How to Take Notes in 5 Steps (Including Helpful Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 26, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many industries have roles that require professionals to take notes for various reasons. Note-taking can be formal, such as taking meeting minutes, or informal, such as writing thoughts and ideas to share at a future meeting. If you're in a role that requires you to take notes, you can benefit from learning more about effective note-taking strategies. In this article, we explain how to take notes, discuss why note-taking is important, provide tips, share when the right time to take notes is, and explore some moments when it's best not to take notes.

How to take notes

It's important to learn how to take notes so you can improve the quality of your notes, which can help you excel in your role. There are various ways you can take notes. For example, if another professional might read your notes, it's important to organize them and ensure they're legible. Conversely, if they're private notes, you can choose a method that's efficient for you. Consider following these five simple steps to learn how to take notes:

1. Title your notes

You can start by titling your page or section of the page with the date and subject of your meeting, conference, conversation, or presentation. For example, you might title your notes on a meeting, January 2022 Team Meeting. Taking this easy step can help you quickly find the information you're looking for at a later time.

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2. Use formatting

Formatting is an excellent strategy for organizing information in a way that's easy to understand and reference. Consider using bullet points and other formatting tools such as numbers, indentations, and dashes to organize your page for easy reference. For example, you might create a bullet list for each topic you discuss in a meeting.

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3. Adopt a shorthand

Instead of writing entire sentences, only write as much information as you require when reviewing your notes. You can use shorthand to condense sentences into a few keywords. For example, instead of writing Our goal is to provide our clients with results each Friday, you might write Goal: give results to clients each Friday. When you take fewer notes, it allows you to dedicate more time to listening to the speaker.

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4. Give context

Provide context for your notes to understand the purpose of what you wrote. If you have a shortlist of items, ensure that you title the list. For example, you might title the list Goals for February 2022 and then list the goals beneath this heading.

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5. Highlight the most important information

Highlight or flag key information such as due dates, contact information, or important instructions. You can also highlight, underline, or circle key information. For example, if you're giving a presentation or preparing for an interview, you might highlight key sections so you're able to find specific information quickly.

Read more: How to Add Notes to Powerpoint Slides in 4 Simple Steps

Why is note-taking important?

Taking notes can be a helpful tool for recording, remembering, and referencing important information. Writing ideas, instructions, or other information that can help you excel in your role is an important skill to use and develop in your career. Here are a few benefits of taking organized notes:

  • It's easier to remember important information. Writing information can help you remember and recall it later. For example, if you take notes to prepare for a meeting, you're more likely to remember the information, which might help you give a strong presentation.

  • Note-taking can help you stay focused. It's easy to think about other projects or tasks during a meeting or presentation. Taking notes can help you stay focused and thoroughly process the information.

  • You can better prepare ideas. Writing your thoughts and ideas ahead of a meeting can help you feel more confident and prepared. Even if you don't refer to your notes, it might be helpful to write them down so you can see and remember them.

  • You can create a shared record of a conversation. If you're meeting with another person or group, it's helpful for one person to take notes, so there's documentation of what everyone said. Sharing these notes with all attendees can make it more likely that work can progress because of the conversation.

  • You're able to refer to previous information. Taking notes can also be helpful when it's helpful to refer to specific data points or other pieces of information. It's especially useful when you take notes to prepare for a meeting or interview.

  • You get to organize your thoughts. Taking notes allows you to edit, elaborate on, and update information about important tasks, projects, and relationships. Taking notes can help you arrange your thoughts in a way that's easy to understand.

Read more: Active Listening Skills: A Key to Effective Communication in the Workplace

Note-taking tips

Here are some tips you can use to help you take notes:

  • Find which note-taking tools work best for you. There are countless note-taking tools you can try using, such as a laptop, a notebook, and pen, or even software and applications. Use different tools and see which one you prefer.

  • Try different strategies for note-taking. Taking notes is often subjective, as different people find different ways of note-taking more helpful than others. To find what works for you, try taking notes one way for a week and then change methods the following week and see which method is most effective.

  • Review your notes shortly after taking them. You're more likely to understand all the information in your notes if you read and revise them shortly afterward. For example, once a meeting ends, you might spend ten minutes reviewing your notes about the meeting.

  • Summarize notes when you share them with others. If you're sending your meeting notes to attendees in a follow-up e-mail, summarize them with key takeaways and next steps.

  • Organize your notes by colour. You can organize your notes using different coloured highlighters. For example, you might highlight all notes related to team-building in yellow, while you might highlight notes about determining goals in pink.

Read more: 7 Note-taking Apps You Can Consider Using (With Tips)

When is the right time to take notes?

While taking notes isn't appropriate in every setting, there are a few settings in which taking notes might be helpful, including, but not limited to:

  • Before interviews: Taking notes for common interview questions and questions you might like to ask your interviewer can be helpful, especially for phone interviews.

  • During conferences or presentations: Taking notes during presentations and conferences is useful when you might like to refer to thoughts or ideas that were impactful to you.

  • During conversations: If you have a call with a client or colleague, you might find it helpful to write information that builds relationships with them. For example, you might record their weekend plans, hobbies, birthdays, names of their pets or children, or other information they share that you want to remember.

  • During interviews: Aim to write key information you get from the interviewers, such as what they're looking for in a candidate and what it takes to succeed at the organization. Recall these details in your follow-up and thank you notes.

  • During meetings: Take notes of key due dates, next steps, people you might contact, statistics, and other pieces of information that might be helpful to your work. Often, sending a follow-up e-mail with your notes and key takeaways to the attendees after meetings showcases your listening and communication skills.

  • When ideas for issues, projects, or meetings come to mind: Throughout the day, you might think of ideas to resolve issues, items to bring up in your next meeting, or other thoughts. Write these ideas in your notes to remember them when it's essential.

Read more: How to Take Meeting Minutes: A Step-wise Approach

When is it best to avoid taking notes?

You might avoid taking notes if you have an important or sensitive meeting when face-to-face interaction is important. For example, if your supervisor calls you into a discussion about a serious topic, it may be beneficial to focus on active listening instead of note-taking. If you do this, you reduce the likelihood of distracting the speaker or others in the room.

It's also wise to be sensitive when taking notes during an interview. While it's important to take notes for later reference, it's also essential to show you're attentive through eye contact and body language. You can try to find a balance between writing notes and active listening during interviews. Be aware of the culture around computers at meetings. While some organizations accept and encourage computer use, others might prefer you use a notebook and pen instead.

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