Study Methods 2: Note-taking

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Introduction to note-taking

What students find difficult when taking notes varies from student to student. You may have difficulty distinguishing relevant from non-relevant information and therefore take too many or too little notes. Perhaps you need to (re)learn how to take notes because it’s been a long time since you went to school. Maybe it’s all too new for you and you need to try your hand at it for the first time.

Start by answering the questions below. They will help you decide where you want to put your focus:

Questions on note-taking
Do you have experience with note-taking?
How have you taken notes before?
How much time do you spend on taking notes?
Do you have a system so you can find your notes again? 
What are “good” notes for you?
What do you think is the most challenging thing about taking notes?

Notes when reading for study

Note-taking techniques

It’s a good idea to start by experimenting with different note-taking techniques, partly because you will need several note-taking techniques throughout your study time, and partly because there is often a technique that suits your way of working particularly well.

Another good piece of advice is to take notes in stints – wait to take notes until you have a meaningful “unit” – a paragraph, a chapter, or perhaps the entire text you need to read or listen to before taking notes. That way, it will be easier for you to figure out what’s relevant and what’s not to write down.

A third piece of advice is to put things into your own words when taking notes. When you formulate things in your own words, you relate more actively to the contents, and you learn and remember it better.

It’s also a good idea to make your own system of short-hand and abbreviations to save time and space

Jørgensen, P. S. (2014). Notatteknik for studerende på videregående uddannelser—Lyt, læs—Notér—Og skriv (3. udgave). Samfundslitteratur. 

Here are a few examples of short-hand and symbols:


Here you can read about different note-taking techniques. Most of the techniques can be used when reading, in lessons or when watching a video

Mini abstracts 

  • Read the whole text
  • Put away the text and then write a mini abstract

Mini abstracts are a great way to learn in a short amount of time and are particularly useful for studying for exams.

Underlining and margin notes    

  • Underline only the most important passages in the text
  • Write thoughts, ideas and questions in the margin. Don’t repeat what is already in the text.

If you are reading on a computer, use a pdf reader so you can underline and make margin notes directly in the pdf.

There is a greater chance you will remember what you read if you have marked it, but not as great as if you worked more in-depth with the text.

Keyword notes

  • List and define the academic and professional terms and concepts you meet in the text
  • Note the theorists and events and give a few descriptive words to them.

Keyword notes are especially good when you start your education programme, as this is when you have to acquire a completely new academic and professional conceptual vocabulary.

Mind maps

  • Start by writing the central theme or concept on a page
  • Draw lines out from that for all the different sub-themes/concepts and sub-sub-themes/concepts
  • Let the map grow in breath – it’s easier to take in things in breath than in height
  • Use colour and symbols to emphasise/illustrate how the different themes and concepts relate to each other.

Mind maps are a good way to create an overview of contexts and connections.

When you’re finished taking notes, spend a few minutes reading through them and consider whether to add, delete or restructure something. This short post-writing process can both elevate your learning and make your notes more useful.

At the same time, it is worth spending time on creating a system for your notes, so you can easily and quickly retrieve your notes again when you need them.

  • Remember to mark handwritten notes clearly with subject, topic and date and store them in a system that makes sense to you. You could, e.g., use folders with tabs and different colour notebooks
  • With digital notes, you can create a great folder system either on your computer, or online in Microsoft OneDrive or you can save them in Microsoft OneNote.

Did you know?

Research shows that you gain a deeper understanding of a text if you take notes as you read.

Bohay, M., Blakely, D. P., Tamplin, A. K., & Radvansky, G. A. (2011). Note Taking, Review, Memory, and Comprehension. The American Journal of Psychology, 124(1), 63–73.

Digital note-taking tools

If you take notes on your computer, here are some tools that can help you structure and save your notes.

PDF-Reader    

With a PDF reader, you can both underline in your PDF files and add comments in different places in the document.

There are several different PDF readers available. For example, you can use Adobe Acrobat Reader or invest in Adobe Acrobat Pro for more advanced use.

OneNote

With OneNote, you can create digital notebooks and divide them into pages and sections. You can share your OneNote notebooks with your classmates, which enables you to share, co-write and enrich each other’s notes.

In OneNote you can integrate your notes with, e.g., pdfs and PowerPoints from the teaching. If you use OneNote for all your notes, you can search across all notes at once.


Here is an example of how a VIA student has used OneNote:

Mindview

Mindview is an application you can use to create mind maps online.

