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June 2002 - Twelve Tips to Better Note Taking

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John A. Kline, PhD jkline@klinespeak.com
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June 2002

Twelve Tips to Better Note Taking

Most people are poor note takers. Some write too much, some too little, some illegibly. But the major fault is not writing down the right thing. Here are some hints to make you a better note taker.

  1. Take a few minutes before the presentation to get your brain in gear. Review notes from previous meetings and scan background readings.
  2. Think about what you expect to gain from the presentation.
  3. Have pen and paper (or laptop) ready so you can take notes when the speaker begins.
  4. Accept the fact your mind may wander; be ready to refocus it.
  5. Listen with your eyes as well as with your ears. Watching speakers often reveals what they consider important. For example, when speakers look carefully at their notes, it may signal that the information is especially important.
  6. Listen for introductory, concluding, and transitioning words and phrases that reveal the structure of the presentation. Also listen for vocal emphasis. And if the speaker repeats something, it is often important.
  7. If presenters show something on a visual aid, they usually consider it important.
  8. Don't attempt to write everything down. Focus on the key ideas.
  9. Write clearly so you can read it later. Decipher your notes before they grow "cold." It's disheartening to review your notes two weeks later only to find that they make no sense.
  10. Review your notes soon. Twenty-four hours after a presentation we forget half of what we heard. Experts say we lose 80% within a week.
  11. Circle or highlight the most important points. Develop your own system of highlighting, underlining, and such.
  12. Don't rely on listening later to a tape of the speech. Think! Will you have the time? Reviewing your notes for a few minutes is generally sufficient, and much more time-efficient than listening to the entire speech again.

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

June 2002 - Twelve Tips to Better Note Taking
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