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1.2 Guidance on note taking

When taking notes the first thing you have to consider is what the notes are going to be used for, since notes taken for one purpose may not be suitable for another.

Here are some possibilities:

  • to help you understand the information;

  • to help you remember the information;

  • to help you explain the information to someone else;

  • to highlight the points that will be useful in an assignment;

  • to help you revise;

  • to reveal the underlying structure and arguments.

Here are a few points you should bear in mind when writing notes:

  • They should be personal – the notes are usually for your benefit, so they won't look like anyone else's notes. Use whatever language helps you relate to and understand the information.

  • They should have a purpose – or may have several purposes as outlined above. When writing your notes you should be clear as to what their purpose is, and keep this in mind as you write them. If you feel you are drifting from your purpose, then you may need to make adjustments.

  • They should be the length you want – don't feel you have to be either too concise or too detailed. The notes should fit whatever their purpose is for you. You may wish to make more detailed notes about one section and less about another, depending on what interests you.

  • They should make sense later – there is often a temptation to jot down single words that you understand perfectly at the time but which may not mean anything to you a few months later.

  • They should be readily available – you could make notes using Word or other word-processing software, or you may prefer to make notes on paper or in a notebook.