Note-taking: A Research Roundup (2022)

Note-taking: A Research Roundup (1)

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Let’s talk about note-taking. Every day, in classrooms all over the world, students are taking notes. I have my own half-baked ideas about what makes one approach better than another, and I’m sure you do too. But if we’re going to call ourselves professionals, we need to know what the research says, yes?

So I’ve combed through about three decades’ worth of research, and I’m going to tell you what it says about best practices in note-taking. Although this is not an exhaustive summary, it hits on some of the most frequently debated questions on the subject.

This information is going to be useful for any subject area—I found some really good stuff that would be especially useful for STEM teachers or anyone who does heavy work with calculations, diagrams, and other technical illustrations. Of course, there’s plenty here for teachers of social studies, English, and the humanities as well, so everyone sit tight because you’ll probably come away with something you can apply to your classroom.

First, Let’s Talk About Lectures

When we think about note-taking, it’s natural to assume a context of lecture-based lessons. And yes, that is one common scenario when a student is likely to take notes. But other learning experiences also lend themselves to note-taking: Watching videos in a flipped or blended environment, reading assigned textbook chapters or handouts, doing research for a project, and going on field trips can all be opportunities for taking notes.

So instead of referring to lectures in this overview, I’ll just talk about learning experiences or intake sessions—times when students are absorbing content or skills through some sort of medium, as opposed to purely applying that content or synthesizing it into some kind of product. Even in student-centered, project-driven classrooms where students pursue their own authentic tasks like the Apollo School, or in more traditional classrooms that set aside time for Genius Hour projects, students need to gather, encode, and store information, so note-taking would still be a fit.

What the Research Says About Note-Taking

1. Note-taking matters.

Whether it’s taking notes from lectures (Kiewra, 2002) or from reading (Rahmani & Sadeghi, 2011; Chang & Ku, 2014), note-taking has been shown to improve student learning. In other words, if we want our students to remember more of what they learn in our classes, it’s better to have them take notes than it is to not have them take notes.

The thinking behind this is that note-taking requires effort. Rather than passively taking information in, the act of encoding the information into words or pictures forms new pathways in the brain, which stores it more firmly in long-term memory. On top of that, having the information stored in a new place gives students the opportunity to revisit it later and reinforce the learning that happened the first time around.

So if you’re not currently having students take notes in your class, consider adding note-taking to your regular classroom routine.With that said, a number of other factors can influence the potency of a student’s note-taking, and that is what these other points will address.

2. More is better.

Although students are often encouraged to keep notes brief, it turns out that in general, the more notes students take, the more information they tend to remember later. The quantity of notes is directly related to how much information students retain (Nye, Crooks, Powley, & Tripp, 1984).

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This would be useful to share with students. If they know that more complete notes will result in better learning, they may be more likely to record additional information in their notes, rather than striving for brevity.

Obviously, some students are going to be faster note-takers than others, and this will allow them to take more complete notes. But you can do quite a bit to help all students get more information into their notes, regardless of their natural speed, and that’s what we’ll talk about next.

3. Explicitly teaching note-taking strategies can make a difference.

Although some students seem to have an intuitive sense for what notes to record, for everyone else, getting trained in specific note-taking strategies can significantly improve the quality of notes and the amount of material they remember later. (Boyle, 2013; Rahmani & Sadeghi, 2011; Robin, Foxx, Martello, & Archable, 1977). This is especially true for students with learning disabilities.

One frequently used note-taking system is Cornell Notes. This approach has been around for decades, and the format provides a simple way to take “live” notes in class and condense and review them later.

4. Adding visuals boosts the power of notes.

Compared with writing alone, adding drawings to notes to represent concepts, terms, and relationships has a significant effect on memory and learning (Wammes, Meade, & Fernandes, 2016).

The growing popularity of sketchnoting in recent years suggests that teachers are well on their way to taking advantage of this research.

This video combines sketchnoting with Cornell Notes, and it’s an approach I think is definitely worth considering.

To explore sketchnoting more deeply, check out this list of sketchnoting resources compiled by celebrated education sketchnote artist Sylvia Duckworth.

5. Revision, collaboration, and pausing boosts the power of notes.

When students are given the opportunity to revise, add to, or rewrite their notes, they tend to retain more information. And when that revision happens during deliberate pauses in a lecture or other learning experience, students remember the information better and take better notes than if the revision happens after the learning experience is over. Finally, if students collaborate on this revision with partners, they record even more complete notes and score higher on post-tests (Luo, Kiewra, & Samuelson, 2016).

