Note taking

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[edit] Overview

Effective action is based on superior information. Certainly, useful information that is collected must be organized and be ready for reference. An important part of collecting information is taking notes. Here we discuss efficient practices of note-taking (itself, as opposed to materials and software used to make notes):

[edit] Techniques: manual by hand

  • The left margin is a very useful area for notating actions (distinguish tasks from information): use ballot boxes. Delegated items gets an open circle. These symbols get checked off upon completion.
    • Additional margin icons I have found useful when taking notes in meetings: a small triangle to designate decisions that need to be made (followed by the initials of those who need to be involved in making the decision); an exclamation mark for newly identified issues/risks (followed by the initials of the risk/issue owner (if one is set)); a question mark for things that I need clarification on. --TimGolden
    • My personal preference is for legal pads with wide three inch left margins, often called summary margins because after the details are noted on the right-side, your summary and topic headings can be appended on the left-side for visual clarity. See Legal_Pads for details.
    • When printing out articles, notes, or drafts, reformat the margin (e.g. 3 inches blank on one side, perhaps also reducing font size) so that additional notes can be manually added, without cramping, for clarity. --gochess
  • {Add your experience here.}

[edit] @Meetings

  • Create a mind-map of the interactions between members of the group. --gochess
    • Using graphs to represent social relations -- Sociogram (aka "directed graph" in mathematics) is composed of nodes (or actors) connected by edges (or relations or ties).
    • "Your notes should include notations about interpersonal relationships within the group (e.g., sub-groups that appear to vote as a block, unspoken alliances within the larger group, those who don't say much in the meeting but orchestrate actions outside of the meeting, those that don't say much but are usually very insightful and need to have their opinions pulled out)." Further details re meeting folders.

[edit] Mapping thoughts

  • Mind-mapping is taught in many schools in Norway as an alternative to traditional linear note-taking methods. Controlled experiments have shown vast improvement in scholastic performance, and students retain concepts in lectures more readily. (link to evidence missing)
    • I am a big fan of mind-mapping, for the last 20 years. It is not taught in American public schools, but it should be. More people are able to connect visually with mind mapping than traditional linear notes. Drawing pictures is good: just words words words are not memorable.

[edit] Methods & Designs

  • Cornell Notes -- good illustration of how layout, or page design, can effectively convey information (plus tasks; see above), and optimize review time. The summarization at the bottom of the page is an excellent exercise to distill one's understanding of the material.
  • Jim Burke, author of Tools for Thought, has an excellent summary of methods and designs for note taking at
    • His Reporter's Notes is a template form which draws attention to the most crucial aspects of what is being researched:
      • WHO (is involved or affected)
      • WHAT (happened)
      • WHERE (did it happen)
      • WHEN (did it happen)
      • HOW (did they do it, how did others respond)
      • WHY (did they do this, and react this way)
      • and most importantly, SO WHAT? (Why is this event / info / idea worthwhile?) -- "cuts to the heart of the subject in a way no other can."
      • ... applicable to: gathering evidence to support claims, organizing information, supporting critical reading.

[edit] Post-mortem: Review after taking notes

Since effective note-taking usually results in a sketch of the skeletal structure of the material covered, it is important to go back later and fill out the flesh of the contents. Thus,

  • Review and reword your notes as soon as possible.
  • Rewrite incomplete sections in greater detail.
  • Fill in unrecorded points (which probably only makes sense after this review process), and add further details.
  • Use this opportunity to add your own associations and critical thinking.
  • Use highlighters (using multiple color coding) to emphasis the essential points.
  • Parse all points for action to your Action_File.

[edit] Technology

  • I've had some success recently using Freemind mind-mapping software and an LCD projector to record notes during a meeting -- just populate a sparse mindmap on the subject at hand before the meeting and annotate "live" as points are brought up during the meeting. --Wrex 20:00, 29 Apr 2005 (EDT)]
  • An online tool called Webnotes has incredible potential for use taking notes in classes or meeting where wireless net is available. Look at the examples for modifying notes and re-sorting hierarchy, and there are great ways to extend the notes later with images.
    • @Meetings: facilitates group notes too by sharing the URL created and the note nickname.
  • For an interesting discussion on digital note taking, see this Slashdot_article which contains useful links to software, and comparisons to paper-and-pen.
  • Evernote recently got a rave review in the Wall Street Journal. It's a FREE note taking application -- on an endless, digital roll of paper. --gochess 22:24, 22 Aug 2005 (EDT)

[edit] See also

[edit] Outline techniques

[edit] Scientific notebooks

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