A Mindview-mind map could look like this:

Notes in teaching and lessons

You don’t have to write down everything the teacher says but taking a few notes from each lesson can help you retain what is being said and talked about in the lesson. Taking notes in teaching can also help keep you focused and process what is being taught.

In teaching and lessons focus and take notes on:

  • What the teacher says at the beginning and end of the lesson – that’s often the most important thing
  • The teacher’s angle and focus on the material
  • When the teacher comes to life. If the teacher suddenly speaks with a greater enthusiasm, it’s often because they find it important
  • When the teacher says things like: “The conclusion is…”, “An important point is…” – this is the teacher’s way of helping to tell you when something is important
  • The reactions, associations and reflections you have during teaching and lessons.

Jørgensen, P. S. (2014). Notatteknik for studerende på videregående uddannelser—Lyt, læs—Notér—Og skriv (3. udgave). Samfundslitteratur. s. 35)

The better prepared you are for teaching and lessons, the easier it is to focus on what is most relevant.

Prepare yourself by:

  • Checking the day’s plan on Itslearning
  • Checking the day’s texts. If you can’t read them all, skim them and then choose just one that you read more thoroughly
  • Look through your notes from the last lesson
  • Ask yourself what you would like out of the teaching.


Jørgensen, P. S. (2014). Notatteknik for studerende på videregående uddannelser—Lyt, læs—Notér—Og skriv (3. udgave). Samfundslitteratur. s. 34)

It is a good idea to take five minutes after class or at least the same day to catch up on any loose ends in your notes. If there is something you didn’t understand in the lesson, try to find out about it, either by talking to your fellow students or by finding an article or a YouTube video about it.

Taking notes by hand is a little slower, so you are less likely to take too many notes.

If you take notes on a computer, you can make notes a little faster, but you may then fall into the trap of writing too much. On the other hand, you can more easily edit the notes afterwards and structure them in folders.

Did you know?

Research shows that students who finish their notes after a lecture by, for instance, restructuring them and making additions, get better grades than students who don’t.

Cohen, D., Kim, E., Tan, J., & Winkelmes, M.-A. (2013). A Note-Restructuring Intervention Increases Students’ Exam Scores. College Teaching, 61(3), 95–99. Academic Search Premier. 

Note-taking when you are on internship

Before starting an internship, it’s a good idea to consider how you will retain your experience. You will get a lot of new input, and it can be difficult to remember details and how you have developed your professionalism if you have not written anything down along the way. Internship notes can have many different formats, and you may get something out of using more than just one of these formats.

Note-taking techniques for internships
Internship notes can be written while you are at the internship organisation and as a reflection after a day’s work. Internship notes cover observations, little descriptions of everyday life and other forms of documentation of the internship. These notes can be digital or physical notes on paper, or both.

Logbook
One of the most common tools associated with internship notes is keeping a logbook.

The purpose of keeping a logbook is to provide a chronological overview of the internship period and your professional development. A logbook can include short minutes from meetings with your internship supervisor and descriptions of situations, projects, assignments and professional considerations. It could also include personal considerations and reflections, joys and frustrations, which can be nice to have recorded.

Set aside time to write in the logbook every day. To help you, you are welcome to use questions such as these:

  • What did I do today?
  • How has my professionalism been applied today?
  • What went well – and what didn’t go so well?
  • What did I wonder about?
  • What did I learn that was new for me? 
  • What do I need to research more knowledge on? 

Remember, too, to save other internship material, such as question guides, interviews and other material provided by your internship organisation.

Oral notes
You can record yourself on your smartphone. An audio recording is also a kind of note that you can return to later. Try to record yourself talking about your topic, the day’s experiences or something else, and where you would like to go with it. This process can help you structure your thoughts, either before you commit your notes to paper or as an alternative to it.

If you produce lots of oral notes, make sure to establish a good system in the file names so you can easily retrieve the relevant audio file again.

Visual fieldnotes 
Photos, videos, drawings, sketches, templates and mind maps are also useful in terms of retaining experiences from your internship. Visual notes can provide an overview of things like the interior and décor, the placement of people in a room, design choices, and documentation of specific objects, situations or actions. Visual notes complement other note formats by offering a different angle that might give other valuable experience from your internship.

Remember to be aware of GDPR if you take photos or videos of people or have access to materials with sensitive information on your internship.

Udarbejdet af: VIA Bibliotek, VIA University College

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