Students’ Links
  Essay Writing
  Group Work
  Oral Presentation
  Study Tips / Exams
  Text Study
  Text Study Strategies
  Useful Links
  VCE English Studies
  Take Note! or How to Effectively Write Notes  

Effective note-taking from lectures and readings is an essential skill for secondary and university study. Good note taking allows a permanent record for revision and a register of relevant points that you can integrate with your own writing and speaking. Good note-taking reduces the risk of plagiarism. It also helps you distinguish where your ideas came from and how you think about those ideas.

Effective note-taking requires:

• recognising the main ideas in what you read and listen to
• identifying what information is relevant to your task
• ordering your thoughts
• having a system of note taking that works for you
• reducing the information to note and diagram format, making it manageable and useful in preparing for essays, assignments, projects, tests or exams
• putting the information in your own words
• recording the source of the information

A. Making notes from books
Stage 1: Preparation
Think about the topic.
• What do you know about it?
• What do you need to know about it?
Survey any appropriate books.
When you find one that may have useful information, look for appropriate passages.
• Use the table of contents to find the most useful chapters.
• Check the index to find any relevant information. Look first at the longer entries listed in the index.
• Identify any potentially useful passages.
Skim the whole passage you have identified by:
• looking at the title
• reading the first paragraph
• glancing at headings, subheadings, diagrams, photos or illustrations reading the concluding paragraph.
Make a decision about whether or not you want to use the passage. If you do, decide what the major heading will be.
Stage 2: Making notes
Decide what your purpose is in summarising the passages you have chosen. Read with your purpose in mind.
Asking questions is often a useful way of reading actively. Turn any headings or subheadings into questions or ask yourself questions such as:
• What is the main idea of the passage?
• Who is involved? Where/when/why/how did it happen?
Read the first section of the passage through carefully
Make brief outline notes in point form and in your own words:
• selecting the main idea
• adding any worthwhile supporting ideas
• including any examples which you think may be useful.
Proceed through the passage one section or one paragraph at a time.

An Example:

Read the text below on “Underwater Cameras” and then look at how the text is presented in note form. The most important words to include in notes are the information words. These are usually nouns, adjectives and verbs.
Underwater Cameras
Regular cameras obviously will not function underwater unless specially protected. Though housings are available for waterproofing 35 mm and roll-film cameras, a few special models are amphibious -they can be used above or below the water. Most of these cameras are snapshot models, but one, Nikonos, is a true 35 mm system camera. Though lenses and film must be changed on the surface, the camera will otherwise function normally at depths down to 70 mm. Four lenses are available : two of these, which have focal lengths of 90 mm and 35 mm, will function in air and water; the other two of these, which have focal lengths of 90 mm and 35 mm, will function in air and water; the other two, the 28 and 15 mm lenses, work only under water. Lenses are also available from other manufacturers.

(Source: Freeman M. The Encyclopaedia of Practical Photography. London, Quartro Books 1994, p283)
  Sample written and diagram notes from the text “Underwater Cameras”
Underwater Cameras

1. Regular Cameras
    special housing necessary

2. Amphibious
    a) snapshot models
    b) Nikonos (35 mm)

     i) air & water     35 mm
                               90 mm
     ii) only under water   28 mm
                                       15 mm

1. Read the text below on “Handwriting”.
2. In point form, summarise the main ideas focusing on why neat handwriting is important and how it can be achieved.
3. Rewrite the passage in no more than 60 words.

In this machine age, most business correspondence and school written work is legible because it is typed; but a great deal of private correspondence, classroom testing and exams is still handwritten, and it should be written legibly, purely and simply out of courtesy to the reader.

School children, more especially boys, tend to forget this basic reason why their writing should be reasonably neat. It is not a matter of producing something beautiful for beauty's sake, a practice which some boys are likely to regard - quite wrongly - as effeminate or 'cissy.' It is not a question of obliging Mr. Smith, who happens to be a fussy type of teacher, although Mr. Smith, who has to spend forty or fifty years in reading by artificial light scores of thousands of essays and other written exercises, may reasonably claim to have some rights in the matter. The situation is much more important than many people realize: if you write, you write for someone to read; and you owe your reader the courtesy of offering him something that he can read rapidly, unhesitatingly, and without mistaking what you wanted to say.

Nor is it any excuse for handwritten rudeness for you to state plaintively, as so many people do, that you have always been a bad writer and that there's nothing you can do about it. There is something you can do about it: you can agree that bad, untidy, illegible writing is a form of rudeness to your reader, and you can begin now to eliminate it. You can practise for five or ten minutes a day - perhaps when you are writing up an experiment or summary - making one piece of work as neat as possible. You can, if necessary, begin to change your handwriting to a simpler style, adopting plainer l's and b's and g's and y's if you make poor loop letters, and moving on to add more legible capitals and o's and r's and s's later. You may even decide to change to printing or near-printing (keeping letters close together and words well spaced) if you find that no other device will serve. All this you will do, not because good writing is artistic (though that itself is a sufficient and praiseworthy motive), and not because your teacher demands it (though he has every right to do so, for your sake and his own); but you will do it, if for no other reason than that a poorly scribbled letter is an impolite letter, that says plainly to client, employer, friend or relation, 'I don't care whether you find this difficult to read or. not; I am too lazy to bother writing well enough to make myself readily understood.'

