The recent explosion of knowledge
in the world has produced a vast number of books and other reading materials. Students
often have to read a large number of books and take notes. Often, a careful glance at the
table of contents reveals the contents in a nutshell. However, one also needs some
practice in condensing the reading materials into brief note forms that are meaningful and
concise and that facilitate recallnote-taking. In this article, I will present some
ideas about note-taking that will help students to understand how implementing this
important aid can improve their learning.
Why take notes?
Note-taking is a very useful practice as it enables the reader to preserve relevant
information for future use. Usually we cannot remember a great deal of new information
without writing some of it down. This act of taking notes often helps us remember
information when we need to take an examination, write an essay, or prepare a report.
Characteristics of good notes
Several qualities are important in good notes.
Notes should be brief and to the point. They need not be taken in full sentences since
words, phrases, and topics are enough. They are, therefore, not always in English that is
Only relevant facts are needed; the determining factor is the purpose for which the
notes are made.
There should be no ambiguity. Notes should make sense when viewed after a few weeks,
months, or years. Failure to decipher the notes at a later stage may render the whole
Information may be noted in a logical sequence that can be properly divided and
subdivided, using figures, letters, and dashes. The divisions may be as follows:
main section: 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.
sub-sections: a, b, c, d, etc.
sub-sub-sections: i, ii, iii, iv, etc.
main sections: 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.
sub-sections: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, etc.
sub-sub-sections: 1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.1.3, etc.
Abbreviations and symbols.
Generally, abbreviation falls into three main divisions: (1) using capitalised initial
letters, e.g., U.N. (United Nations), IBM (International Business Machines); (2) using the
first few letters of a word (if plural, add an "s"), e.g., pts (points), divs
(divisions); (3) using a combination of the first few and the last few letters of a word
with an apostrophe in between, e.g., govt (government), intl (international).
In addition to common abbreviations that we find in newspapers and timetables, one can
also create his or her own abbreviations and symbols; but these should be such that the
note-taker can decipher them easily at a later time. Some standard symbols are commonly
used: i.e. (that is), e.g. (for example), viz. (namely), ... (therefore), & (and), %
First, the chosen passage is read, in order to get an idea of the content. Next, the
passage is read againonce or twice as neededand both important and relatively
unimportant points are jotted down. These points give a skeletal idea about the passage.
Then we regroup them into a sequential and prioritised order and provide a suitable title.
The sequential order denotes the facts emerging in a linear, vertical manner. This
helps to classify the points noted under one major head in the order of their importance.
For instance, I gave an exercise to my students at the undergraduate level on the
following passage which was about the origin of money. One of my students outlined it out
in the note-taking exercise that follows the text:
In small, primitive societies nobody needed money because everybody worked together and
shared things, but in bigger societies people specialise. For example, one person spends
all his time making pots, and another person spends all his time fishing. The fisherman
needs pots, and the potter needs fish, so they exchange or barter. However, this system
can become very complicated if, for instance, the potter wants ten fish, but the fisherman
wants only one pot. For this reason people began to use money. They agreed to take an
invaluable object such as a shell, a stone, or a piece of metal in exchange for what they
were selling. They could collect the objects and wait until they found something they
really wanted to buy.
Gold and silver were often used as money because they can be divided into very small
quantities, and they are not damaged by water or air. Gold is especially valuable because
there is not very much of it in the world, and it is expensive to take out of the ground
where it is mixed with rocks.
The Origin of Money
1. Life in small societies
a. people workedshared products
b. no need for money
2. Life in bigger societies
a. Each labourera specialist
i. e.g., a fisherman occupied in fishing
ii. a potter engaged in making pots
b. Diff. to effect exact change of goods
i. in terms of needs
ii. in terms of value
c. Birth of money
i. initially exchange of stone, shells/
ii. later switched over to gold & silver
(a) could be divided into small qty(s)
(b) not damaged by air/water
d. Gold specially valued
i. found scarcely
When a passage draws a comparison between two products, objects, or activities, notes
can be put into columns with proper serial numbers. The similarities and dissimilarities
can be presented with appropriate abbreviations to enable immediate understanding. For
instance, a passage on "Types of Motivation" was carefully read by my students,
and one of my students recorded the notes in tabular columns for logical and easy
retrieval. (See Figure 1.)
Positive motivation or incentive motivation is based on reward. The workers are offered
incentives for achieving the desired goals. The incentives may be in the shape of more
pay, promotion, recognition of work, etc. The employees are offered the incentives, so
they try to improve their performances willingly. According to Peter Drucker, the
"real and positive motivators are responsible for placement, high standard of
performance, information adequate for self- control, and the participation of the worker
as a responsible citizen in the plant community." Thus, positive motivation is
achieved by the cooperation of employees who have a feeling of happiness.
Negative motivation or fear motivation is based on force or fear. Fear causes employees
to act in a certain way. If they do not act accordingly, they may be punished with
demotions or lay-offs. The fear acts as a push mechanism. The employees do not willingly
cooperate, rather they want to avoid the punishment. Though employees work up to a level
where punishment is avoided, this type of motivation causes anger and frustration and
generally becomes a cause of industrial unrest.
When students reach an advanced stage of note-taking, the teacher may give only the
note form and ask students to develop it into a meaningful passage.
Note-taking is an important skill that should not be neglected by English language
teachers and English language learners. Students need to develop their skills at
note-taking, not only because it will help them preserve relevant information for their
future use, but also because during the note-taking stage they reach the highest level of
Agarwal, R. 1993. Higher level writing skills. New Delhi: Arya Book Depot.
Ghosh, R. et al. 1978. A course in written English. New Delhi: NCERT
Moula, S. 1993. Communication skill: A practical approach. New Delhi: Frank Brothers
Nwokoreze, U. 1990. Note-taking. English Teaching Forum, 28, 2, pp.