The ability to take good notes is a very useful skill at university. You can read more about note-taking in lectures under the lectures section, and more about taking notes from books and articles under the reading section.

Ideally, notes should provide a clear, easily understandable overview of a text or a lecture. The best notes do not merely summarise, but engage as well. For example, when you are taking notes from a photocopied article, you might highlight the important points, provide a brief summary of the highlighted section in the margin, and add your own questions or comments.

It is a good idea at the end of a lecture or a text to write down a brief outline of the key points as you understood them. This not only helps you to put the ideas down in your own words, but is also a good way of understanding the main focus of the lecture or text.

In lectures, take care not merely to write down everything the lecturer says. It is important that you understand the lecture: your notes are therefore more likely to useful when they provide brief summaries of the lecture content, rather than a complete transcription of the lecture. Taking notes can distract you from listening and comprehending. If you can, try to think about what you are writing down before you put pen to paper. Have a look at the Cornell system of note-taking for some good ideas on taking practical notes that do not use up too much time.

When you are reading an academic text, it is always best to read with a purpose – in other words, to have specific questions in mind, which you attempt to answer through your reading. When these answers come up, make a careful note of them. If you write down what your questions were as well, it will help you to study from the text later. It is possible to employ a similar technique on your lecture notes.

Notes can be linear, or you could mind-map: follow some of the links in the yellow section on the right for more information and examples. Briefly, linear notes reflect the organisation of the lecture or the text in point-form, while mind-mapping helps you to create visual associations between ideas. A mind-map starts with what is known, and branches off to make new associations. This is much closer to how our mind actually understands ideas and acquires new knowledge than the linear system. It is important, however, that you develop your own system for taking notes. Notes are entirely functional: you don’t have to hand them in, they are not assessed – they are entirely for your personal, practical use.

Cornell note-taking system


Mind-mapping for learning

Effective note-taking

Note-taking skills

Taking notes from a text book