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Notemaking: Study Skills

Guide contents

Fast facts

  • Notemaking is a great starting point for planning your assignment. 
  • Notemaking is a great tool for understanding and remembering information and revising.

Why make notes?

The goal of notemaking is to get the most useful information from print and online resources.

Notes provide a useful record of where all your information comes from, and help to gather important points together for future use. Notemaking is also a great starting point for an assignment, especially if you’re unsure about your argument or structure. You can then build a plan and outline of your work from these notes. Besides these, notemaking aides both in understanding and remembering information, and serves as a great revision tool at exam time.

Useful tips

Before you start, ask yourself:

  • Do you really need this information? If so, which sections?
  • Are you going to use it? When? What for?
  • Do you already have information on the same topic?
  • What are the questions you are hoping to answer by using this resource?

Making the notes

  • Think before you write, then use your own words.
  • Keep notes brief and well-organised.
  • Leave a good margin and lots of in-between space.
  • Note main ideas, keywords, phrases.
  • Use headings and number points.
  • Use colour and links between points - especially if you are a visual learner.
  • Identify/use colour for quotations.
  • Make use of coloured post-its for themes, e.g. to add your own thoughts and comments.

Tidying up

  • Draw boxes in colour round important sections to make them stand out.
  • Divide the page into sections.
  • Circle 'stray' pieces of information and link to relevant text with colour.

A few note-taking don’ts

  • Don’t copy sentences or chunks verbatim.
  • Don’t write more notes than you are likely to use.
  • Don’t write out notes again 'in best'.

Organise your notes

Everything on paper?

  • Use a separate folder for each topic, with coloured dividers for sections.
  • Label files and dividers clearly.
  • Start a fresh page for each new sub-topic, so that you can move the pages around.
  • Number and label pages so that you can find and refile easily,
  • Keep a contents page at the front of each file.

All on the computer? 

  • Have a good file structure within your Documents folder.
  • Use a cloud service so your notes are gathered in one place and accessible from any device you use.
  • Set up subfolders for different topics before you start.
  • Give documents meaningful names.
  • Rename pdf files before saving so that author and year (and possibly title) appear in the new name.

Print Resources

Always note full details of the source (author, year, title, publisher, place published) so that if you need to use it in written work, you can provide the correct information for your reference list. It helps to note where you found it, in case you need to locate the original resource again later.

Online Resources

  • Always note as much information as you can find (website, webpage title, date etc).
  • Always record the URL, and the date you last accessed it. Webpages have a habit of relocating or even disappearing altogether.
  • Download documents whenever you can: this lets you either print and work with a paper copy, or use the highlighter and annotation tools on your computer or mobile device.

Using e-notemaking tools

Many word processor and pdf viewing programmes have annotation options that allow you to highlight, underline, strikethrough and add comments to text. Reference management software such as EndNote has a range of annotation tools which can be saved with the source document, searched and printed if required.