note-taking (research)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

"Writing is selection," says author John McPhee. "When you are making notes, you are forever selecting. I [leave] out more than I put down" ("Elicitation" in The New Yorker, April 7, 2014).


Note-taking is the practice of writing down or otherwise recording key points of information.

Note-taking is an important part of the research process. Notes taken on class lectures or discussions may serve as study aids. Notes taken during an interview may provide material for an essay, article, or book.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "Taking notes doesn't simply mean scribbling down or marking up the things that strike your fancy. It means using a proven system and then effectively recording information before tying everything together."
    (Walter Pauk and Ross J.Q. Owens, How to Study in College, 11th ed. Cengage, 2013)
  • "Taking notes involves active listening, as well as connecting and relating information to ideas you already know. It also involves seeking answers to questions that arise from the material."
    (Shelley O'Hara, Improving Your Study Skills: Study Smart, Study Less. Wiley, 2005)
  • The Two-Column Method of Note-Taking
    "This note-taking method is valuable for all learners. Draw a vertical line from the top of a piece of paper to the bottom. The left-hand column should be about half as wide as the right-hand column.

    "In the wider, right-hand column, record ideas and facts as they are presented in a lecture or discussion. In the narrower, left-hand column, note your own questions as they arise during the class. When you go home and review your notes, add summaries of major concepts and sections to the left-hand margin. This method allows you to quickly review an outline or overview of a lecture by reading the left-hand column and to study specific information and examples in the right-hand column."
    (Kathleen T. McWhorter, Successful College Writing, 4th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2010)
  • Note-Taking Tips
    - "The list format can be effective when taking notes on terms and definitions, sequences, or facts. Once you have decided on a format for taking notes, you may also want to develop your own system of abbreviations."
    (John N. Gardner and Betsy O. Barefoot, Step by Step to College and Career Success, 5th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2012)

    - "Leave a space between entries so that you can fill in missing information. Always review your notes after class for accuracy. If something isn't clear, find out what you missed and add it to your notes."
    (Ann Dillon, Get Connected: Study Skills: Study Skills, Reading, and Writing. Thomson Wadsworth, 2008)

    - "For note-taking, some students prefer to use their laptops instead of [4 x 6] cards. . . . You can use two approaches: (1) You can download material and print it out, highlighting the passages you find particularly useful. (2) You can keep electronic sources in your computer, organizing them by folders and files, and later use the copy-and-paste function to transfer quotations into your rough draft."
    (Anthony C. Winkler and Jo Ray Metherell, Writing the Research Paper: A Handbook, 8th ed. Wadsworth, 2011)

    - "Help your students learn to take good notes, regardless of their age or the subject you are teaching. . . . Also, teach students that although there is a difference between the way they will take notes as they read and how they will take notes as they listen, both types of note involve three steps: paying attention, writing notes, and reviewing the information."
    (Julia G. Thompson, First Year Teacher's Survival Guide, 2nd ed. Wiley, 2007)
  • Note-Taking During an Interview
    "You can exert many degrees of influence by the way you take notes. Normally the subject will watch what you write down and what you don't. This serves as a guide to her; she wants to say things that will make you take notes and once she sees what you write down and what you ignore, she'll try to feed you more of the significant material. . . .

    "The way you take notes can have other important effects on the interview. Every experienced reporter knows you can't take down everything the interviewee says; it takes too long and stops the flow of talk. It keeps you so occupied you haven't time for the other two important jobs you should be doing--watching and evaluating the person and thinking up the next question. You make notes on the operative words and phrases, on names and dates and addresses and figures. You remember the rest, and you have to train your memory to do it."
    (André Fontaine and William A. Glavin, Jr., The Art of Writing Nonfiction, 2nd ed. Syracuse University Press, 1987)
  • Novelist and Travel Writer Paul Theroux on Note-Taking
    "Charles Dickens, who had learned shorthand as a court reporter, was an assiduous note-taker, as is evident in his travel books, American Notes and Pictures from Italy. These books are full of fresh descriptions, and the extensive dialogue on his visit to the Tombs prison in Manhattan had to have been the result of immediate note-taking.

    "Early in his residence in America, Vladimir Nabokov [author of the novel Lolita] rode buses in Ithaca, N.Y., covertly writing down scraps of dialogue--especially the effusive remarks of 12-year-old girls, as his biographer Brian Boyd explained, 'noting down in his diary snatches he overheard: 'She's quite a kid," or . . . "It's a sketch," "It's a riot," "It's a panic."' In his trips through the U.S. he made meticulous notes on motels, roads, curiosities, speech patterns and details of sunsets. It seems to me that all serious writers are note-takers. . . .

    "I write down everything and never assume that I will remember something because it seemed vivid at the time. The accumulated experience in travel can be overwhelming--too much for anyone to trust their memory."
    (Paul Theroux, "A World Duly Noted." The Wall Street Journal, May 4-5, 2013)
  • Note-Taking With a Camera
    "One more tip: when I'm researching a story, I always bring my digital camera to use as an additional note-taking device. Later, when I'm back in front of the computer, I often find that the camera has recorded a wonderfully revelatory detail that my eye has missed."
    (Celeste Fremon, "Anna's Shrapnel: Recognizing the Revelatory Detail." Now Write! Nonfiction: Memoir, Journalism, and Creative Nonfiction Exercises, ed. by Sherry Ellis. Penguin, 2009)

  • The Lighter Side of Note-Taking
    "There's nothing better than a beautiful day at the beach filled with sun, surf, and uh, diligent note-taking."
    (Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly in "Beach Games." The Office [US], 2007)