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What Is Notetaking?

By J. Bonner
Updated May 23, 2024
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Notetaking is when a listener summarizes a lecture, speech or presentation into the most important points and writes down those points down for later use. This can help the listener remember what was said so that it can be recalled and used more efficiently. Notetaking can be important whenever the listener must know or remember a significant amount of information that was told to him or her by the speaker, because without the use of notes, it can be difficult to remember everything that was said. Many experts recommend five tips for taking and using notes: record, reduce, recite, reflect and review.

In notetaking, recording is the act of writing down what is said by the speaker. Rather than the listener compiling a complete transcript, however, notetaking involves writing down the main points, the most important information or anything that is new or might be difficult to remember. These notes could be complete sentences, key words or whatever is most useful for the notetaker.

After the speaker is done talking, the notetaker can reduce his or her notes. This involves going through the notes and crossing out or erasing anything that is unimportant or redundant. When taking notes, the listener might not immediately realize what is important or unimportant. He or she also might not be aware of repetition or redundancy while taking the notes. The notetaker can reduce the quantity of notes and can reorganize or consolidate the notes into the most useful format.

Next, the notetaker can recite and reflect. This involves reading the remaining notes — often out loud, so that the notetaker can hear them as well as read them — and pondering the information. The notetaker might memorize some or all of the notes and should make sure that he or she understands all of the information instead of just being able to repeat it. Anything that is unclear should be made clear, perhaps by contacting the original speaker to clarify a matter or ask questions. The notetaker also could look for answers from other sources, such as books, online material, other experts or even other people who heard the same speaker.

The final step is for the notetaker to review the notes. This usually is done in preparation for using the information in some manner, such as before a test or a business project. Making a general outline of the notes at this stage can help the notetaker keep his or her thoughts organized and can help ensure that all of the necessary information will be remembered.

Along with the five R's, there are some simple tips for notetaking. Using legible handwriting can ensure that no information is lost. Articles such as "a" and "the" as well as other common words might be omitted during notetaking so that the information can be written down more quickly and to use less space.

Inserting subheadings that indicate different topics or points of discussion can be helpful. Notetakers also should include the date, a title or overall subject matter and a page number on each page of the notes and should be sure to fasten together any loose papers, such as with a staple. This can help avoid having notes from different topics or speakers become intermingled or partially lost.

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