With this in mind, it would be a good idea to plan breaks in lectures, videos, or independent reading periods to allow students to look over, add to, and revise their notes, ideally with a partner or small group. This partner work could happen after students have had time to revise their notes alone, or students might be given access to classmates for the duration of the pause.

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6. Scaffolding increases retention.

Teachers can build scaffolds into their instruction to ensure that students take better notes. One very effective type of scaffold is guided notes (also called skeleton or skeletal notes). With guided notes, the instructor provides some type of outline of the material to be covered, but with space left for students to complete key information. This strategy has been shown to substantially increase student achievement across all grade levels (elementary through college) and with students who present with various disabilities (Haydon, Mancil, Kroeger, McLeskey, & Lin, 2011).

As instructors experiment with guided notes, certain features show a lot of promise. One that I found incredibly interesting was a style developed by engineering professor Susan Reynolds to accompany her lectures: The notes combine typed information, handwritten content, and graphics, but still leave room for student notes and working out example problems.

Diagrams are pre-drawn, but some key numbers are left out for students to fill in during the lecture. These notes consolidate all the technical material for a lecture into a single document, and the information is organized to align with the lecture. The more I study these notes, the more I see how useful they are, and how well they balance the efficiency offered by guided notes with the need for students to actively participate in the encoding process.

Note-taking: A Research Roundup (2)
Note-taking: A Research Roundup (3)

Reynolds’ students have had strong positive reactions to this style of notes and consistently attribute the notes as a key factor in their engagement and learning in the course (Reynolds & Tackie, 2016).

While teachers should experiment with different styles, the take-away here is that if you want students to get the most out of a learning experience, provide them with some form of partially completed notes.

In the meantime, you can add another layer of scaffolding by simply adding more verbal cues to your learning experiences (Kiewra, 2002). Research shows that simply saying things like, “This is an important point,” or “Be sure to add this to your notes,” instructors can ensure that students include key ideas in their notes. Providing written cues on the board or a slideshow can also help students structure their notes and decide what information to include.

7. Providing instructor notes improves learning.

In an article I wrote a few years ago, I denounced instructor-prepared notes as an ineffective method for teaching, primarily because encoding this information required no effort from students and therefore made the learning too passive.

Although I stand by the assertion that we should avoid simply supplying students with notes, I need to refine the message: Research has shown that when we give students complete, well-written, instructor-prepared notes to review after they take their own notes, they learn significantly more than with their own notes alone (Kiewra, 1985).

If we combine this strategy with student revision, collaboration, and pausing to improve note-taking and learning—in other words, having students pause during an intake session to collaboratively revise their notes, then let them review instructor notes at the end—we can give our students an incredibly powerful learning experience.

One concern is that providing notes might make students more passive about taking their own notes during the learning experience. Here are some suggestions for addressing that:

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  • Assigning a small grade for student notes would likely compel most students to do them, but this could distort the validity of a grade, as we discussed in another post.
  • It would probably be more effective to simply build note-taking into the class activities. For example, if students are encouraged to take notes, and then they are given a pause every few minutes to compare and revise notes, it would be pretty awkward for them to turn to a partner and have nothing to contribute.
  • Sharing the research with students that those taking notes then revising them with instructor notes has greater impact than instructor notes alone might push students to take more notes.
  • Allowing students to choose a note-taking format that works best for them would also boost student motivation for taking the notes.

8. Handwritten notes may be more powerful than digital notes, but digital note-taking can be fine-tuned.

Studies have shown that students who take notes by hand learn more than those who take notes on a laptop (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014; Carter, Greenberg, & Walker, 2017).

This research confirms what a number of educators suspect about the negative effects of digital devices in the classroom, and some have taken it to mean they should definitely ban laptops from their lectures (Dynarski, 2017). Others argue that prohibiting laptop use robs students of the opportunity to develop metacognitive awareness of their own levels of distraction and make the appropriate adjustments (Holland, 2017).

Because technology is always changing, and because as a species, we are still adjusting to these new formats, I would hesitate to ban laptops from the classroom. Here’s why:

  • Research on this topic is still pretty young: Some researchers have found no significant difference in performance between paper-based and digital note-takers (Artz, Johnson, Robson, & Taengnoi, 2017). My guess is that more research will pile up and get more refined, so we should take a measured approach for the time being.
  • Other researchers are looking at ways to reduce some of the problems associated with digital note-taking, like distraction: One study found that while doing online research, students who used matrix-style notes and were given time limits were much less likely to become distracted by other online material than students without those conditions (Wu, & Xie, 2018).
  • I believe we serve our students better by helping them find a note-taking system that works best for them. With that in mind, I would be more likely to have students experiment with hand-written and digital notes, share the research with them, and give them opportunities to reflect on and measure their results.

