Note taking guide: 5 step process

Note taking is a part of everyone’s life. Whether it’s mental or physical notes, we have to find the best way to help us document and often keep information. This note taking guide is meant to provide a brief overview of different ways to take notes and find the most efficient way to organize your thoughts. Since its back to school season, I will also explain my note taking perspective as highlighted for education purposes to retain and understand information. So let’s start with…

Methods of Note Taking

There are a lot of ways to do this so I will highlight the 7 that I am familiar with.

Linear Style


This is essentially an outline system.


Concept mapping

Mapping uses a tree-structure and many of us will associate this with brainstorming. This often utilizes keywords and short sentence to get the info down.


A two column system that provides a format to organize our notes.

Cognitive Map – This method helps you to recall the information you have retained and find the gaps that need to be filled.

Sentence Method – With this method, every new thought is written on a new line. This method is more about getting the info down and can be really beneficial during class or meeting when guided notes are not provided.

SQ3R- We skim our material to find heading. We then Convert those heading to questions. These questions help to find information during a more thorough review of the reading.

Guided Notes – This is note prepared in advance by the presenter or lecturer. These usually give a guide for note taking and helps to improve active listening.

My Note Taking Perspective

For me, note taking is a process. I’m going to give you an overview of my note taking process and the methods ( that’s right plural) I used in High-school and College and often times continue to use to help further my knowledge.


  • 4 Highlighter
    • Key terms
    • Important fact
    • Supplementary InfoUntitled
    • Expanded class detail
  • Sticky note pad
  • 1 Note Pad or stack of Paper ( I find perforated notebooks, legal pads, or stack of paper preferably college ruled better.)
  • 1 Pen
  • 1 Pencil ( I use this for doodles)
  • 1 Computer
  • Markers

My note taking process come in 5 stages or drafts.

Draft 1: Pre- reading:

I use a similar method to SQ3R to do the pre- reading, just to familiarize myself with the topic at hand.

Draft 2: Class note taking

This step depends on if there is time or material to read before the class, so there are 3 ways I can do this. I suggest you work on developing a personal short-hand and use abbreviations.

  1. Use of guided notes and filling in any unclear information.
  2. Using the Sentence method and writing whatever I can get during the lecture. I usually try to pair this with liner style notes.
  3. If it’s a particularly hard or information dense class or lecture I use the concept mapping later and just pay attention.  I will occasionally write something important, but I have learned that sometimes it’s better to listen and ask questions later.

Draft 3: 

Based on what method I used in step one I will then proceed to the next step.

  1. I use Cognitive maps to try to remember any information I didn’t write during notes.
  2. I read or re-read the corresponding reading

Draft 4: Processing

At this stage of note taking, I am combining and providing further explanation. You are processing the knowledge you have gained and synthesizing it with the previous studying to give context. If something from a previous chapter provides a framework for the current subject matter I give a brief summary and discussion of how it relates.

Draft 5: Make it pretty

The final stage is when I prep my notes for studying for the test and finals or simply easy, uncluttered future review.

My notes at this point are in a linear format and will be typed up and often times include graphics.

Often times by the end of a semester, I can end up with a lot of clutter. Using these stages helped me to keep my notes more organized and reduce the clutter.



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