Note taking

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Note taking (or notetaking) is the practice of writing down pieces of information in a systematic way.

DSchneider has the impression that Note taking includes the following:

  • Taking notes in a lecture or a discussion
  • Taking notes in a lecture + processing/annotating/rewriting these notes
  • Taking notes from reading / on the Web in some systematic way.

See also: literature review (since before and during a literature review, you may engage in note taking) and Methodology tutorial - finding a research subject

Note taking methods

The Cornell method

The "Cornell method" has been designed for classroom note taking and it includes post-processing.

According to the TNTT Wiki (retrieved, 17:17, 15 September 2006 (MEST))

The Cornell method is probably the most useful method for students at university. It was devised 40 years ago by Walter Pauk, a lecturer at Cornell University in the United States, for his students. This method is used by dividing the paper in two columns. The first column is used to enter key or cue words while the second is the notes column (for recording ideas and facts). There are six steps to Cornell note-taking:

  • Record During the lecture, record as many facts and ideas as possible in the notes column.
  • Reduce After the lecture, read through the notes taken and reduce to key words and phrases, or questions. The key words and phrases are used as cues to help recall the ideas and facts. The questions are to add clarity to the facts and ideas.
  • Recite Using only the key words, phrases and questions in the cue word column recite the ideas and facts in the notes column. It is important that you are not just mechanically repeating, but using your own words.
  • Reflect Based on the facts and ideas learnt, reflect upon how this fits in with what you already know, and how this knowledge can be applied.
  • Review On a frequent basis, review your past notes by reciting and reflecting upon them.
  • Recapitulate After you have reduced, recited and reflected upon your note, you should recapitulate each main idea using complete sentences at the bottom of the key word column.

A time delayed variant is described in Cornell versus Ebbinghaus (August 26, 2020)by Gethyn Jones BSc., a physics teacher.


SQ3R is a note taking method from readings

According to Note taking skills - from lectures and readings website (retrieved 13:17, 2 March 2009 (UTC)):

Rowntree (1976: 40-64) outlines what he calls the 'SQ3R' approach to reading and note taking from text. He suggests that students should use the following activities in order to get the most from a reading in the most efficient way.

  1. Survey - flip through the chapter or book and note the layout, first and last chapters or paragraphs, look at the headings used, familiarise yourself with the reading.
  2. Question - Ask questions about the way the reading is structured and think about the questions you will need to keep in mind while reading. Think about whether or not you think the book is relevant or if it's current and if it suits the purpose of your study.
  3. Read - read actively but quickly, looking for the main points of the reading - don't take any notes - you might want to read through twice quickly.
  4. Recall - Write down the main points of the reading and any really important facts, and opinions that help support the main points. Also record the bibliographic details.
  5. Review - repeat the first three steps over and make sure you haven't missed anything. At this point you might like to finalise your notes and re-read your notes or write down how the material you've just covered relates to your question or task.

Concept maps and mind maps

The idea is to map out concepts, either as they are found or received or during the Review process in the Cornell or SQ3R method.

  • Mind maps (i.e. hierarchical trees) can be used to take lecture notes in real time, but more often to organize concepts into a hierarchical tree.
  • concept maps allow to visualize more complex relationships between different concepts. They allow for example to integrate old and new knowledge and to construct a representation of a complex concept. Finally, concept maps also can be used a design tool. For example, after the initial literature review for a paper or a thesis, a student may create a conjecture map that relates theory to design to observable process to outcomes.


Charting is method that helps to summarize the most important concepts found in articles and to identify implicit relations (what concepts go together and which authors). This concept charting technique uses a table with columns representing concepts and rows representing a text.



Concept A

Concept B

Concept C

Concept D











Recommended procedure
Step 1: Read texts "diagonally", and just mark the most relevant concepts, theories, models, hypothesis, etc.
Step 2: Make a matrix of the most important concepts like above
Step 3: Sort concepts. Keep the most important ones, unite the similar ones and throw away the ones you won't need (the theory part must support the empirical part, nothing else)
Step 4: Write ...

Since normal paper is not wide enough, DSchneider thinks that one should use either a huge sheet of page (flip chart size) or use a word processor or spreadsheet.

Critical Web Reader

“The Critical Web Reader is a set of Web-based literacy and technology tools designed to guide teachers and students to critically evaluate Web-based texts and technologies. Within the CRW, teachers create activities which direct students to explore one or more websites through a series of “lenses”. Lenses include sets of questions, tips, and suggestions to guide readers to examine websites from multiple perspectives. (CRW web site, retrieved 14:04, 22 April 2009 (UTC).

There exist four standard "lenses":

  • Descriptive lens: Includes the three following main questions: (1) What do I first notice about this site ?, (2) What useful information can I identify? (headings, topic sentences, images, photos sound clips, videos) (3) What does this site tell me about the: author, sponsor, intended audience.
  • Academic lens: (1) What is this site about ?, (2) What do I already know about the topic? (3) What claims does the author/creator make? (4) What evidence is used to support these claims ? (Facts, Statistics, Examples, Quotations, Testimonials). (5) Are the claims and evidence convincing?
  • Critical lens: ...
  • Reflective lens: ...

Currently (May 2009) this web tool is avaible for teachers and their classes upon request. Registered websites can be viewed through a lens: guiding questions are to the left and relate to the website viewed in the main frame. Blue prompts may be clicked on to view definitions and examples. Student responses can be entered through a the reader notes area at the bottom.

