Preparing for Academic Writing & Speaking

Doing the research

Summarising & note-taking

Taking notes

Taking notes is an important part of the life of every student. There are two main reasons why note-taking is important:

  1. When you are reading or listening, taking notes helps you concentrate. In order to take notes - to write something sensible - you must understand the text. As listening and reading are interactive tasks, taking notes help you make sense of the text. Taking notes does not mean writing down every word you hear; you need to actively decide what is important and how is related to what you have already written.
  2. Notes help you to maintain a permanent record of what you have read or listened to. This is useful when revising in the future for examinations or other reasons.

Good notes should be accurate, clear and concise. They should show the organisation of the text, and this should show the relationship between the ideas.

How to take notes.

When you're reading, first survey the text to find the main points and how they are related. Then read for the subsidiary points; see how they are related to the main points and to each other. Then, reduce the points to notes. Make sure links and relationships between the ideas are shown.

Good notes need to be organised appropriately. There are two main methods for this:

1. List

The topic is summarised one point after another, using numbers and letters and indentation to organise information in order of importance. The numbers and letters can be used by themselves or in combination.

I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X,
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I,
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,8,9,10,
(i), (ii), (iii), (iv), (v), (vi), (vii), (viii), (ix), (x),
a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i,

Or using decimals:

1.1, 1.2, 1.2.1, 1.2.2, 1.3, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3

For example:

  1. XXXX
  2. XXXX
    1. XXXX
    2. XXXX
    3. XXXX
  3. XXXX
    1. XXXX
    2. XXXX
      1. XXXX
      2. XXXX
      3. XXXX
    3. XXXX
      1. XXXX
      2. XXXX
  4. XXXX
    1. XXXX
    2. XXXX
    3. XXXX
  5. XXXX
  1. XXXX
  2. XXXX
    1. XXXX
    2. XXXX
    3. XXXX
  3. XXXX
    1. XXXX
    2. XXXX
      1. XXXX
      2. XXXX
      3. XXXX
    3. XXXX
      1. XXXX
      2. XXXX
  4. XXXX
    1. XXXX
    2. XXXX
    3. XXXX
  5. XXXX

1. XXXX
2. XXXX
2.1. XXXX
2.2. XXXX
2.3. XXXX
3. XXXX
3.1. XXXX
3.2. XXXX
3.2.1. XXXX
3.2.2. XXXX
3.2.3. XXXX
3.3. XXXX
3.3.1. XXXX
3.3.2. XXXX
4. XXXX
4.1. XXXX
4.2. XXXX
4.3. XXXX
5. XXXX

Example

Example 1

2. Diagram

A diagram of the information shows how the main ideas are related and reflects the organisation of the information. You can use flow charts, tree diagrams, diagrams, mind maps (Buzan, 1974) etc. You can also include circles, arrows, lines, boxes, etc.

Example

Example 2Example 3Example 4Example 5Example 6

In both ways, you can use headings, underlining, colours, and white space to make the relationships clear. There is no generally best layout - it depends on what you like and your purpose. Some ways of taking notes are more appropriate for some topics. A description of a process suits a flow chart and a classification is shown clearly using a tree diagram. It is important to show how the ideas are the connected and how the information is organised.

Make sure you write down where your notes have been taken from. It will save you time when you need to check your facts or write a bibliography. In lecture notes, make sure you write down the name of anyone quoted and where the quote has been taken from. You can then find it if you want to make more detailed use of the information.

Exercise

Try these exercise: Exercise 1,Exercise 2.

Notes are a summary and should therefore be much shorter than the original. Thus, abbreviations and symbols can be used whenever possible. The table below shows some conventional English symbols and abbreviations. You will need specific ones for your own subject.

and

&

and others (people)

et. al.

and other things

etc.

answer A

approximately

≈, approx., c.

at

@

because

before example

:

centimetre

cm

century

C

chapter

ch.

compare

cf.

correct

decreases, falls

degrees

°

department

dept.

divided by

/, >÷

east

E

equal to

=

equivalent to

especially

esp.

for example

e.g.

government

govt.

greater than

>

grows, increases

important

N.B.

in one year

p.a.

information

info

kilogram

kg

less than

<

maximum

max

minimum

min

minus

-

much greater than

>>

much less than

<<

multiplied by

x

north

N

not come from

not equal

not greater than

not identical to

not lead to

not proportional to

not less than

>⊀

not similar to

>≄≉

number

No. or #

page

p

pages

pp

percent

%

plus

+

possibly

poss

probably

prob

proportional to

question

Q

results from

results in, leads to

same as above

"

similar to

that is to say, in other words

i.e.

therefore

south

S

unlikely

??

uncertain, not sure

?

very

v

with reference to

re.

wrong

X

west

W

year

yr