The best note-taking methods

Note-taking is a valuable skill most of us learn as students and take with us into every meeting room, boardroom, and industry conference throughout our lives. The quality of your notes greatly affects your ability to study and retain information. Naturally, finding the perfect note-taking method may seem like a lifelong and highly personal pursuit. But there are proven and effective best practices for note-taking that will help you retain information better.

Discover different note-taking methods that will help you retain information better

The best way to take notes depends on your learning style, the type of content, and the amount of time you have. Ultimately, the best note-taking method for you is the one that will encourage you to learn and retain information as effectively and efficiently as possible.

In this guide to note-taking methods, we’ll cover the best note-taking strategies and how to apply them. We’ll also give you some tips on how to take effective notes and how you can use Box to optimize your learning.

Below are six specific note-taking strategies.

1. The outline method

The outline method is one of the most intuitive and simplest ways to take notes. As the name suggests, the outline method turns notes into a hierarchy of information, providing a logical flow of content on the page and keeping it highly organized. With the outline method, you can take notes by hand or digitally.

Here’s some guidance on how to take notes using the outline method:

  • Title the main lecture topics on the far left of the page
  • Add subtopics below each topic, indenting them farther toward the right
  • Expand on each subtopic with supporting facts, notes, or questions, indented even farther to the right

When using the outline method on paper, you must gauge how much space you need below each subtopic heading for all your notes. With a digital platform, you can always create more or less space as you go. With practice, you can become highly efficient at taking notes this way while keeping them neat and professional.

Pros

The advantages of the outline note-taking method include:

  • Visually clean and organized notes
  • Helping note-takers naturally draw connections between topics
  • Outlined notes easily converted into review notes or study questions

Because of how simple and clean the outline method is, it can help note-takers save time when reviewing and learning later.

Cons

The disadvantages of the outline note-taking method include:

  • Less conducive to notes that require lots of graphs and diagrams
  • Requires the lecture content to be highly structured
  • May encourage too much note-taking

Since the outline method requires you to leave space for subtopic notes, you may become more focused on filling up the space rather than narrowing down the most important content.

2. The Cornell Method

Reevaluate what you learn with the Cornell Method

The Cornell Method was designed for students by Cornell professor Walter Pauk. Here’s how to take Cornell notes:

  • Divide your page into two equal vertical columns
  • Leave the lower one-third to one-quarter of the page divided from the columns, creating an upside-down T on the page
  • Use the left column to cue keywords or ideas and the right side for expanded notes
  • Summarize the material in the space at the bottom of the page

Similar to the outline method, Cornell note-taking encourages note-takers to keep clean, organized, and condensed notes. It’s an especially useful method for encouraging note-takers to revisit their notes, review what they’ve learned, and consolidate their new knowledge. While the Cornell Method is well-known for being a handwritten method, it can also be done with digital tools. Cornell note-taking is also an effective method for self-testing, which is a proven way to learn and retain new information.

Pros

The advantages of the Cornell note-taking method include:

  • Encouraging students to review and summarize information for better retention
  • Keeping notes organized and easy to review
  • Helping students learn the most important ideas and terms

With a heavy focus on summarizing information, the Cornell Method helps people save time when reviewing in the future.

Cons

The disadvantages of the Cornell note-taking method include:

  • Not suitable for lectures with heavy terminology and statistics
  • Requires summarizing information immediately following the lecture
  • Need to prepare notes pages before the lecture

The Cornell Method is typically geared toward abstract subjects with central ideas rather than facts and data.

3. The boxing method

Group and connect ideas easily with the boxing method

The boxing method of note-taking is geared toward those who are visual-dominant learners. Similar to mind-mapping, boxed notes allow learners to see how ideas are connected and flow from each other. You can take boxing notes by hand or digitally with the help of tools like a lasso tool, which allows you to easily group items together.

The boxing note-taking method uses the following steps:

  • Divide the page into two columns
  • Add topic headers for each core idea and expand with notes directly below each topic
  • After completing notes for each header, draw a box around the entire note section and header

The final page will appear as multiple different-sized boxes neatly containing each core topic and its notes. From there, you can either mind map by drawing connecting arrows between ideas or leave the boxes separate. By grouping topics in clusters, learners can take deeper dives into each subtopic while still understanding how ideas are related.

Pros

The advantages of the boxing note-taking method include:

  • Encouraging learners to rewrite notes into boxes, which reinforces retention
  • Helping improve recall with visual representations of ideas and how they connect
  • Promoting clarity and brevity due to the need to condense notes into boxes

The boxing note-taking method is suitable for people who like to prioritize the aesthetic look of their notes and enjoy being creative.

Cons

The disadvantages of the boxing note-taking method include:

  • Not suitable for people who want a quick, efficient, and hierarchical solution
  • Requires already having an existing understanding of how ideas are connected
  • Can distract learners with how notes look rather than focusing on the content itself

The boxing method doesn’t make sense for lectures or meetings that aren’t covering multiple core ideas or topics that aren’t easy to assign to specific boxes.

