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Note-Taking Made Easy

Note-Taking Made Easy makes a thorough and systematic presentation of note-taking, including ways to decide what is worth noting, how to organize notes, and shortcuts in note-taking.

What the reviewers said:

"A handbook on note-taking techniques [that] makes a thorough and systematic presentation of note-taking, including how to decide what is worth noting, how to organize notes, and shortcuts in note-taking.  These techniques are applied to note-taking from textbooks and lectures for research papers and taking minutes at meetings."    —Dissemination Network for Adult Educators

"There is excellent advice on how to read a nonfiction book . . . [and] hints on how to keep your mind on the business at hand. . . . The book is inexpensive, written in a chatty style, and printed in larger than usual type. . . . I recommend it enthusiastically . . . because next to a blow dryer, this little soft-covered book is the best thing to tuck into that college-bound bag."

—Bernice Roer Neal, Culpeper Virginia News

"Many of the suggestions...should be learned at a young age.... Hints on shortcuts for note taking, outlining and organizing notes, the differences between lecture notes, notes from an assigned text or research notes, and how to decide what is worth noting in the first place are all useful."

"This book makes a thorough and systematic presentation of note-taking, including how to decide what is worth noting, how to organize notes, and shortcuts in note-taking. These techniques are applied to note-taking from textbooks and lectures for research papers and taking minutes of meetings."

—Dissemination Network for Adult Educators

"Most students have not been taught good note taking skills. The eight chapters in this slim volume provide constructive tips in an easy‑to‑read, no-nonsense format. The authors stress that students should take their own notes rather than purchase crib sheets or photocopy notes. Their premise is that note taking, a muscle activity, is more apt to store information in a student's memory than will a mere reading of the information. The authors maintain that the process of writing helps students organize ideas, pay attention, and remember.

 "The authors stress two critical components of note taking: developing an outline and identifying patterns of information. Strategies to convert the standard outline format to a memory clue system are described as are criteria to determine the text that is worth recording.

 "In the chapter on lectures, the authors describe the additional challenges of taking notes while listening, and they provide specific information regarding the identification of instructors' verbal cues. In the research chapter, the authors offer constructive tips on how to avoid common note‑taking pitfalls and address the challenge of accurate source documentation. A useful bibliography format is provided for recording resources. Different note‑taking methods for fiction, nonfiction, journal, and essay readings are described. A short chapter  is devoted to taking minutes of meetings‑a useful tool for advisors and students alike...

"The book itself is an illustration of well‑organized information as even the table of contents is in outline format. Important chapter information is presented with bold headings and italicized words. Ample examples are included in each chapter and additional exercises and examples appear in the appendix.

"I found useful advice that I will incorporate into lessons for the academic reading I teach. In addition, although written for a student audience, several tips would be useful to advisors who want to improve note taking in any situation. The book is worth owning and keeping in the office as a quick reference tool for advisors and advisees. One never knows when he or she may be called on to take the minutes of the next meeting."

------Kim Guilfoyle, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley
         writing in NACADA Journal, Fall 2004
(reprinted with permission of the author)

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An excerpt from Note-Taking Made Easy:


Assigned nonfiction falls into two categories: the textbook and the book written for a general audience. The textbook is often the hub of a course, its key component, so it's important to learn how to read it so that you can take good notes.

Textbooks are generally assigned chapter by chapter and in college the assignments are often made in bulk at the beginning of the course. There's no benevolent in locus parentis to remind you at week six to read week six's chapter assignment. If you get behind, you may have to struggle to follow along in the lectures. So the first rule of textbook reading is don't get behind.

Few instructors cover everything that's in the assigned textbook, but most of them hold you responsible for remembering it all on exams. The better your notes, the better you'll be able to study for tests.

1. Size Up the Textbook

Before you begin Chapter 1, find out what's in the book. How good is its table of contents? Does it have an index? Are there special sections at the end of the book with quiz answers, formula charts, log and function tables? Skim the introduction. It often contains useful suggestions, and sometimes important warnings as well.

