Note-taking, consolidation and transforming text

Note taking is the process of recording information from one source to make it useful for another purpose. We take notes all the time but it is very easy to write too much and so the process becomes time-consuming and arduous.

First it is important to question why we take notes.

To summarise - we make notes so that we don't have to read the whole book or journal article again

For understanding - notes can act as a way of clarifying points and helping us put something new into a meaningful context

To reflect - as you are taking notes you will develop thoughts on how you may use this information, how it relates to your previous knowledge and it what you need to do now to help you to understand this ideas further.

For recall - to commit to memory and be able to utilise that information for another purpose

To avoid unintentional plagiarism - we take notes to clearly distinguish our own thoughts from those of an author or speaker

To prepare – consolidating lots of notes to respond to a focus or question in readiness for a task, such as an exam question or assignment.


What do successful notes look like?

Include the following to make the notes as useful as possible:

  • Write down the sourcenote down where you got the notes from and when you took them to help you reconnect with the initial learning experience
  • Use headings - clearly define sections to give an order to themes and ideas.
  • Structure - insert bullet points, arrows, numbering. Show connections where possible to things you have learned previously.
  • Key words - draw out key points, examples, illustrations, names, new ideas. 
  • Shorthand - abbreviate common words and names, or use symbols.
  • Mnemonic triggers - things that make the notes memorable – cartoons, colour, illustrations.
  • Further reading - names highlighted in the notes or gathered in a specific place
  • Summarise - this will save you having to reread all your notes again to find out the main points.
  • Be critical - record your own thoughts throughout. How does this fit with what you know, what questions remain unanswered?


And the most useful thing …Transform your notes into a response

Transforming or turning your notes into another piece of writing is really good practice. Transform it to respond to a question so it’s really clear what your notes are about. That way, when you come to write a section on that particular topic you will already have large chunks of writing that you can copy, paste, and amend slightly to answer the question.

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