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1.6 Alternative ways to take notes

Some people prefer to take notes in a non-linear way and to be able to visualise the connections between different ideas. Spray diagrams, mind maps, spider diagrams and concept maps are all ways in which to present ideas or information in a diagram rather than as text. They are essentially the same in terms of the structure, but are used for different functions. Mind maps and concept maps are used when developing your own ideas on a subject, for example when planning a report or essay. Spray or spider diagrams summarise ideas that other people have written or spoken – in other words they are ideal for note taking.

Figure 1 shows an example of a spray diagram about note taking. The core topic is shown in the circle in the centre of the diagram. Main themes are linked by lines from the central circle. Some of these themes then have sub-themes that branch outwards. The points further from the centre are usually more detailed and specific than central topics.

Figure 1
Figure 1 Spray diagram (Source: adapted from Giles and Hedge (1994), p. 212)

Activity 1 (exploratory)

In this activity you will be putting into practice the above ideas on note taking. I said earlier that all note taking should have a purpose. Of course one of the purposes of this activity is for you to practise your note-taking skills, but in addition to that, the process of taking notes should help you identify what the main points of the article are and deepen your understanding of the subject matter. You should try both methods of note taking described above – making linear notes (using your computer or on paper) and creating a spray diagram (again you can use pen and paper or, if you would like to try this, a computer tool such as Microsoft Paint or the Draw tool in Word).

Attched is the pdf of a newspaper article written in May 2004 about a village in the Pennines which has been dubbed the broadband capital of Britain.

  1. Read the article through once to get an overall idea of the content.

  2. Read the article again, making notes on the key words and points from each paragraph. Don't worry about writing a proper sentence; just use words or phrases that make sense to you and that you will be able to understand at a later date. You may want to use different-coloured pens if you are writing on paper, or use highlighting and underlining if you are working on a word processor.

  3. Finally try creating a spray diagram. Start with a circle in the middle of the page that gives the main topic. Then add key concepts linked out from the central circle using straight lines, possibly circling the main points and linking out to as much detail as you think is useful. There are no set rules for how to do this, so you can be as creative as you like. If you've never used these kinds of diagram before, you may need to practise a few times to get the diagram into a format that makes sense to you.

Click on the link below to read Sean Dodson on 'Miracle of the Moor'.

View document: Miracle of the Moor [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]


Here are the two sets of notes that I made on the 'Cybermoor' article. Remember there is no right way to take notes; my notes are included to provide you with an example of the differences between the two methods. you'll notice that my linear notes (bulleted list) and spray diagram ( Figure 2 ) do not contain exactly the same information. I found that I tended to include less in the spray diagram and tried to create overall categories, whereas in the linear notes I felt inclined to include more detail. This may also have been because I created the spray diagram using MS Paint so I wanted to keep the text short and concise! I underlined certain words in the linear notes to emphasise them as key points.

Linear notes

  • Wireless Network small town Cumbria – Alston – very isolated.

  • Daniel Heery – maintenance.

  • Broadband capital – 88% PC ownership – 2nd highest broadband take up (top=Kensington & Chelsea) Leeds Univ study.

  • Police – SMS traffic conditions plus Methodist minister, parish councillor, meteorologist – examples of users developing local information services.

  • Heery – came to Alston in 1997 – developed co-op called CyberMoor to set up wireless internet network for community as no BT service available.

  • Co-op model meant local people involved. Pay £15 a month. Free PC from DfES and other grants.

  • Better IT skills, economy benefits, house prices increase.

  • BT has decided to extend broadband to all areas – but community networks still important. Deptford Council has wireless network – used by community groups and local businesses.

  • Malcolm Corbett of community Broadband Networks – have 215 communities on website. Engages local people in community so not just about access.

  • Need to develop content and services , e.g. Voice over IP in Alston, bandwidth for multimedia artists in Deptford.

  • Conference of Access to Broadband Campaign – what to do now communities have access.

Figure 2
Figure 2 Spray Diagram for Miracle of the moor

The notes you've just made will be useful when you want to remember the main points about the article you've just read. You will need to take notes at different points in the course, sometimes about an article that you are asked to read, or at other times about the course materials themselves. Whichever method of note taking you choose, you will be developing a useful skill for further study.