The 5 Best Note Taking Tips From PKM Experts

Taking notes gives you the opportunity to highlight key points and details that might otherwise slip your mind, and you never know when these fragments of knowledge will come in handy! Note taking is an art that takes practice and discipline. It certainly is no’t easy when a flood of information is coming towards you and you have to decipher what’s important to write down and what’s not. This article is mainly aimed at students studying, knowledge workers and researchers looking for quick tips from expert note-takers to implement to their daily note-taking system.

We will cover five different note-taking tips from five different note-taking super stars.

Note Taking Tips for College & Research

  • Think of notes as pieces of understanding.
  • Taking notes is the medium in which thinking takes place
  • Stick to your own system and the 5 R’s of note-taking

Note Taking Tips for Work & Meetings

  • Capturing quick ideas

Note Taking Tips for digital tools

  • Save, Label, Search, Repeat

Note Taking Tips for College & Research

1. Think of notes as pieces of understanding

"It is hard to choose the "best tip" but one I have been saying a lot lately to researchers is to see notes not as "pieces of truth" but as "pieces of understanding". So as our understanding grows and consolidates, our notes grow and consolidate with it."
Bianca Pereira-Researcher

When working on research for whatever assignment, project or work you are performing, taking notes is crucial to succeed. Now, the question is what should be inside these notes? Are they complete or good?

Researcher Bianca Pereira says: “We tend to think about notes as pieces of truth. notes need to contain only the ultimate and complete truth. If that is not the case, we believe that these notes shouldn’t exist. The challenge is that we always need to read more, think more, experiment more in order to feel confident enough that what we are writing is actually THE truth (if such a thing exists)”.

Pereira points out that as a consequence notes are unfamiliar and when it is time to talk about what we understand from them, we need to rely on memory mapping which in most cases fails. 

She urges us to start thinking about notes as “pieces of understanding”.

GIF of Scrintal zooming out showing knowledge growing

“As we capture our understanding as it is happening, our notes will start as poor and small seedlings. If the content of a note is still “not good enough” is because our understanding of the field is still developing. As we continue learning, we update the content of our notes to reflect our developed understanding of the topic. The consequence is that our notes give a direct feedback of our understanding of a topic. The better the text, the more confident we feel about the knowledge in the note”. (Pereira, 2022)

2. Taking notes is the medium in which thinking takes place

Capture the thought, expand, annotate, connect later. Writing does not begin when we sit down to put one paragraph after another on the screen or page. It begins much, much earlier, as we take notes on the articles or books we read, the podcasts or audiobooks we listen to, and the interesting conversations and life experiences we have. 

These notes build up as a byproduct of the reading we are already doing anyway. Even if you do not aim to develop a grand theory, you need a way to organize your thoughts and keep track of the information you consume. 

Assistant Professor in Computer Science & Technology and PhD candidate, Jakob Barnard highlights the importance of capturing the thought quickly in your notes before it gets lost. He suggests that taking this first step fast and as simple as possible is key. At this point you should not get delayed by extra annotations or connections. Later when you go over your notes, expanding the stated ideas with details and relations becomes much easier. This exercise undoubtedly will help you develop your understanding of that particular subject.

3. Stick to your own system and the 5 R’s of note taking

The way we take our notes influences how well we learn. A good note-taking technique is one that helps us remember, retain, and recall important information and, to a certain extent, contribute to the building of knowledge.

Summarizing, highlighting, and creating mind maps are just a few of the most popular methods. In the last few years, there has been a frenzy to look for “the best note-taking techniques“ or “the most effective note-taking system“. However, Ali Abdaal, productivity expert and influencer, points out that if you have already found a technique that works for you, there is little point in changing things.

Abdaal says that regardless of your preferred method, a good note taking technique should have some easily identifiable characteristics. These characteristics are known as the 5 R’s of note taking (The 5 Rs of Note Taking, n.d.):

  • Record – there should be somewhere to take our notes (obviously).
  • Reduce – there should be somewhere to summarize those notes.
  • Recite – there needs to be an easy way to test ourselves using our notes.
  • Reflect – our notes should be related to other notes we’ve already written.
  • Review – we should regularly revisit our notes to ensure maximum retention.

Note Taking for Work & Meetings

4. Capture quick ideas

Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes that taking good notes comes naturally. Then, we sit around and complain that we or our colleagues don’t know how to take notes effectively.

Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place. Without mentioning that those notes become crucial when they contribute to collective knowledge in the workspace.

One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

Sundar Visweswaran, Software Engineer and writer, says the best tip he can give someone to get started with note-taking is to write down their daily ideas on a scratchpad to review them at the end of the day, organize them and structure them in a digital platform. Visweswaran continues: “Note taking systems have become feature rich with tags, backlinks, mind maps etc.. It can be overwhelming to try and use those so you are not missing out. That can become an issue. You should realize those feature needs from your note taking workflow and not from the system.“

Note Taking Tips for Digital Tools

5. Save, label, search, repeat

Losing content within your personal knowledge management system can be one of the biggest challenges. Especially if you're capturing notes weeks, months, or even years apart on the same topic– how do you connect them together? How do you keep your system in good shape for the future?

Elizabeth Butler, MD. PhD. Creator of the Calmer Notes method for personal knowledge management, advises to set a framework to simplify note taking:

Will I need this information later?‍

Add it to your personal knowledge management system

How will I search for it later?

Add keywords/tags/folder

What was that idea?

Search for it in your PKM

The effectiveness of this framework is in the systematization of it. This is why she accentuates the importance of repeating these steps: “Save, Label, Search, Repeat“. Making sure your future self can access and understand the notes you're capturing today is what will determine you took successful notes. (Butler, 2022)

Applying note taking tips to your workflow

GIF of Scrintal visual notes taken for an investor pitch.

Good note-taking takes time. But the time you spend planning and configuring the framework that works best for you pays off. Taking time to review your notes every day saves time later when it comes to recalling the information or turning it into useful knowledge.

Note-taking gives your mind a chance to absorb the material needed to learn. In the digital era, this task can become twice as hard. Here is where Scrintal comes in. We are building Scrintal for folks like you to keep flow and concentration. So you get crystal clear in your thinking, write creatively and share your findings easily.

Want to take notes in your laptop without sacrificing the note-taking strategy you have in place? Check out how you can take notes in Scrintal using “Note-taking Strategies” 

References

The 5 Rs of Note Taking. (n.d.). Ali Abdaal. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://aliabdaal.com/the-5-rs-of-note-taking/

Butler, E. (2022, March 8). How to take future-proof notes. Elizabeth Butler. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://elizabethbutlermd.com/how-to-take-future-proof-notes/

Pereira, B. (2022, February 12). 'I Write Research Notes, But They Are Of No Value'. Medium. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://medium.com/@bianca_oli_per/i-write-research-notes-but-they-are-of-no-value-e3abbb5316df

by
author's photo