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Tips on Writing Relevant Information

Whether you are reading material or listening with pen in hand, your first goal is to identify what is important relative to the context in which you are taking the notes. You cannot take notes on everything you see or hear. You may pick and choose your material when reading.

In general, when taking notes based on a speaker's presentation, you should:

  • Identify your purpose for the notes (general information, test preparation, etc.).
  • Employ good listening skills and listen for key ideas, words or phrases, definitions, etc.
  • Make notes on visuals. Generally, anything that a speaker writes on the board or illustrates by an overhead or slide projector should be considered important.
  • Place key ideas or major thoughts at the margin of your paper. Indent those items of secondary importance beneath key ideas. Thus, a key point is flush with the margin and minor points are indented (outline format).
  • Use symbols, pictures, diagrams and graphics in your notes. Often, relevant information is more easily retained by using mental pictures.
  • Write in "shorthand" and don't worry about neatness or correct spelling or grammar.
  • Tune in to the speaker's voice changes, pauses and increased volume, as often these serve as verbal cues for important facts and ideas.
  • Maintain eye contact with the speaker, as certain gestures and movements may indicate an important point.
  • Listen for repeats. If a point is subject to repetition, that's probably because it's important. Repetition aids retention. If the speaker repeats, you should probably repeat it in your notes, as well.
  • Don't hesitate to ask questions for clarification, or ask for an example to help make a point more meaningful. Then record the example as part of your notes.