Aug. 26, 2021

General tips for notetaking

Did you find it difficult to jot down what your instructor just said? If your answer is yes, this blog is right for you! It will introduce you to a range of principles and techniques, which will hopefully improve your notetaking in lectures or in other contexts.

Notetaking is a challenging task, but you can nail it if you can stick to these principles:

  1. Review notes from the previous lecture
  2. Preview handouts or slides before the lecture if they are available
  3. Be an engaged listener
  4. Avoid translating the lecture into your first language
  5. Develop a personal notetaking system
  6. Don't write down everything you hear
  7. Take advantage of office hours to fill in what you missed
  8. Review and compare notes with classmates

Besides these principles, there are three techniques that can help you take notes faster:

1. Abbreviation is a useful technique to shorten words. Below are some commonly used abbreviations. You may develop you own as you take notes.

  • cf. - compare to
  • eg - for example
  • int'l - international
  • eg - for example
  • ie - that is
  • b/c - because
  • etc - etcetera
  • p. - Page
  • with - w/
  • para - paragraph
  • ppl - people
  • without - w/o
  • natl - national
  • gov - government
  • b/t - between
  • esp - especially
  • wrld - world
  • cont. - Continued
  • txt - text
  • ntwk - network

2. Elimination is to reduce the amount of notes you write down by eliminating unnecessary words. You may leave out most articles (e.g., a, an, the) and conjunctions (e.g., and, but, nor, or, so, for, yet)

3. Substitution is to replace words with symbols that are easy to write down. Below are some commonly used symbols. Again, this list is not exhaustive, and you can create your own symbols as you see fit.

  • ↑­ increase
  • ≠ not equal/not the same as
  • ↓ decrease
  • ∵ because
  • → lead to/cause
  • ∴ therefore
  • > more than
  • # number
  • < less than
  • am morning
  • = equal
  • pm afternoon

Remember: there is no “one size fits all” approach for notetaking. You may figure out one or more practices that work for you the best.