The theorectical foundations of the "lenses model" is literacy understood as socially situated practices, disciplined inquiry in social studies, and new literacies. It is mapped to Green's (1988) conceptual model with its three dimensions: the operational, academic, and critical.

  • The operational dimension “places an emphasis on the literacy skills and strategies that students need to cultivate "in order to operate effectively in specific contexts" (Green, 1988:160).” (Damico, 2006).
  • “The academic dimension focuses on the ways that readers create meanings that are appropriate and relevant to subject-specific literacy practices” (Damico, 2006).
  • “The critical dimension emphasizes how readers develop an awareness of the ways that texts function ideologically; that is, how texts reflect the values, perspectives and interests of particular groups.” (Damico, 2006).

From this general three dimensions model, the authors then formulate an operational conceptual model for guided web page reading:

  1. Operational
    1. Identifying and sorting the components of the Web page (e.g., an initial descriptive reading of the range of texts and links contained on the site);
    2. Locating key information on the site by scanning for headings and topic sentences;
    3. Determining credibility of author(s) or creator(s) of site (e.g., Who are they? What are their educational, political, commercial affiliations?); and considering the intended audience;
    4. Choosing whether to examine the site more closely or to move on to another site.
  2. Academic
    1. Identifying and drawing upon relevant prior knowledge;
    2. Evaluating claims and evidence within the site; and
    3. Checking and cross-checking claims and evidence from other Web sites and sources to build contextualized interpretations.
  3. Critical
    1. Determining perspectives included and omitted in the site;
    2. Identifying techniques (such as loaded words, use of provocative images, links to highly reputable Web sites, etc.) that author/creator uses to try to influence readers;
    3. Considering how one's own beliefs, values, perspectives, prejudices, etc. shape one's reading.

(Damico et al., 2006), retrieved 14:04, 22 April 2009 (UTC).

The last step in implementing this model was to phrase the questions used to prompt learners in the tool. However, teachers are to build ad-hoc lenses or built on other conceptual models...

Finding notes

See indexing (some note taking software has built-in indexing tools).

If you use a wiki or blog for note taking you may use tags, called categories in this wiki.


Notetaking tools

Note taking tools are a specific form of cognitive tool, see also writing tools for an overview on different genres of writing tools.

For a better list of tools, see Comparison of notetaking software (Wikipedia).

Stand-alone programs
  • The Note Taking tool (TNTT): The Note Taking Tool (TNTT), which started life as a University project, has now grown up and become open source! TNTT is a note-taking application tailored for use by students in academic environments. It helps students maximize the potential of their note-taking by guiding them through the Cornell method.
  • The Literary machine “is a dynamic archive and an idea management tool aimed at creative thinking - built especially with the writer in mind. It is packed with indexing and display techniques so general and potent that you will use it as an intelligence center.” (There is a freeware version)
  • Text Block Writer “is a virtual index card program for writers. It can be used to organize research papers, articles, fiction, non-fiction, books and whatever related to writing. It is intended for people like me who use paper index cards to write all the notes and pieces of an essay, and then arrange the pieces and then use that to type them into the computer.”
  • WikiPad. This looks like a wiki for individual use, but there are some extra features (not tested / DKS).
  • Zotero is a free, fairly easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research source and take notes.
  • CaptureSaver. lets you download web pages and save them into an off-line research and reference library while you are surfing the Internet.
Collaborative scribbling and annotation tools
On-line and multi-platform tools
  • See also the on-screen annotation and list of web 2.0 applications, there may be other entries. Almost any writing tool can be used to take notes. Below are just some that appear in "note taking" lists. Some tools (e.g. Evernote) also have desktop applications.
  • On-line notetaking, note sharing. Autolinks to Wikipedia and Google. Interface with Facebook, etc. It's a social software
  • Evernote (and similar tools) all to capture anything, share it and find it. Quote: "Evernote makes it easy to remember things big and small from your everyday life using your computer, phone, tablet and the web." There is a free version as well as pro versions.
  • Wikis. Most entries in this wiki are just note takings (12:55, 21 September 2006 (MEST)). Some wikis can run on your personal computer and only need moderate installation skills. Currently (feb 2009) we think that Dokuwiki is the best light-weight system. You do need to install a WAMP server first though. Otherwise, you also may consider using a wiki service such as pbWiki, wikispaces or deki.

General links and methods

Article deconstruction


  • Bauer, A. & Koedinger, K. (2005). Designing an Online Note Taking Tool from the Ground Up. In P. Kommers & G. Richards (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2005 (pp. 4181-4186). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Abstract/HTML/PDF
  • Boch, Françoise and Annie Piolat, Note Taking and Learning, A Summary of Research, The WAC Journal PDF (Recommended overview article).
  • Damico, J., Baildon, M., Campano, G. (2006). Integrating literacy, technology and disciplined inquiry in social studies: The development and application of a conceptual model. THEN: Journal. HTML (Open access).
  • Exter, Marisa E.; Ying Wang, Max F. Exter, and James S. Damico (2009). Designing a Tool to Support Critical Web Reading, TechTrends, 53 (1), 23-28. Abstract/PDF
  • Green, B. (1988). Subject-specific literacy and school learning: A focus on writing. Australian Journal of Education, 32(2), 156-179.
  • Robinson, Francis Pleasant. (1970) Effective study (4th ed.). New York: Harper & Row.


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