A penny for your… notes?

The key to successful research is heavily reliant on excellent note taking skills, frequent breaks, and the real life application of what you’re studying. Note taking was never one of my strengths. In an attempt to improve my note taking skills, I snooped around Google and this is what I learned.

There is an overwhelming abundance of note taking styles. Each has their purpose but finding one that will best suit you is essential! So, if none of these work – it may be worth a Google search… Let’s dig in!


This method starts by placing general topics to the left, then indenting relative information as you progress through the lesson, chapter, etc. You can use Roman numerals, letters and numbers to organize the topics and their relationships. This method is excellent for structuring notes in order of importance, the most important will be the first indentation and so and and so forth.

I find it helpful to flip through the pages of the chapter I am about to read and skim for specific topics. I then organize them into this format (see picture) and then look for subtopics (usually within the first sentence or two of each paragraph). This gives me a really good sneak peak of what the chapter is going to cover and prepares me mentally for ideas I should be paying extra close attention to.

As you ca see I like to format my composition notebook using this style as the first page of my notes for each chapter and then the Cornell method on the next following page. This has proven to be a really successful tactic.

Pros: Emphasizes relationships between topics and subtopics. Brings awareness to key ideas.

Cons: Because it requires a lot of attention and time to format properly, if used in a class it may not correctly distinguish relationships in the order of importance and may require some revision afterwards.


This style in particular is my favorite method. It’s simple, effective, and well organized. The format of the page consists of a que or question column on the left, note taking section on the right, and a summary section at the bottom. For ease of explanation on the format, I will start from the bottom of the page and work my way to the top.

From the bottom of the page, I measure 2 inches up and draw a line horizontally creating the summary section (this stops me from drawing the next margin too far down). Next measure 2.5 inches from the left side of the page and draw a vertical line from the top down. I like to leave a little space at the top of the page for a title/subject. Since I use this to take notes while reading, I put the chapter number/title at the top.

The que/question section to the left is what I fill out last because I base the ques/questions on the notes I took in the note section. It is extremely effective for me and I’ve noticed I retain the information a lot better. For every page I read I try to take 1-2 key ideas that I found important from the page as a whole. First I try to write what immediately stands out in my mind. If what pops into mind doesn’t seem too important, I give the page a second read incase I missed something. To my astonishment, reading a page for a second time, and sometimes even a third time (hey third times a charm right?), brings awareness to things I completely missed.

If you’re using this during a lecture/seminar or while watching a YouTube video you may find it difficult to keep up. With practice comes perfection. Start off by writing what you can, leaving out conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) and write down key words/phrases. Then try to go back and fill in as much information as possible afterwards to complete the sentences.

Pros: Very organized, systematic, and adaptive to any setting. Space limitation really helps me keep my notes clear and concise.

Cons: limited on space, but you can always continue onto another page and keep formatting as needed.


All roads lead to Rome, right? With this style of note taking you are creating a map that links all facts and/or ideas to each other using one centralized idea/goal. It essentially combines the 2 aforementioned styles of note taking into one organized structure for ease of comprehension and concentration. After I complete my notes using the Outline and Cornell styles, I compile them into something that looks like this (forgive my horrible handwriting). I haven’t yet, but I would like to, execute this on a big whiteboard. I feel it would be much more organized and neat.

For the purpose of this post, I put the name of this blog in the center. From that, stems each book title I’ve read thus far. From each book stems the topics that book covered. Once organized, I can continue adding to it as needed (until I run out of room on that sheet) but I can also get a quick glimpse of everything I’ve read/taken notes on and then figure out how I am going to apply it to my overall plan.

Having it laid out like this is incredibly beneficial when you need a quick reference to see which book covered what in the event you are hung up in your planning process and need to go back to re-read something.

Overall, I find it most beneficial to combine these three styles of note taking. It allows me to condense them and then comprehend them with much ease. The idea is to make the process of changing your habits as smooth as possible and to mitigate the learning curve. Having a page full of bullet points with no rhyme of reason never did me justice and ironically, school never taught me how to take proper notes… Go figure.

Thanks for reading! I do not doubt some will find this useful. Any and all feedback on my posts is much appreciated!

Categories: Plans & Strategies for Success, The JourneyTags: , , , , ,

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