Some people claim to be able to tell character from handwriting; certainly, from poor handwriting we can tell a good deal.

(471 words)

  Compare your point form outline and summary with the sample.

B. Taking notes from the Internet
It is very easy to download material from the Internet or simply to copy and paste information from a website into a text of your own. While Internet sources are so readily accessible and authorship is sometimes hard to determine, these sources must still be acknowledged. Not to do so is plagiarism and Internet plagiarism is increasingly easy to detect through the use of search engines such as Google.

A good strategy is to download an article from the Internet, highlight relevant information and summarise this information in your own words on paper. Keep a record of the details of any websites you use, including the date on which you accessed the site.

As there are no restrictions affecting what can be published on the Internet, you need to evaluate carefully the worth of the material you find. In considering the usefulness of a site, ask yourself:

• Has the author of the material been named?
• Have the author's credentials or qualifications been given?
• What is the domain name of the site? This helps you to identify the purpose and source of the site. Here is a list of the most common domain names:

  .edu - an educational site
  .com - a commercial site
  .gov - a government site
  .ac - an academic site
  .au - an Australian site

C. Taking notes from speakers

Taking notes from a speaker or another form of oral presentation can be useful because:

• it provides a permanent record which can be useful for revision
• writing notes can help you to concentrate on what the speaker is saying.

Taking notes from a speaker — teacher, student's oral presentation, class discussion, radio, television, etc. — involves listening. Listening is a key skill for your success, both at school and beyond.

Listening is an active process.
• It is a powerful skill — one we need to continue developing throughout our entire lives.
• To become a good listener, consciously focus on the presenter — their manner, tone, body language, stance - as well as on the content.
• Aim to gain the most information you can from all elements of their presentation.

Some suggestions:
Watch the speaker as much as you can.
As you cannot make a note of everything that is said, concentrate on the argument the speaker is developing.
Try to jot down headings and subheadings that show the structure of the talk.
Note important points in short phrases or single words. The speaker will give clues to important points through emphasis, repetition and pauses.
Learn the sequence that speakers often follow when they are presenting an argument. This may help you to work out the structure of the talk as you are listening. Speakers often:
• state the problem or pose questions
• review the evidence
• comment on the evidence that supports their argument
• explain why they disregard any evidence that contradicts their view
• discuss their conclusions.
A Key strategy:
The following strategy can really help you get the most out of listening to a speaker or presentation.

• Divide your page into three sections.
• In one column, note the main points of the information presented.
• In the next column, write any questions you have
• In the third section, record any general comments, links or ideas that occur to you - use these for later discussion.

At the end of the presentation, when you are asked, “Are there any questions or comments?”, you can demonstrate that you listened actively and you will have gained from the presentation something more than just entertainment.
An Example:
Notes from presentation


• play based on real Scottish king (1040-1057)
• C11th Scotland
• violent rule of tyrant
• prophecy of 3 witches
• murder of King Duncan = regicide
• paranoia — Macbeth
• madness — Lady Macbeth
• gender politics — role reversals


• solilaquy? soliloquy — How to spell?
• what's the difference between a soliloquy and an aside?
• what is blank verse?
• did witches really exist?
• gender politics — Macbeth is feminised while Lady Macbeth is masculinised — explain!

Ideas / Comments

• the play is more about what makes a good ruler
• witches give Macbeth what he wants to hear

  Activity:  Listen to the following broadcast on blogging and note the speakers' main points.      sound
D. Develop your own personal shorthand.

Possible abbreviations include:


compared with
for example

seventeenth century
(Aus or A) Australia or Australian
Britain or British
France or French
is greater than
is less than
is equal to
and so on
that is
note well

D. References

It is vital for your bibliography that you record the details of each reference text you use. You should note the author, date of publication, title, place of publication and publisher. You should also keep a record of the page reference. If you decide to quote from a reference book, make sure your quote is accurate and placed in inverted commas.

(for more details, refer to the Referencing page).

E. Some further suggestions

• Notes are written for your eyes alone, but make them easy to read.
• Keep them as neat as possible.
• Underline headings and subheadings or write them in a different coloured pen.
• Spread them out, leaving a line between each section.
• Rule a margin, allowing room for additional comments.
• Rule a single line through any mistakes you make.

Have a go with these two quizzes!

Useful websites:

(material used on this page has been adapted from The Active Look it Up! (Forrestal, Guest & Eshuys. Melbourne: Thomson Nelson, 2000)
Last up-dated 12 November, 2016
Website constructed and maintained by G. Marotous, 2004
© George Marotous. Melbourne High School English Faculty