Effective Note-taking when Reading

Note paper and a pen resting on the open pages of a book


When you are reading as a student, it is a good idea to take notes then put the date and the source and organise them carefully. This will help you later, when you need the notes to help you in writing essays, to write your bibliography, or to memorise facts before examinations. This Learning Object will show you examples of different techniques you can use when taking notes, encourage you to reflect on your current methods and experiment by trying some new ones.

As you make notes, it is important to remember that you should not
copy every word (apart from a few quotations). This is because note-taking can provide a good opportunity to practise the skills of paraphrasing and summarising. Your objective should be to write down the main ideas and some supporting details, and perhaps the author’s position. Your notes should be legible, clear, well-referenced and relevant to your purpose for reading. It is hoped by reflecting on this aspect of your study skills, you will be able to improve in this area because often the student with the best study skills obtains the highest grades.


  • To encourage you to reflect on the note-taking
    techniques you use when reading
  • To show you some examples of notes taken from the internet on the topics of reading and note-taking
  • To encourage you to experiment with use of colour, diagrams and numbers in order to make your notes more memorable
  • To present a number of symbols you can
    use when note-taking and give you an opportunity to test yourself on their meanings

Activity 1: What are good techniques to use when note-taking?

Note-taking is a very personal process. The primary audience for this kind of writing that you do at university is yourself. So every individual will have their own preferred techniques. This learning object does not wish to interfere with the personal systems that work well for you, but only to suggest techniques that perhaps you have not tried before.

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What use do you make of letters, numbers and symbols when you make notes? How much do you use colour? Do you always organise your notes by date and by making a note of the source (the book or online site you have been reading)? Do you use mindmapping? Do you use diagrams? Are you happy with your note-taking techniques? Are there any ways you think they might be improved?

Write your answers in the box below

Activity 2: Practise using these techniques yourself


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Use the techniques of mindmapping, numbered lists or diagrams to make notes from a short text. Follow this link Relative Pronouns to read the short text, then take pen and paper and make your notes or use the text entry box below

Activity 3: Advice on taking notes when reading

In this activity you will be asked to put the missing words into gapped texts that offer advice on reading and note-taking

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Follow this link Advice on Note-taking to do the cloze activities

How much do you agree with the advice that you have just read? Is there anything you disagree with? What was the best piece of advice? How many pieces of advice can you now remember? Will you try the Cornell Method?

Write your responses in the box below

Activity 4: Using symbols and abbreviations for note-taking

Many of the symbols and abbreviations you use will be specific to you personally and to your academic discipline. However, some symbols are universal in English and can be helpful for everybody to use. In this activity you will meet or refresh your memory of some of these.

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Firstly, follow this link Symbols to a document wih a list of the symbols and abbreviations, then follow this link Symbols Matching to see how many you can correctly match in two minutes.

Which, if any, of these symbols do you currently use?
Can you think of some other common abbreviations?
What do you think gvmt., lab., lect. and lib., might mean?

Would you like to review the main points?

© William Tweddle, Queen Mary, University of London, 2010, cartoons created by the author using toondoo.com