4. The charting method

Using facts and keywords, the charting note-taking method is excellent for heavy content

The charting note-taking method is one the most effective methods for fact- and data-heavy lecture content. When the lecture content is highly structured and uniform, the charting method provides an efficient way to keep up with the material. Because this method is based on facts and keywords, it’s a beneficial way to memorize information and test yourself with recall exercises. It’s less ideal for abstract concepts and ideas. 

To follow the charting method, take the following steps:

  • Determine what topics the lecture will cover
  • Divide the page into multiple columns, each with its own relevant keyword
  • Record relevant notes under each applicable keyword

You can take charting notes by hand if you have a ruler or another way to divide up your page neatly. Or you can take charting notes digitally using a simple word processor or even a spreadsheet.

Pros

The advantages of the charting note-taking method include:

  • Relevant for content that requires memorization and keeping track of facts and statistics
  • Useful for summarizing and reviewing lecture content in preparation for exams
  • Encourages concise, clean, and organized notes 

You can also use the charting method when you need to compare and contrast similar terms or ideas.

Cons

The disadvantages of the charting note-taking method include:

  • Not suitable for lectures that don’t provide the structure beforehand 
  • Need to spend time preparing your note pages in advance
  • Difficult to use during lectures or meetings with heavy discussions

If it’s difficult to categorize the content, then it will be challenging to apply the charting method.

5. The mapping method

Convert complex, abstract information into a creative visual representation

Mapping is a favorite note-taking method in both the education and business worlds. When learning or covering complex, abstract information, mapping can help eliminate the fuzziness around highly involved topics. While visual learners tend to prefer this method, it’s useful for anyone trying to connect big ideas and themes and discover how they flow from each other.

Here’s how you can put the map note-taking method to use:

  • Write the main topic at the top of the page
  • Create one branch for each subtopic, stemming from the topic before it
  • Continue dividing the subtopics downward and outward on the page
  • Add relevant notes directly under each subtopic

The final result should be a web or hierarchy of information, similar to a flow chart. Mapping allows you to be creative, using colors or symbols to represent how ideas compare or relate. You can map notes by hand or digitally.

Pros

The advantages of the map note-taking method include:

  • Effective for reviewing and studying by reorganizing original notes into a map
  • Encourages deep learning and understanding of complex topics
  • Promotes visual learning and memory recall

The mapping method is visually appealing and a great way to rewrite your original notes during a study or review session.

Cons

The disadvantages of the map note-taking method include:

  • Need to be conservative with the use of space to ensure all notes fit within a single map
  • Requires revising notes to prevent confusion
  • May be time-consuming if it isn’t clear how ideas branch from each other

The mapping method is not always ideal for taking your first round of notes since it can be difficult to gauge how much space you will need.

6. The sentence method

The sentence method is a straightforward way of taking notes, ideal for fast-paced lectures

The sentence note-taking method is the simplest and least structured method. When the lecture content itself is not outlined, then the sentence method can help give your notes a slight structure that the topic is missing. The sentence method is particularly useful for fast-paced lectures that cover a lot of content. It works for either handwritten or digital notes.

To practice the sentence note-taking method, follow these steps:

  • Using lined paper, record content, such as terms, facts, or ideas in sentences
  • Move to the next line for each new point
  • Number each new sentence as you progress through the lecture content

Learners who have nothing prepared ahead of a lecture tend to naturally jot down notes in sentence form, making it a note-taking method that’s straightforward for everyone.

Pros

The advantages of the sentence note-taking method include:

  • Uncomplicated way of recording information that stands out
  • Keeps track of content in a chronological order
  • Can be converted into any other method post-lecture

The sentence method is a spontaneous way to keep notes without the need for advanced preparation. 

Cons

The disadvantages of the sentence note-taking method include:

  • Doesn’t provide the visual structure that many people need
  • May be difficult to review later if the material appears disjointed
  • Not suitable for content with graphs and charts

The sentence method is often a last resort when it’s impossible to prepare for a lecture, or the content is too all-over-the-place to slot into any of the above methods.

Handwritten vs. digital notes

Handwritten notes promote higher retention vs. digital notes are fast and clean

Along with choosing your preferred note-taking method, there’s another key note-taking decision, which is the choice between writing notes by hand or capturing them digitally. For some people, the debate between handwritten and digital notes is contentious, with some learners having a clear preference for one method over another. 

The choice between handwritten vs. digital notes, like the choice in note-taking method, comes down to what will yield the best results for you. Whether one approach is cleaner or faster is only part of the equation. The priority should be choosing the method that will actually help you learn and retain information better, with the ability to easily review.

There are some factors to consider about handwriting notes. Studies have found handwritten notes promote higher retention rates than typing notes on a laptop or tablet. It is also easier to be distracted by other applications when taking notes on a device. However, handwriting notes may prove too time-consuming for a fast-paced lecture.

