Making Notes

Individual styles

Everybody makes notes in their own ways. They are for your purposes so the most important aspect is that they suit you. Your notes may be neat or messy, ordered lists or sprawling webs. This does not matter as long as you can make use of them.

Methods of taking notes

Headings and bullet points

This is a very common way of making notes. It is especially useful if you are typing your notes as you can reorganise information under new headings. The heading is the key point or a question. The bullets or list of points under it all refer to that one heading.

Double notes

These are notes where you use either two colours, two columns or two sheets of paper in order to make two connected sets of notes. The first set is a summary of what you are reading or hearing. The second set is your commentary upon the first set. This is useful for separating out other people's ideas and words from your own.

Pattern notes

These are notes that are organised around a central concept and work their way out from that idea. Each line from the centre leads you into more depth on a particular theme. Use colour and shape to make the notes distinctive. Look for a particular image formed by the final shape of the notes - or aim to develop a particular image. This will make the notes more memorable.


If you own the book you are reading from, you can highlight key points and write additional information and comments in the margins or underneath. This can save time making longer notes, but is less effective for processing the information and ensuring that you understand it than other forms of notes.


It is useful to summarise your notes on any one topic or question down to a few key points, quotes and examples.


These are useful, for example for:

  • Identifying all the tasks that have to be undertaken on a particular day.
  • Noting the key themes in a book or lecture.
  • Numbering key points.
  • Being able to see what you need to do or remember very easily.
  • Identifying resources to follow up.
  • Keeping a record of resources such as useful web-pages.

Keep a record of sources

It is important to keep a very good record of where you gained each piece of information so that you can find it again quickly and easily if you need to check something about it. You will also need this information when you make reference to the information in your work. If you do not state where you get ideas, material and quotations, then you may be accused of plagiarism.

Record the:

  • Author's name and initials.
  • The full name of the chapter, book or article.
  • The name of the journal for printed articles or of the book for chapters.
  • The place of publication.
  • The date of publication.
  • The publisher.
  • The shelf reference or web address.
  • It is also useful to keep a record of the ISBN if using a book. You'll find this on the barcode on the back of the book.

Noting down quotations

Take special care when copying quotations. To avoid plagiarism:

  • Copy only very small phrases or very short sections to quote in your work.
  • Use a different colour pen to copy these.
  • Make very few such quotes.
  • Write down details of the source of the quotation and reference these in your text and list of references.

This content has been written by Bryan Greetham, author of How to Write Better Essays.