Page through the book. See how it's arranged. It'll make your chapter-by-chapter reading go faster.

Decide now on the note-taking method you want to use for the course: outline, patterning, or a combination of the two. Are you combining book notes with lecture notes or keeping them separate? Set up your notebook accordingly.

When you begin your first reading assignment—and for every assignment after that—keep your notebook nearby.

2. Systematize Your Note-Taking with OK4R

To keep your textbook notes in sharp focus, researchers developed a number of systems with catchy names like SQ3R, OK4R, PANORAMA, REAP, OARWET, and PQRST. They've all been proven to work if you stick with stick wth them. Here's our own modification of the one we prefer, the OK4R system developed by educator Dr. Walter Pauk (It's the system we outlined in pattern form in Chapter 3.)

O. Overview: Before you begin reading a chapter from start to finish, get a bird's-eye view of it. Read its title and any summarizing words that the author put between title and chapter beginning. Read the chapter's first and last paragraphs; often they summarize all the main points in the chapter. In some textbooks, the chapter begins or ends with a paragraph actually headed summary or its Latin synonym precis.

At the top of your notes write down the main topic. But don't write any more until you've finished reading the chapter. For now, put your notebook aside.

Next, still for an overview, read all the headings in the chapter: the words in italics, bold type, or larger print. Glance through all the bulleted (•) sections and all the itemizations that stand out on the page. As you go along look at pictures, graphs, and tables: all the illustrative material. Read the captions so you know what they represent. You'll end up with a very clear idea of what the chapter is about. In fact, in many textbooks, the words between the headings and illustrations are just the third-string details; the stand-out type tells all the main ideas.

K. Key ideas: Now, still without taking notes, skim the text for its key ideas. (We'd like to call this part S because skimming for subtopics is what's important, but OK4R is easier to remember than OS4R.) What Dr. Pauk calls a "key idea" is the same as what we called a "subtopic" in our chapter on outlining. In a well-organized textbook, you'll find the key ideas in the chapter subheadings. But not all textbooks are well organized.

R1. Read your assignment from beginning to end. Do it quickly. You'll be able to because you already know where the author is headed and what he's trying to show. Don't slow up or you'll start thinking about other things and all your reading will result in just a big hole in your memory.

R2. Rite: Now it's time to write in your notebook. You'll remember better if you can do it with your textbook closed, but if you need reminders keep it open. Using whatever note-taking method you've decided on, write down all the subtopics in order, and the details or examples that the author used to illustrate each point. Try for at least three details for every subtopic. (Sometimes subtopics are broken up into several sub-subtopics before the details are given. Where that's been done, stick to the author's organization. Your outline form will show an extra level of hierarchy. Instead of being organized A, 1, a, it'll be A, 1, a, I or I, A, l, a.)

Don't try to shortcut by simply copying down subheadings or by taking notes only on the author's summary. Summaries contain none of the details that you'll need for an exam. And sometimes book publishers stick in extraneous subheadings to make a page look jazzy or to break up large blocks of text.

R3. Relate: Think about your notes. Relate them to the last several chapters and lectures and to the course outline. Put them in perspective. If it's a lecturer's style to go over textbook information, be prepared to note where she disagrees with the book and where she presents information that's more up-to-date.

R4. Review: This step should not take place right away. It should be saved for the next short quiz, and then again for later tests throughout the term. It seems self-evident to us that notes are taken with the purpose of being reviewed for exams—but we've discovered that some students never reread them until just before finals. That's akin to preparing a gourmet meal and letting it sit for six months before eating it—by that time, it's all so stale you might as well forget it and start all over again.

This excerpt is copyrighted. Readers may print one copy for their own use. If you want to print more than one copy of any excerpt, or would like an article on another topic written for publication, email the authors by clicking here.


Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 Judi K-Turkel, Franklynn Peterson, P/K Associates, Inc. 
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