Skills Hub

Tips for making notes

The important thing about taking notes from printed sources is your understanding of the material, so it is essential to write down what you understand in your own words. This does not mean re-writing the material in polished prose - notes are brief and informal. If you get into the habit of simply copying text directly you may not only fail to fully understand the material but you will also run the risk of committing plagiarism.


If you copy, quote or "cut and paste" text from a source into your own notes, make sure you make it clear to yourself that the text is not your own. If there is a distinctive phrase you want to quote directly it's helpful to record the bibliographic details straight away and the page number so that you don't have trouble finding it later. Make sure you know how to reference correctly. Your school will provide you with information about which referencing system to use and a guide may be included in your handbook. Once you know which system to use you can follow the referencing guides on Skills Hub.

Use highlighting or different font colours to distinguish your ideas from any text you cut and paste into your notes.

Before you can take notes from a printed source you must have gained some understanding of the material, although the process of taking concise notes can often help you to really get to grips with what is being said. Reading academic texts can be much less straightforward than reading a daily newspaper or a novel. There are a lot of ideas and information packed onto a page and you will usually have to read it more than once to understand it. The Skills Hub Guide to reading and noting provides some practical advice to help you make the most of your study time.

You may also want to make use of digital note-making tools for your studies. Tools such as OneNote and Evernote can be extremely useful and can enhance your notes in a number of different ways. Digital note-making tools allow you to:

  • Include different types of notes - typed, handwritten, multimedia content (image, video, audio), clipping content from web pages, and attached documents

  • Sync content between internet-connected devices so notes are available on all your devices - phone, tablet, laptop, desktop etc.

  • Easily edited and rearrange your notes

  • Search through your notes to quickly and easily find your content (often you are able to apply tags to your notes to make this process even easier)

  • Share content with others and easily collaborate


Useful symbols and abbreviations

Investigate if there are any conventional symbols and abbreviations used in your own subject.

You might want to make up your own private symbols/abbreviations for your notes. This can be helpful and save you time so long as you don't forget what they mean or use them in notes you want to share with other people who might not understand them.

In general you should avoid using abbreviations in formal written assignments. There are also Latin abbreviations commonly used in citation for referencing or in bibliographies. You might not choose to use these abbreviations yourself and you should check with your school for your recommended referencing style.

+plus, in addition to
>greater than/more than/better than
<smaller than/lesser than/worse than
=is the same as/is equal to

is not the same as
leads to/produces/causes
for example (from the Latin 'exempli gratia')
that is, that means (from the Latin 'id est''
etc.and the rest (from the Latin 'et cetera')
NBimportant, note this (from the Latin 'Nota Bene') (plural: pp.)
C1717th Century
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