Note making: Strategies

Note making techniques

There are many different ways to take and make notes and some tools you may want to try, bearing in mind copyright issues. Thinking about how your notes can be used for revision and for writing your assignments is also important. Using abbreviations for common words will save you time so you can focus on essential ideas and information.

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Annotation involves you adding comments to a text that explain or critique what you have read. These can be written in the margins and may accompany words you have highlighted to identify key information. Of course, this would not be on borrowed texts!

Diagrams are a more visual form of taking notes. They could be mind-maps, charts, tables, graphs, or perhaps a drawing to capture a process or cycle for example.

Paraphrasing is expressing the ideas and information of others in your own words. Transforming the original source material helps you to understand it.

Summaries are focused on the main points of the source material so they are a shorter overview.

Pens, pencils, coloured highlighters and paper note pads are familiar tools for hand written notes. However, there are other effective tools for recording lecture material and for making notes electronically on a computer, tablet, iPad or smartphone for example. A variety of note-taking software and mobile applications are also available.

It can be useful to audio record lectures for later review and follow-up note making. Digital recorders are increasingly affordable and files can be transferred to a computer. Many mobile phones also enable audio recording. Mobile devices such as iPads and other tablets and smartpens are becoming popular options.  Please note that you must first have the permission of the lecturer to make such digital recordings.

Intellectual copyright is a crucial issue to consider when recording audio or photographing presentation slides in lectures. You must have the permission of the lecturer to record these. Some lecturers may provide students with a copy of their lecture and/or presentation slides on their unit site or by request.

Your notes are a key part of your revision strategies when preparing for exams, or indeed, for preparing for active, informed participation in tutorials and when researching for and writing your assignments. Organising and reviewing your notes can also help you make connections between individual ideas and gain an overview of the whole subject.

You will need to revisit and work on the notes you have taken throughout the semester.

  • Organise notes in a logical way so you can find important information quickly
  • Read them again, highlighting key words and ideas
  • Summarise your notes to help remember ideas and information – your goal now is to minimise them to serve as a memory aid
  • Consider creating mindmaps or brief outlines to summarise.

Remember, revision is best done throughout the semester, not just when exams are scheduled. Time management is very important as your semester plan should include exam preparation and dates, supported by specific weekly plans for the week leading up to and during your exams.

Visit the Exams section for information on revising for exams.
Visit the Managing Your Studies section for information on time management.

Whichever note-making layout you choose to use, you may find it useful to use abbreviations and shortened versions of commonly used words. This will help you save time with writing so that you can concentrate on noting the essential points or ideas. Some common abbreviations are listed below.

About, regarding, concerning re
Against, opposite, versus vs
And &, +
And others et al
And so on, so forth etc
Approximately, roughly, round about
At @
Before b4
Can't, couldn't cx
Change Δ
Characteristics chx
Confused, clarify ?
Confused totally ???!!!
Copyright ©
Definition defn
Don't, does not dx
Down, declining, decreasing
Each way
Equal to or greater than
Equal to or less than
Example eg
Frequency fr
Greater than >
Important *
Infinity, forever, always
Less than <
Man/men, male(s)
Member of
Micro µ
Negative, bad, not
Necessary, necessarily
Not nx or —
Not a member of
Note nb
Not the same as, does not equal
Number #
Percent %
Plus or minus ±
Positive, good, plus, in addition +
Possibly, possible
Same as, equals, identical =
Should be s/b
Sum of, collectively
That is ie
Unequal, not the same as
Up, rising, increasing
Very important **
With w/ or c
Without w/o
Woman/women, female(s)


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