Note making: Strategies

Note layouts

There are many ways you can lay out your notes. Some common approaches are demonstrated in this section: linear notes, key word trees, mind maps, networks and the herringbone technique. Links to other ideas for layouts, including the Cornell Method, are also provided.

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Taking notes in a linear or sequential fashion is probably the most common way of laying out your notes. A wide left-hand margin is used so that you can add material to your notes at a later date.

Details of lecture, book or article.

Wide left hand margin.

Approximately one third of your page.

This allows you to add material either

  • during the lecture.
  • when reviewing your notes.
  • when doing other research.


  1. Key point
    • supporting point.
    • supporting point.
    • supporting point.

  2. Key Point
    • supporting point.
    • supporting point.
    • supporting point.


key word tree


In this style of notetaking the information is represented in a diagrammatical form. Many different types of diagrams can be used such as key word trees, networks, and herringbone techniques. As a general rule the main idea or topic is written in the centre of the page (or in a prominent position) with key points added around it in a cluster fashion branching out from the central idea.

Mind map

Mind maps are extremely useful ways of organising ideas. However, you are restricted to using key words. This requires you to be concise but it can be difficult if there is a large bulk of information and it cannot easily be condensed.

Mind maps are also very effective in helping you organise material when you are planning an essay outline.

This basically makes use of a slash pattern to organise ideas. It is especially useful if you are trying to map out the ideas in a debate or controversy. It enable opposing ideas to be mapped e.g. pros/cons, costs/benefits, advantages/disadvantages, and so on.


The herringbone technique, so-named because it resembles a fish skeleton, is useful for analysing a single idea. You ask of the main idea Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?, and How? In so doing you are able to represent the key idea and aspects of its supporting data.

Herringbone technique

Each of who, what, when, where, why and how help you interrogate the key idea thereby assisting you to understanding it. There will be times when one or more of the six questions will not be relevant or appropriate.

3 column notes layout

This example comes from Monash University, Language and Learning Online, and is part of an excellent interactive resource on note making. Visit


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