23 Apr 2016

When attending a talk, seminar or presentation. Learning is greatly influenced by taking notes. Though some people prefer taking digital notes, I have always found that the scratch of pen on paper is necessary for me to gain something from the talk that I am attending.

There are various mechanisms of note taking such as outlining, making mind maps etc. In the piece I try to capture some of the means that I have found to be effective in note taking.

What to write

Note taking is a race against time. Usually the presenter can speak much faster than one can write and as such it is very difficult to write down everything that is said. Further for the notes to be of any use, they need to provide a summary, if they replicated the full talk, it would be a transcript which is not of much use. Thus what you write is actually very important. Some ideas are:

  • Insights rather than words
  • Page or slide numbers, to recall where that information or insight struck you
  • Questions that arise as the talk progresses with the possibility that they are addressed later in the talk.

Stylistic implements

One has quite a few stylistic elements that can be used in order to make note taking fast but memorable at the same time such that different pieces of information are categorized and easily discernible while reviewing the notes. Some such elements are:

  • Font Styles
    • All Caps
    • italics
    • printing
    • Bold
    • underlining
    • normal writing
  • Size: Usually only 3 sizes are easily distinguishable
    • Really Large
    • Normal
    • Tiny
  • Bullet forms: If items are noted as bullet points, one can use various bullet forms to indicate different categories of information
    • ”-“ the simple hyphen
    • “o” the filled and empty circle
    • ”!” the exclamation mark, for some surprising result
    • ”?” The question mark, for something that is not credible or leaves queries
  • Linkages: The best notes usually link some elements that have been noted to others and in these cases, drawing lines between the concepts can be an interesting way of connecting them. Here also we have multiple options:
    • straight line with arrow
    • straight line without arrow
    • dashed line
    • squiggly line
  • Highlights: Some portion of the notes can be highlighted by drawing around the information. The possibilities here are:
    • Ellipse/Circle
    • Box
    • Unclosed Box
    • Cloud
    • Rays, which can be combined with the boxes
  • Finally one can also use drawings that can quickly be executed while listening to the talk, some of the options here are:
    • Small house
    • stick figure
    • Square with squiggles in it representing a document
    • spiral
    • triangle facing up, down, left or right
    • tape figure, two small circles joined by a line at the top.

These aesthetics can also be combined