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Note Taking and Paraphrasing - Skills Guide

Note Taking

What is note taking?

Note taking is when you create your own version of someone else's work to help you in your studies.  It can take lots of different forms - you might paraphrase what someone else has said, write a list of bullet points, or create a mind map.

Why do I need to learn how to take notes?

Note taking is a skill that you will use again and again during your studies.  Taking good notes is important whenever you encounter something in your studies that you need to remember or refer back to.  You will use your note taking skills when you are reading, attending lectures, and when watching pre-recorded content.  Each of these scenarios will require slightly different note taking techniques and as you progress with your studies you will learn what works best for you.  Good note taking will allow you to easily find your notes again and understand what they relate to.

How do I take notes?

When you are reading, you should finish each sentence or paragraph before taking notes. This will help you to better understand the point being made. This method is useful as it enables you to paraphrase the reading where appropriate and to better refine the notes that you take.

If, when note taking, you spot a word that you don't understand, define the word using an online dictionary and write out the word and its definition into your notes. Students at the University of Derby have access to the Oxford English Dictionary online database.

Note taking gets better the more you do it. You will develop your own system over time but remember to make sure you know what your notes are about (for example, if you take notes in a lecture, make sure you add the date, lecture title and lecturer name). And if you take notes on material you are reading, for example a book or Journal article, add a citation so you know where you read it. This will help translating your notes into academic writing.

Here are two examples of note taking methods that you can try:

  • Use a table with four columns headed: Date, Subject, Note, Citation.  This will help you to keep your notes in context, to organise them efficiently and to find the original source easily if you need to.  You can find a blank template table and a completed example in the Resources section of this page.
  • Create a mind map by writing the subject of your notes in the middle of a blank piece of paper.  Then start adding words around it using dotted lines to connect words that link to other words.  Then re-do your mind map on a fresh piece of paper, this time putting the words that link to each other close together.   Put 'bigger' subject headings closer to the middle.  So, for example, a calculator, pens, pencils are stationery. So, the word closest to the middle is stationery and the other words follow on from that.  You can find an example mindmap in the Resources section of this page.

If you would like to practice taking notes, why not try reading one of our Skills Guides and taking notes on the information there.  You'll find links to other resources like videos and podcasts on all of our guides which you can also use for note taking practice.  If you want to practice taking notes on published academic work, you can explore freely available Open Access resources.