See What Other Teachers are Doing

To learn more about what other teachers have found to be most effective note-taking methods, I put the call out on Twitter, asking teachers to share what works for them. You can browse that conversation here.

References

Artz, B., Johnson, M., Robson, D., & Taengnoi, S. (2017). Note-taking in the digital age: Evidence from classroom random control trials. http://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3036455

Boyle, J. R. (2013). Strategic note-taking for inclusive middle school science classrooms. Remedial and Special Education, 34(2), 78-90. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0741932511410862

Carter, S. P., Greenberg, K., & Walker, M. S. (2017). The impact of computer usage on academic performance: Evidence from a randomized trial at the United States Military Academy. Economics of Education Review, 56, 118-132. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.econedurev.2016.12.005

Chang, W., & Ku, Y. (2014). The effects of note-taking skills instruction on elementary students’ reading. The Journal of Educational Research, 108(4), 278–291. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220671.2014.886175

Dynarski, S. (2017). For Note Taking, Low-Tech is Often Best. Retrieved from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/17/08/note-taking-low-tech-often-best

Haydon, T., Mancil, G.R., Kroeger, S.D., McLeskey, J., & Lin, W.J. (2011). A review of the effectiveness of guided notes for students who struggle learning academic content. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 55(4), 226-231. http://doi.org/10.1080/1045988X.2010.548415

Holland, B. (2017). Note taking editorials – groundhog day all over again. Retrieved from http://brholland.com/note-taking-editorials-groundhog-day-all-over-again/

Kiewra, K.A. (1985). Providing the instructor’s notes: an effective addition to student notetaking. Educational Psychologist, 20(1), 33-39. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15326985ep2001_5

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Kiewra, K.A. (2002). How classroom teachers can help students learn and teach them how to learn. Theory into Practice, 41(2), 71-80. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15430421tip4102_3

Luo, L., Kiewra, K.A. & Samuelson, L. (2016). Revising lecture notes: how revision, pauses, and partners affect note taking and achievement. Instructional Science, 44(1). 45-67. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11251-016-9370-4

Mueller, P.A., & Oppenheimer, D.M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159-1168. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797614524581

Nye, P.A., Crooks, T.J., Powley, M., & Tripp, G. (1984). Student note-taking related to university examination performance. Higher Education, 13(1), 85-97. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00136532

Rahmani, M., & Sadeghi, K. (2011). Effects of note-taking training on reading comprehension and recall. The Reading Matrix, 11(2). Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/85a8/f016516e61de663ac9413d9bec58fa07bccd.pdf

Reynolds, S.M., & Tackie, R.N. (2016). A novel approach to skeleton-note instruction in large engineering courses: Unified and concise handouts that are fun and colorful. American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, LA, June 26-29, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.asee.org/public/conferences/64/papers/15115/view

Robin, A., Foxx, R. M., Martello, J., & Archable, C. (1977). Teaching note-taking skills to underachieving college students. The Journal of Educational Research, 71(2), 81-85. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220671.1977.10885042

Wammes, J.D., Meade, M.E., & Fernandes, M.A. (2016). The drawing effect: Evidence for reliable and robust memory benefits in free recall. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 69(9). http://doi.org/10.1080/17470218.2015.1094494

Wu, J. Y., & Xie, C. (2018). Using time pressure and note-taking to prevent digital distraction behavior and enhance online search performance: Perspectives from the load theory of attention and cognitive control. Computers in Human Behavior, 88, 244-254.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2018.07.008

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FAQs

What is note taking in research? ›

Note-taking (sometimes written as notetaking or note-taking) is the practice of recording information from different sources and platforms. For academic writing, note-taking is the process of obtaining and compiling information that answers and supports the research paper's questions and topic.

How do you take notes for a research project? ›

Taking notes:
  1. Use abbreviations, acronyms, or incomplete sentences to record information to speed up the notetaking process.
  2. Write down only the information that answers your research questions.
  3. Use symbols, diagrams, charts or drawings to simplify and visualize ideas.
Jul 14, 2022

What are the 5 note taking methods? ›

  • The Cornell Method.
  • The Outlining Method.
  • The Mapping Method.
  • The Charting Method.
  • The Sentence Method.

