Have you ever considered how your notetaking affects how well you do in school or work?

Taking good notes isn't enough to do well if your strategy starts and ends in the classroom, the meeting room, or the boardroom.

The best note-taking strategies include pre- and post-note-taking work.

These strategies address:

  • The method you use to take notes

  • How you structure and organize your notes

  • How you build out and connect ideas

  • How you use your notes for assignments, research, review, and study

Why Having a Note-taking Strategy Is Important

There's no reason to take notes if you never need to access that information again. But that's rarely the case.

In college we have exams. At work, we often need to document everything.

At a minimum, you'll want to access what you learned for assessments, projects, or job tasks, or what important decisions were made on a project at work.

The keys to a good note-taking strategy are:

  • Easy to use

  • Can quickly write, or type, use symbols and shorthand, and add drawings or images

  • Allows you to structure and (re)organize information for access later

  • Easy to read and understand afterwards

  • Allows you to summarize and synthesize content

How to Take Your Notes

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  • Easy to use and familiar

  • No power supply needed

  • Can be easier to carry around

  • Cheaper than a digital device

  • Less digital distractions


  • No automatic or quick backups

  • More difficult to add content within the lecture notes

  • More difficult to search and connect concepts

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  • Easy to add information into lecture notes after class

  • Search options allow quicker access to keywords

  • Easy to back-up


  • Typing during a fast-paced lecture can be difficult

  • Need to have a power supply (or backup paper notebook) just in case

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A Hybrid of Both


  • The best of both methods


  • More time in transcribing notes from handwritten to digital (which could be considered a review method, and therefore a pro)


Most of Shay's courses are lectures and she's heard one of her professors talks really fast. What note-taking method should Shay consider? Select all that apply:

How to Organize Your Notes

Whether you choose to handwrite or type your notes, consider these six methods for structuring and organizing your materials.

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Cornell Method

The Cornell method uses a three-section layout for notes, questions (cues), and a summary.

This method builds in review as the questions (cues) and summary section are completed after a lecture.


  • Familiar and well-documented method


  • Takes some practice to get used to it

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Outline Method

The Outline method uses an outline structure with main concepts and subtopics and supporting information indented.


  • Familiar and well-documented

  • Quick and easy


  • Difficult to add additional notes to it (when handwritten)

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Mapping Method

The Mapping method is a visual method like mind mapping. You add main concepts, subtopics, and supporting information, then link the ideas together.


  • Great for creating visual links between topic ideas


  • Not as suitable for notes with formulas and equations

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Charting Method

The Charting method is best used for comparisons between ideas or concepts. You create a chart where the columns represent the items being compared, and the rows have the criteria.


  • Great for comparisons of information or when information has similar data types (e.g. dates of events)


  • Not suitable for regular notetaking

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Zettelkasten Method

The Zettelkasten method is not only for note-taking but also for knowledge management. It's also known as a networked thinking approach to notetaking. This means it's designed not only to add notes, but to retrieve them for a purpose, and over a long period of time.


  • Can quickly add connections between notes (when done digitally)


  • Can't be done easily when handwritten

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Sentence Method

The Sentence method is an easy and familiar method. It uses line gaps between sentences to keep information separate and to use during review.


  • Quick and easy

  • doesn't require page setup beforehand


  • Difficult to add information afterwards (when handwritten)

How to Use Your Preferred Tools & Materials

Depending on the method you select, you'll need different tools and materials to support your notetaking strategy. Consider your budget when it comes to choosing supplies and replenishing them.

Also consider these tools and materials for:

Women taking notes in a spiral pad Photo by Fiona Murray on Unsplash

Handwritten Notes

  • Paper — ruled, dot grid, graph, or blank

  • Organization — notebook, binder and loose-leaf paper, sketchbook, or similar

  • Main notes — pens and/or pencils

  • For color — pens, pencils, or highlighters

  • Structure or templates — ruler

  • Other tools — sticky notes, tabs, dividers, or other items to keep notes searchable and organized

A desktop computer and laptop on a desk Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

Digital Notes

  • Device — laptop, but other digital devices could be used as a backup or to augment

  • Software or apps — needs to work with operating system and note-taking method. Consider:

    • OneNote, Apple Notes, Google Keep

    • EverNote or Joplin

    • Notion

    • Obsidian or Logseq

How to Use Your Notes

Consider incorporating these strategies and best practices for great notes:

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  • Prepare your notetaking space in your notebook, binder, or notetaking app

  • Review and take notes on assignments directly into your notes space

  • Print, link, or embed lecture note slides if available and add them to notes

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  • Quickly take notes using shorthand, abbreviations, symbols, or other methods

  • Take notes directly on printed slides, or next to linked slides to provide context for your notes

  • Mark where you are confused and have questions so you can review later

  • Focus on the main concepts and ideas rather than stories and side topics

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  • Have a notetaking and study partner, or colleague, that you can review notes afterwards

  • Review all areas where you had question marks and questions about the content and do your own research to fill in these gaps, add that to your notes, or ask someone for clarification

  • Connect ideas to other notes you've taken


You are preparing for your final exam. You grab your notes and sit down to study. What methods will you use with your notes? Select all that apply:

Take Action

Whatever strategy you choose, there's no one right way to take notes.

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Try out your strategy:

  1. Practice a strategy exclusively for one week

  2. Modify it or try another strategy the next week

  3. Continue to adjust until you find a method that works for you

Then reflect on your strategy:


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