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MHS Library | Taking notes: The why and the how

No right or wrong way

There is no right or wrong way to take notes. 

However, try to keep your notes brief and succinct. There is no benefit gained from trying to write everything down - your notes should reflect the main themes and the areas you have identified as important.

Hand-written or digital notes?

Advantages of handwritten

The obvious advantage of taking notes on paper is that you are relying on technology/wifi. You can leave your screen free for online reading/research if you prefer not to work with multiple windows open.  

Some research suggests handwritten notes are generative (mapping concepts, creating summaries) and support deeper learning.

Advantages of digital note-taking

Handwritten note-taking is more difficult to edit, re-order and search within your work. You are not able to copy and paste notes so you create more work for yourself.

Blending handwritten and digital notes  Why not use a blend of both handwritten and digital note-taking? Consider the strengths of each: use the generative learning of handwritten note-taking and the searchability of digital notes. You could summarise the main points in your paper notes in digital form. Use paper to quickly jot down your ideas, and use technology tools like spreadsheets to order them. 

Credit to UNSW, Sydney for some materials on this page

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Note taking and keeping good records

Note-making is part of the research process, helping you to understand, consider and structure information.

Good note-making helps you to avoid unintentional plagiarism by carefully and appropriately recording the details you need to use references correctly. It also enables you to focus on the important and relevant information, and to understand and make connections with other materials. Note that copying and pasting onto your computer is NOT note-making: you need to process what you read, think about the purpose for reading it, and write down only what is important. (University of Reading)

Source: Monash University

Why take notes?

  • Your notes record key information and sources of that information.
  • Notes become a revision resource.
  • Your listening and concentration is aided by note-taking.
  • Taking notes may help you remember what you heard in class.
  • Your understanding is increased as you select your words while note-taking.
  • Class notes may provide information you may not find in books or online.

Note-taking tips:

  • Don’t try to write down everything you hear (no complete sentences)

  • Use your own words if you can 
  • Be selective and practise effective listening by recognising key concepts and identifying and selecting what is relevant. 
  • Learn to distinguish between main points, elaboration and examples, ‘waffle’ and new points by listening for:

    • introductory remarks
    • signals for key information with phrases like: “There are three main aspects”or “This is important…” etc.
    • repetition of important points
    • summaries of main aspects

What do I do with my notes?

  • Name/date them and save them in an appropriate folder
  • Read through your notes and make sure they make sense - fill in missing information if needed
  • Use colour/bolding/underlining/symbols to make them friendlier to read/locate information later.
  • Link related themes/ideas or chunk into categories.
  • Use concept maps, diagrams or drawings to aid understanding.

Taking note-taking a step further:

  • Write out key concepts in your own words
  • Add your own questions to help you locate and remember things later Interacting with your notes helps you process the information.