Is taking notes effective research? ›

Research on notetaking indicates that taking notes in class and review- ing those notes (either in class or afterward) have a positive impact on student learning. Not surprisingly, the preponderance of studies confirms that students recall more lecture material if they record it in their notes (Bligh, 2000).

What are the 4 types of note taking? ›

Use the four primary methods of note taking: lists, outlines, concept maps, and the Cornell method.

What are the 3 types of note taking? ›

Well, here are 3 different note-taking styles: outline, visual, or Cornell. Outline and visual notes are quick up-front, but require more work after class to make them useful. Cornell notes take the most work up-front, but are the most useful later on.

How do you organize notes in research? ›

Organize your Notes

After you take notes, re-read them. Then re-organize them by putting similar information together. Working with your notes involves re-grouping them by topic instead of by source. Re-group your notes by re-shuffling your index cards or by color-coding or using symbols to code notes in a notebook.

What should you include in your research notes? ›

What should I note?
  1. Bibliographic or Reference Information. Before taking any notes on content, record the bibliographic information. ...
  2. Summary or Paraphrase. ...
  3. Facts and Figures. ...
  4. Quotations. ...
  5. Key Terms. ...
  6. Response and Analysis.

What is the most effective note-taking method? ›

The outline method is one of the most intuitive and simplest ways to take notes. As the name suggests, the outline method turns notes into a hierarchy of information, providing a logical flow of content on the page and keeping it highly organized. With the outline method, you can take notes by hand or digitally.

What is the most effective strategy for note-taking? ›

Strategies for taking good lecture notes
  • Take well-organized notes in outline form. ...
  • Take notes in complete thoughts, but abbreviate, reduce, and simplify. ...
  • Separate and label the notes for each class. ...
  • Make your notes easy to read. ...
  • Be an aggressive note taker. ...
  • Start taking notes when the professor starts talking.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of note taking? ›

Advantages: Reduces the amount of writing needed, organized, easy memorization of facts, easy study of comparisons and relationships, reduces time on editing and reviewing before tests, good overview. Disadvantages: Must be able to sort out the categories for it to work.

Why is effective note taking important? ›

Effective note taking helps you to remember information and aids your understanding of that information. Once created, your notes then act as a record of your thinking and they also provide the source material for your next creative or business project. Note taking is a specialist form of writing.

What are the advantages of note making? ›

Making notes helps you to:
  • stay active and engaged during your lectures, reading and revision.
  • understand what you are learning and clarify your thinking.
  • be selective and identify key ideas.
  • remember the material.
  • organise your ideas and make connections.
  • plan and structure written assignments.

What are the two main elements of note-taking? ›

Effective note taking consists of three parts: observing, recording, and reviewing.
  • Observe an event. This part can be a statement by an instructor, a lab experiment, a slide show of an artist's works, or a chapter of required reading.
  • Record your observations of that event. ...
  • Review what you have recorded.
Dec 3, 2020

What is the format of note-taking? ›

The outline is possibly the most common and familiar form of note-taking for students. The outline format is highly organized; the main topics act as headers, with accompanying details listed under them. With the outline format, pupils often use Roman numerals, an alphanumerical combination, or bullets.

What are the two main types of note-taking? ›

Let's dive in.
  • Note-taking method #1: The Outline method. The Outline method is one of the best and most popular note-taking methods for college students. ...
  • Note-taking method #2: The Cornell Method. ...
  • Note-taking method #3: The Boxing Method. ...
  • Note-taking method #4: The Charting Method. ...
  • Note-taking method #5: The Mapping Method.

What are note taking skills? ›

Note-taking (sometimes written as notetaking or note taking) is the practice of recording information from different sources and platforms. By taking notes, the writer records the essence of the information, freeing their mind from having to recall everything.

What are the five R's of Cornell note taking? ›

Summarizing as you study helps to: Clarify the meanings and relationships of ideas. Reinforce continuity. Strengthen memory retention.

What are the 7 steps of the research process? ›

The Seven Steps of the Research Process
  • Step 1: Identify and Develop Your Topic. ...
  • Step 2: Find Background Information. ...
  • Step 3: Use Catalogs to Find Books and Media. ...
  • Step 4: Use Databases to Find Journal Articles. ...
  • Step 5: Find Internet Resources. ...
  • Step 6: Evaluate What You Find. ...
  • Step 7: Cite What You Find Using a Standard Format.
Apr 14, 2022

How do you organize a research notebook? ›

Top 10 Tips for Organizing Your Lab Book
  1. Set Aside Time Each Day. If there is one key rule to organizing your lab book – this is it! ...
  2. Keep a Notepad on Your Bench. ...
  3. Use Templates. ...
  4. Number Your Pages. ...
  5. Have a Set Structure. ...
  6. Include More Detail than You Think You Need. ...
  7. Don't Forget the Results. ...
  8. Make Notes of Anything Unusual.
Feb 2, 2021

How do you take notes in thesis? ›

2. note-taking
  1. Copy out exact words only when the ideas are memorably phrased; surprisingly expressed; when you want to use them as quotations.
  2. Otherwise, compress ideas in your own words. ...
  3. Do not depend on underlining and highlighting. ...
  4. Be prepared for the fact that you might take many more notes than you will ever use.

