external to

__ current status -

__ no current research to support or refute
__ few psychologists say impossible
__ door open to future

The Mapping Method

Mapping is a method that uses comprehension/concentration skills and evolves in a notetaking form which relates each fact or idea to every other fact or idea. Mapping is a graphic representation of the content of a lecture. It is a method that maximizes active participation, affords immediate knowledge as to its understanding, and emphasizes critical thinking.

Advantages - This format helps you to visually track your lecture regardless of conditions.  Little thinking is needed and relationships can easily be seen. It is also easy to edit your notes by adding numbers, marks, and color coding. Review will call for you to restructure thought processes which will force you to check understanding. Review by covering lines for memory drill and relationships. Main points can be written on flash or note cards and pieced together into a table or larger structure at a later date.

Disadvantages - You may not hear changes in content from major points to facts.

When to Use - Use when the lecture content is heavy and well-organized. May also be used effectively when you have a guest lecturer and have no idea how the lecture is going to be presented.

The Charting Method

If the lecture format is distinct (such as chronological), you may set up your paper by drawing columns and labeling appropriate headings in a table.

Method - Determine the categories to be covered in the lecture. Set up your paper in advance by columns headed by these categories. As you listen to the lecture, record information (words, phrases, main ideas, etc.) into the appropriate category.

Advantages - Helps you track conversation and dialogues where you would normally be confused and lose out on relevant content. Reduces amount of writing necessary. Provides easy review mechanism for both memorization of facts and study of comparisons and relationships.

Disadvantages - few disadvantages except learning how to use the system and locating the appropriate categories. You must be able to understand what's happening in the lecture.

When to Use - Test will focus on both facts and relationships.Content is heavy and presented fast. You want to reduce the amount of time you spend editing and reviewing at test time.You want to get an overview of the whole course on one big paper sequence.

The Sentence Method

Method - Write every new thought, fact or topic on a separate line, numbering as you progress.

Advantages - Slightly more organized than the paragraph. Gets more or all of the information. Thinking to tract content is still limited.

Disadvantages - Can't determine major/minor points from the numbered sequence. Difficult to edit without having to rewrite by clustering points which are related. Difficult to review unless editing cleans up relationship.

When to Use - Use when the lecture is somewhat organized, but heavy with content which comes fast. You can hear the different points, but you don't know how they fit together. The instructor tends to present in point fashion, but not in grouping such as "three related points."

Examples -

Example 1:

A revolution is any occurrence that affects other aspects of life, such as economic life, social life, and so forth. Therefore revolutions cause change. (seepage 29 to 30 in text about this.)

Sample Notes:

Revolution - occurrence that affects other aspects of life: e.g., econ., socl., etc.C.f. text, pp. 29-30.

Example 2:

Melville did not try to represent life as it really was. The language of Ahab, Starbuck, and Ishmael, for instance, was not that of real life.

Sample Notes: Mel didn't repr. life as was; e.g., lang.of Ahab, etc. nt of real life.

Example 3:

At first, Freud tried conventional, physical methods of treatment such as giving baths, massages, rest cures, and similar aids. But when these failed, he tried techniques of hypnosis that he had seen used by Jean-Martin Charcot. Finally, he borrowed an idea from Jean Breuer and used direct verbal communication to get an unhypnotized patient to reveal unconscious thoughts.

Sample Notes:

Freud 1st -- used phys. trtment; e.g., baths, etc. This fld. 2nd -- used hypnosis (fr. Charcot) Finally -- used dirct vrb. commun. (fr. Breuer) - got unhynop, patnt to reveal uncons. thoughts.

Hints about Notetaking

As you get involved with the complexities of notetaking, you may tend to forget the simple things that can make life a lot easier. These tips are little hints that we all know but forget sometimes. They can be summarized by four directives:
1.BE ALERT - so you are aware of and prepared for the lecture content and situation.
2.BE ORDERLY - so you can process the lecture now and for review later.
3.BE SYSTEMATIC - so you can establish a habit pattern and won't miss anything important.
4.BE UP TO DATE - so that your well designed notetaking system gets done.

Below is a list of tips which may help you to be alert, orderly, systematic, and up to date.

Attend lectures regularly. Once you miss one, it will be easier to miss more.
Use a standard 8 1/2" x 11" loose leaf notebook, for continued organization and review. Spiral notebooks do not allow reshuffling your notes for review.
Keep the notes for one class separate from other classes. Best yet, keep each class in a separate binder.
Write on one side of the paper for easier organization. It's possible to overlook material written on the back of a sheet.
Leave your notebook at home and carry with you only enough pages to keep track of the lecture. This way you won't lose your entire set of notes should you misplace them.
Carry extra pens and pencils for editing and unforeseen obstacles (UFO's).
Don't doodle because it distracts. Keep eye contact when not writing.
Make notes as complete as needed and as clear as possible so they can be used meaningfully later.
Leave blanks where information is missed or misunderstood. Fill in gaps after lecture or as soon after as possible when the aid of the instructor or classmates.
Develop your own system of enumerating and indenting.
Use symbols such as asterisks for emphasis.
Mark or separate assignments given in class in a space apart from the lecture notes.
Separate your thoughts from those of the lecture; record your own items after the lecture.
Be alert for cues, postural, visual, etc.
Record examples where helpful.
Listen especially at the end of the lecture. If the instructor has not paced his lecture well, he may cram half of the content into the last 5-10 minutes.
Get into the five-minute technique and review your notes right after class. At this time you can change, organize, add, delete, summarize, or clarify misunderstandings.
Recopying by itself is a debatable advantage but the five-minute technique is not.
Have study sessions once or twice a week to learn omissions, clear up misinterpretations and get other students opinions about interpretations.