The Art and Science of Note-Taking

Science shows that note-taking has many benefits, even for those of us not in school. This is an effective way to be more productive and creative.

The Art and Science of Note-Taking

Students are all too familiar with note-taking. However, this is something people stop doing when they start working. We tend to bookmark something to read it later, but the process of taking notes when reading or consuming any type of content is not a common habit.

“It doesn’t matter how you record your notes, as long as you do.” — Bill Gates

The Science

Although taking notes is currently under debate among productivity gurus, science does show that note-taking has many benefits.

  • Better learning. Note-taking allows you to remember what you read. Taking notes is an active process that helps form new pathways in the brain and encode information to be stored in your long-term memory. You do not get the same effects by passively reading an article, for example.
  • Quantity, not quality. The more notes you take, the more information you tend to remember, according to recent evidence. Take lots of notes at first and then edit them later for quality.
  • Add visuals. Sometimes adding drawings to your notes impacts your learning more than just words themselves. These sketches could represent relationships or concepts you want to remember better.
  • Handwritten is better. Studies have shown that taking notes by hand is better for learning and memory than taking notes on a computer.

The Art

Everyone has their own way of taking notes, but for those of you just starting out, there are various and proven note-taking techniques you can try to make your notes more effective.

  • The Cornell Method. This system was created by Walter Paul, a professor at Cornell University. There are three sections of the paper: notes, cues, and summary. Take notes in the main area and add questions or key points on the left side, or cues section. Afterwards, summarize everything at the bottom of the page.
Graphic from Ness Labs
  • Mind map. This method is great for visual learners to actively form connections between concepts. Write the main topic in the middle and draw ideas around this topic.
Graphic from Ness Labs
  • The charting method. This technique is simple. Topics can be broken into categories such as dates, events, similarities, and differences. This only works with very specific types of structured data.
Graphic from Ness Labs

I hope you find these useful and start taking notes more often. I wish I had started doing this a long time ago with all the books I have read. Note-taking is a very effective way to be more productive and creative by ensuring the information you consume gets stored in your long-term memory.

What do you think of note-taking outside of school? Let me know in the comments below!