Effective note-making is an important practice to master at university. You have a lot of new knowledge and you need to develop reliable mechanisms for recording and retrieving it when necessary. But note-making is also a learning process in itself, helping you to process and understand the information you receive.
There can be problems...
Developing more effective note-making practices will help you to avoid these problems, and make your studying less stressful and time-consuming.
The two key principles are  to be meticulous and accurate, and  to be active rather than passive.
Being meticulous and accurate about recording sources and direct quotations is an important part of academic discipline, as well as helping to avoid accidental plagiarism. This means:
- always recording the necessary details for any source you use as soon as you start taking notes. Don't wait till you've finished reading - you may forget, or misplace the text.
- having a clear system so that you know which of your notes are  paraphrases of someone else's ideas  direct quotes  your own ideas.
Two things to watch out for...
...if you photocopy an article or chapter, make sure you include the page numbers as you will need them for referencing - write them in if they fall off the edge of the photocopy (at least the first page so you can count forward)
...if you are making notes from a website, keep a note of the URL (website address) and the date that you accessed it - you will need these for referencing
The most effective note-taking is active not passive. Active learning helps you to make meaning from what you learn: passive learning is allowing yourself to be an empty vessel into which knowledge is poured with no way of organising or making meaning from it. You are less likely to remember things you learn passively, which means more checking your notes while you're writing assignments, and more repeated effort when you come to revise.
Passive note-taking includes:
Active note-taking means:
You'll know how good your notes are when you try to use them! Here are some suggestions to make your notes easier to read, easier to understand and easier to find when you need them.
These two forms of note-taking are useful for different things.
Linear notes are what most people are used to doing. They are written down a page with headings and subheadings. They should have plenty of room for detail.
Here are some suggestions for making linear notes more useful.
Spider diagrams are on one page and are good for showing structure and organising your ideas. They are sometimes called mindmaps, which indicates how they are good for making connections clear and visual.
Though some people don't like this style of note-taking, there are a number of advantages to using spidergrams:
To make a spidergram:
Try the interactive resource, Notemaker, below to practice your notemaking
Trying to listen, think, read from slides, and write notes at the same time is not just difficult - it's plain impossible! So cut down the amount of notes you take in lectures and do more listening:
- don't copy slides if they're going to be available on Blackboard or in a handout
- skim read any handouts so you know if they include things like dates and formulae
- you may find it more useful to write notes on the handout rather than having handout + notes to file
- if you find it especially difficult to write notes and listen at the same time (for instance, if you are dyslexic), consider using a mini-recorder so you can listen at your own pace after the lecture
What you do before and after lectures can be as important as what you do during them. If you can anticipate the main points, you will find the lecture easier to understand, and you will have a better idea of when something is worth taking a note of. So:
Before the lecture...
During the lecture...
After the lecture...