Studying Effectively

Note taking from reading

It is important when writing notes that you are clear about the purpose of the notes you are producing. Think about what you will do with the information and ideas you are recording from reading written materials e.g. are the notes to help you prepare:

  • For attending a lecture (so you can understand more of the content discussed by the tutor)?
  • To write an assignment (taking account of the different types of reading or sources you need to write about, and how much detail you need from each)?
  • To give a presentation (where you may have a limited amount of time to communicate specific information)?
  • To prepare for an examination (what is the format of the exam, and the type and number of questions you will need to answer)?

Finding effective strategies that work for you will require you to think about how to be active in making notes, and identify the format(s) that are most appropriate for you and your study activity.

  • Linear notes – use headings and subheadings
  • Diagrammatic notes – boxes/flowcharts
  • Pattern notes – more visual and possibly more like mind-maps

Active note-taking means:

  • Think about what you want to get from your reading and why you are making notes – how much detail do you need to read, and how much detail will you need in your notes?
  • Look for answers to the questions you need to address: are you looking for definitions, examples, or debates/theories?
  • Look for connections between what the current text says and anything you have already read: do the authors agree? Disagree? Is there a sequence of events/actions to comment on?
  • Try to make most of your notes in your own words – factual information may only be phrased in a limited number of ways, but explanations of what something says or means will be best done in your own words so you can understand the meaning
  • Keep any direct quotes short and make sure they have a purpose: use the exact words when how the author explains it is as significant as what the author says.

Make your notes brief and be selective

Keep them well-spaced so you can see individual points and add more details later if necessary

Show the relationships between the main points - for instance, link with a line along which you write how they relate to each other

Use your own words to summarise - imagine someone has asked you "so what did x say about this?" and write down your reply

Illustrations, examples and diagrams can help to put ideas in a practical context

Make notes memorable - use colour, pattern, highlighting and underlining

Read through to make sure they're clear - will you still understand them when you come to revise?

File with care! - use a logical system so you can find your notes when you need them, but keep it simple or you won't use the system (See Being organised for more on this).

Note making from reading


Further reading

Types of teaching - lectures

Writing tasks at university


Practical strategies for managing reading and note taking

more from Academic Support study resources 

People who can help

Talk to someone in your school or a specialist support service


Studying Effectively

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