Compared to handwritten notes, digital notes are a fast and clean method for efficient note-taking. They allow you to use additional tools like graphs, charts, and clipped images to better assist your learning, especially if you are a visual learner. However, they may encourage transcription rather than deep learning, as many students focus on typing every word rather than actually paying attention to the content of the lecture.

There is also a popular hybrid approach. You can take initial notes by hand, and then transcribe them to a digital version, cleaning them up in the process. This allows you to convert your original handwritten notes into the best note-taking method for the final version.

Note-taking tips

Regardless of your chosen note-taking strategy, some general note-taking tips apply to everyone. 

The following note-taking tips can help you take your learning to the next level.

Know the content

One of the main takeaways from learning about the different note-taking strategies should be that the relationship between the method and the type of content is critical. Certain methods are clearly more suitable for some types of lecture or meeting content. Conversely, some methods are not conducive to certain types of content.

Lecture and meeting content is typically either structured or non-structured, meaning you may or may not have a clear outline to follow and build your notes around. In addition to being outlined or not, content can also be conceptual or fact-based. These distinctions will help you choose whether you need a fluid or structured note-taking method.

Experiment with note-taking styles

Compare or even combine different methods to find the one most suitable for your needs

Your ultimate goal should be to find the most applicable note-taking method for the type of content you’re dealing with. To discover the best method, you may need to experiment with different styles. By comparing and contrasting the pros and cons of each method, you’ll eventually find the best approach for you.

Keep in mind that it’s also possible to combine multiple note-taking methods. For instance, you can have one page for terms and facts and another page for mapping ideas and concepts. Applying different note-taking ideas helps you come up with a custom system that you can refine over time.

Review notes later

Effective learning is more than just taking notes. What you do with your notes after a particular class or meeting is crucial to your ability to move your newly acquired knowledge from the surface to the deeper parts of your memory.

Some things you can do later onto review include:

  • Schedule a block of time to review your notes
  • Create a summary or overview of your notes
  • Test yourself on the new material
  • Write down questions you have
  • Highlight information that’s still unclear

By taking the time to follow up and review your notes later on, you increase your chances of performing well and retaining the information.

Ask questions

Effective note-taking isn’t sufficient for learning and retaining information. You must also engage with the content and test yourself, finding your knowledge gaps and filling them with missing information. As you take notes, write down questions to ask later. Asking questions is critical in getting clear on core topics and solidifying your knowledge.

Additionally, spending time with instructors, lecturers, and subject-matter experts helps you deepen your knowledge in areas of genuine interest to you. By asking questions, you have the opportunity to assess your own thinking. You’ll also identify where you can improve your grasp of the material.

Handwrite your notes, then type them

Researchers have found that there is a powerful hand-to-brain connection that helps us deepen our learning while note-taking. While typing notes is a fast and efficient way to take down information, it may not produce the same retention that handwriting does. 

However, many people enjoy having digital notes because they are easier to access from anywhere. Keeping digital notes is also a permanent solution. By handwriting notes and then typing them, you’re able to improve retention by 75% while shifting your notes to a permanent and mobile version.

How Box helps with note-taking

Ways to use Box for note-taking - Box Notes, Box Drive, Integrations, Collaboration

Whether you take digital notes exclusively or you like to transfer your handwritten notes to digital later on, you’ll need to organize your material in a secure and user-friendly way. That’s where Box comes in. We’ve built the Content Cloud with the hard-working student in mind.

Check out some of the ways Box can help with your note-taking and studying needs.

Box Notes

Let Box Notes be your go-to source for high-quality, user-friendly note-taking. Write down notes quickly and efficiently in real time, or transcribe your notes the way you want them to look. With Box Notes, you can create convenient templates to use for each course, saving you time. 

You can also embed videos and other media within a Note and add comments for clearer note-taking.

Integrations

Optimize your note-taking and studying abilities with Box Integrations. With over 1,500 different integrations available, you can connect your favorite productivity, studying, or editing programs to Box.

Rather than re-inventing your current study and note-taking system, seamlessly integrate it into your Box workspace for more efficient learning.

Collaboration

Streamline your study sessions or group projects with Box collaboration. Using Box Notes or any other file type, work together with your team members on a single project in real time. 

Use Box as a central workspace to edit, review, and share notes. Assign tasks and add comments to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Learn more about what Box has to offer

Maximize your note-taking efforts with Box. The Content Cloud can help you study smarter, not harder. By storing all your notes into a central digital hub, you’ll always have the material you need at your fingertips.

Explore all the ways that Box can help you succeed in school. Review our products and features or contact us today to learn more.

Access all our notes in our cloud-based document manager and file-sharing system

**While we maintain our steadfast commitment to offering products and services with best-in-class privacy, security, and compliance, the information provided in this blogpost is not intended to constitute legal advice. We strongly encourage prospective and current customers to perform their own due diligence when assessing compliance with applicable laws.

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