During the Lecture
1. Listen carefully to the introduction of the lecture. Copy what's written on the whiteboard or overhead
projector. Every professor organizes each lecture into some sort of outline, even if it's implicit and loosely
followed. By knowing this outline, you will be better prepared to anticipate what notes you will need to take
2. Take notes in outline format. Underneath section headings, write down ideas in bullet form and
supplementary ideas with indented sub-bullets. This is much better than just writing down everything as a
Professors are not always organized about following main points with sub-points, so keep in mind that
you may have to re-organize your notes after the lecture. This is why it may be advantageous to take
notes with a laptop, as editing becomes seamless.
Your first priority should be grasping the lecture content and writing it down -- never let organization
compromise your information acquisition.
3. Use abbreviations and skip unimportant words to take notes efficiently. Only record the important
words that you need to get the idea of the point made. Skip words like "the" and "a" that do not convey
additional meaning to the lecture content. Create abbreviations to help you write things down quickly, such
as drawing arrows for increase/decrease or to show causation, and especially for terms used over and
over again (e.g., IR for international relations).
Remember: your goal is to understand what the professor is saying, not to try to
record exactly everything he or she says.
4. Recognize main ideas by signal words that indicate something important is to follow. Your
instructor is not going to send up a rocket when he/she states an important new idea or gives an example,
but she will use signals to telegraph what she is doing. Every good speaker does it, and you should expect
to receive these signals. Examples include:
There are three reasons why...