The single skill that helps most in note taking is the ability to leave out what you already know

February 16, 2017 (967)

in Note Taking

This Note Taking skill might sound simple but it needs practice. Whether you are attending a lecture or studying a text book, the tendency to note down everything means that you have not learned to give relative importance to stuff. As a result, you are so busy writing that you miss the opportunity to pause and ponder over what you have learnt. It often happens in a lecture. In case of text book, you end up making a copy of the text book in your notes that makes them worthless.

Being a Software developer, I ended up reading lots of product manuals and software programming books. At first, I used to make notes on anything I read. They were still useful because I wrote them in my own words rather than copying the style of the author. But they were not concise. It’s only after reading scores of books that I realized the power of filtering out what I don’t want.

Here’s the important skill that I have learned over the years. Whenever I read something new from a text book, it falls into the following 5 categories:

  1. It’s something that I already know. Obviously, this is not to be noted down.
  2. It’s something that I know but is being presented in another way. The tendency is to note this down. This should be avoided. Spend some time pondering instead to reinforce what you already know.
  3. It’s something new that I’m learning for the first time but I’m not likely to forget this because it’s too simple and derives from my existing knowledge. Again, this is something not to be noted down but worth pondering then and there.
  4. It’s something new and I will forget it if I don’t note it down.
  5. It’s something new but I don’t think it’s relevant to the subject I’m studying. The author or the lecturer seems to be digressing.


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You see my point? The only thing worth noting is described in Point 4 above. It can easily be seen how concise your notes will become if you were to develop this skill to identify and note down only what matters.

There is another aspect to making effective and useful notes

Putting them in a sequence that is different from the author. But this is a subject of another post that I will write later.