Sage Advice US

Old-School Note Taking: The Ultimate Guide

Time for another meeting? Grab your notebook. The paper kind, that is. Sure, taking notes on your laptop or tablet might be faster and easier than taking them longhand  — but is it worth the extra time and effort? It is.

According to a study published by Princeton University’s Pam Mueller and University of California’s Daniel Oppenheimer, people who take notes on paper retain and learn more compared to those who typed notes on their laptop. In addition, according to the infographic produced by WBSA, people who don’t organize and review their notes within nine hours of taking them will forget a whopping 60% of what they learned. Not good.

So, if you want to be more like the incredibly successful entrepreneur, Richard Branson (who says that note-taking is one of his favorite pastimes,) then it is time to practice and utilize a methodology for doing it.

Here are some of the best:

Sentence Method

This is the easiest method of note taking. It works best when you have a lot of information being presented to you quickly. You simply write every new topic, fact or thought on a separate line. With this method, you may want to leave space to fill in information later on. After your meeting, immediately review your notes to fill in the spaces with additional tidbits you want to remember.

Outline method

This is one of the most common methods for taking notes. It is structured and logical. It moves from main ideas, sub-topics and then to details. To use it, write major points farthest to the left, then each more specific, supporting points farther to the right.


I. Main Topic

A. Subtopic

1. Detail

a) More supporting detail

b) More supporting detail

2. Detail

B. Subtopic

II. Main Topic 2

Charting Method

This method is very organized and allows you to comprehend your information better through recognition of patterns and associations. Start by identifying categories that will be covered in your meeting. A meeting agenda will be useful for this. Write each category at the top of your page and create a column for each. During your meeting, write your notes in the column of the appropriate category.

Cornell Method

This methodology works very well for critical thinking. To use it, split your paper into 3 sections, as shown in the example below. The left section is your review area, the right section is your note-taking area and the bottom section is your summary area. First, write your detailed notes in the note-taking area. Within 24-48 hours of the meeting, go over your notes and use the review area to jot down key topics, ideas and questions. The bottom section is where you would write a short summary of what was discussed. It addition to words, this section can include other important items such as diagrams or illustrations.

Split page Method

Somewhat similar to the Cornell method, with this method you would simply divide your page in half, vertically into two sections. Take your notes on one side of the page and outline the text on the other side. You can do both simultaneously, or outline later after reviewing your notes.

Mapping Method

Also known as mind mapping, this is a more illustrative method of note taking. It is also great for planning and brainstorming. To use it, put the main idea or topic in the center of your paper, then branch supporting ideas from it. Add additional branches of supporting topics to show more details and continue until the idea is fully illustrated. The use of color, pictures and creativity is encouraged (and fun) with this method. It works great for visual learners. Find examples of mind maps here on Wikipedia.

No matter which method you choose, be sure to review your notes later. It will not only help you better understand the information given, it also helps you to identify next steps, as well as open your mind to spark new ideas. Good stuff.