How do you write a short research note? ›

For most Research Notes, the following standard format will be the most appropriate. Research Notes can be as short as a single-figure paper. In such cases, all that is required is a short Introduction describing the question or hypothesis that led to the presented figure, followed by a description of the methods used.

How do you write effective note making? ›

How do I take better notes?
  1. Repetition, repetition, repetition. ...
  2. Pictures are easier to remember than words so if you're short on time, draw an image.
  3. If you like to colour code, don't do it during initial note-taking.
  4. Write short, succinct sentences.
  5. Save time and use abbreviations and symbols.
Mar 16, 2020

What is the key to note-taking? ›

The key to good note-taking is understanding. It is easier to understand a lecture when you're sat listening to it than it is by trying to re-construct it from half-understood notes afterwards.

How many note-taking strategies are there? ›

There are FIVE note-taking strategies to choose from that can help with organizing your notes for easy review. Experiment and select a method that best reflects how you listen, think, and process information (see below for the five best note-taking strategies).

How can I improve my note-taking skills? ›

Top Ten Tips on Note-taking
  1. Don't write down every word. ...
  2. Decide what is important. ...
  3. Be an active listener/reader. ...
  4. Use symbols and abbreviations. ...
  5. Use colours. ...
  6. Revise your notes as soon as possible. ...
  7. Be consistent. ...
  8. Improve your handwriting.

What are the challenges of note-taking? ›

6 Common Note-Taking Mistakes And What You Can Do To Avoid Them
  • Writing without listening. We have all experienced this at some point. ...
  • Mistaking note-taking for highlighting text. ...
  • Noting down everything. ...
  • Not being topic specific. ...
  • Not reviewing the notes. ...
  • Not taking notes at all.
Feb 7, 2018

What are the characteristics of good note? ›

Features of good notes

Efficient and effective notes: are organised into key ideas and supporting ideas. use bullet points. use visual techniques, e.g. highlighting, graphics, colours, and underlining to identify main points.

What are some characteristics of effective notes? ›

Take visually clear, concise, organized, and structured notes so that they are easy to read and make sense to you later. See different formats of notes below for ideas. If you want your notes to be concise and brief, use abbreviations and symbols. Write in bullets and phrases instead of complete sentences.

What is the meaning of note taking? ›

Note-taking (sometimes written as notetaking or note taking) is the practice of recording information from different sources and platforms. By taking notes, the writer records the essence of the information, freeing their mind from having to recall everything.

What is the purpose of note taking? ›

The primary purpose of note taking is to encourage active learning and to prepare study materials for exams. Developing note taking skills should help you organize information into an understandable format that will assist in your studying process. There are multiple methods for taking notes.

What is note taking and its importance? ›

Note taking forces you to pay attention and helps you focus in class (or while reading a textbook). It helps you learn. Studies on learning have shown that actively engaging with the topic by listening and then summarizing what you hear helps you understand and remember the information later.

What is the best note-taking method? ›

The best note-taking methods
  1. The outline method. The outline method is one of the most intuitive and simplest ways to take notes. ...
  2. The Cornell Method. The Cornell Method was designed for students by Cornell professor Walter Pauk. ...
  3. The boxing method. ...
  4. The charting method. ...
  5. The mapping method. ...
  6. The sentence method.
Jan 24, 2022

What is the most effective strategy for note-taking? ›

Strategies for taking good lecture notes
  • Take well-organized notes in outline form. ...
  • Take notes in complete thoughts, but abbreviate, reduce, and simplify. ...
  • Separate and label the notes for each class. ...
  • Make your notes easy to read. ...
  • Be an aggressive note taker. ...
  • Start taking notes when the professor starts talking.

What is good note-taking? ›

Take visually clear, concise, organized, and structured notes so that they are easy to read and make sense to you later. See different formats of notes below for ideas. If you want your notes to be concise and brief, use abbreviations and symbols. Write in bullets and phrases instead of complete sentences.

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