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How I Do It: Note taking 101

I take a lot of notes… a lot! Sometimes I am lazy and indiscriminately jot down key points on a sheet of paper while I read. But then the time comes when I need those notes and instead of saving me time, my notes are like a code I have to crack. When I don’t spend the time taking good notes, I usually end up having to re-read and take new notes (while kicking myself for not doing it right the first time).

Over the years I have realized the value of taking the time to take good notes the first time. What are good notes you ask? Well, I believe a good set of notes does not (like highlighting) record everything. They should be strategic and allow you to engage with the key points and arguments of the book/lecture, while also critically engaging with it. They should be your “Cliff Notes.”

I really like the Cornell Note Method:

Once you have divided your paper and recorded the title/topic, take notes while you read (or notes from a lecture) in section 3. Remember to be selective in the points you choose and skip a line between each point. 
As you read you may have a question or concern about one of the points the author/lecturer is making. Be sure to record these questions to the left of the corresponding notes in section 2.
This is the step most people skip – review. After you have recorded the information in section 3, you need to review (this is especially important for in-class notes, often notes taken in a hurry won’t make sense a week later). At this stage, I like to select a new color (or two) and rewrite the main ideas/arguments either in section 3 or section 2 (your choice). You can also underline, highlight, or even draw illustrations.
Finally in section 4, write a summary of all the material, including your critical questions and considering the following: What’s the significance of this information? Is this material based on certain theories or principles? Does it relate to other materials I have read/covered in the course? How can I apply this information? How does it fit in with what I already know? 
Of course you have to review your notes more than just the night before a test/paper writing.

Here is a basic template, but it isn’t very stylish. Who says good notes can’t be cute notes? So here are some fun note-taking templates! Just click, save, and print on a regular sheet of computer paper.

Happy Note Taking!