Note Taking Methods: 5 Effective Strategies

Note taking might not seem like a skill worth investing your time in. Whatever system you’ve been working with your whole life has gotten you this far. Except, if you’re like most people, you probably never decided on a note taking strategy. Most people unconsciously presume there is only one way of taking notes. Thus, they fail to imagine ways their own strategies might be improved, as well as what the benefits of improvement might be.

There are ways of improving your note taking. In this article, we’ll walk you through some tried and true methods for recording and organizing information to save you time and headache down the road.

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Note Taking Methods

Note taking is fundamental to just about any work you’re likely to do. Note taking is a way of accurately and efficiently recording information. Further, effective note taking methods help avoid excessive information and clearly index it for future use. You’ll also want to ensure you can both take notes and stay present in the conversation.

This all asks a lot of your notes, and it’s worth looking at how other people achieve these objectives. Read on for some of the best note taking ideas and note taking tips.

Cornell Note Taking Method

One classic method of storing information is the Cornell note taking method. Cornell notes were formalized in the 1940s by Cornell education professor Dr. Walter Pauk. This strategy consists of dividing your paper into three sections (not including the title), as illustrated in the Cornell notes example below.

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One advantage of this form of note taking is the way it clearly organizes information for future reference. Another is that it actually helps you absorb information by linking the keywords and main points, and by forcing you to summarize in your own words at the bottom. Further, it makes for easy flash cards by simply covering up one of the rows.

Use the table above as a Cornell notes template if you like!

Outline Method of Note Taking

Another method of note taking, which you are probably familiar with in some form, is the Outline method of note taking. The outline method essentially uses bullets or some similar marking and indentation system to group ideas in a logical sequence. We’ve illustrated this below.

    • Main Topic 1
      • Subtopic A
        • Key Point i
        • Key Point ii
        • Key Point iii
      • Subtopic B
        • Key Point i
        • Key Point ii
    • Main Topic 2

This note taking method works extremely well for logically arranged arguments, especially in text form. Hence, this form is a common way of taking notes on reading. However, there are some limits to this method. It’s not very well suited to lectures with quantifiable information, or else lectures that don’t have a logical structure. That’s why it can be useful to familiarize yourself with multiple note taking methods, so you are prepared for any and all situations!

Charting Method

The physical organization of our notes often makes them unusable – even if accurately recording the information. The Charting method of note taking is designed to use clear and geometric spatial arrangements of ideas as a way of organizing related information. Clear rows and tables organize different ideas and facts. Many people gravitate toward this method for its visual cleanness and its ease of indexing. That said, this method does not work very well for live classes and lectures. It is, however, very effective for comparing issues or arguments side-by-side.

Charting Note Taking Method

Mapping Method

Some of the differences between note taking methods come down to personal preference and cognitive style. For instance, the Mapping method of note taking has some similarities to the Charting method. However, it relies on a more plant-like structure for visually organizing the information, using circles, branches, and stems. This can be a powerful format for using spatial arrangement to convey the relationships between clusters of ideas.

Mapping Note Taking Method

Sentence Method

Some lectures involve a rapid delivery of complex information – too much for you to catch and record all the relevant facts. When you are taking notes on lectures like this, you’ll notice that certain sentences jump out at you. These often contain a key idea or topic. The Sentence method of note taking, designed for rapid and dense lectures, simply consists of recording (more or less) whole sentences that contain important ideas. After the lecture, you can revisit your list of sentences and arrange them in order of importance.

Best Note Taking App

As with virtually every dimension of productivity, there are many different apps available for note taking. These vary in terms of cross-platform accessibility, the number of features for arranging your notes, the aesthetic/user experience, and cost. Here we’ll offer you the two best note taking apps – one paid, and one free.

The Best Paid Note Taking App

Evernote has long claimed the title of best note taking app for iPad, iPhone, and more – and justifiably so. It offers a plethora of useful features for customizing your notes. You can type, use handwriting, upload pictures, and more. It also offers unparalleled cross-platform compatibility, as well as instant syncing reliability and ease of access. The only downside is the cost required to unlock the premium features, but there is a free version of the app that accomplishes much of what most people will require from a note taking app.

The Best Free Note Taking App

The best note taking app available for free is Microsoft OneNote. OneNote offers most of the features of Evernote for free, and even allows the ability to turn images (of your handwritten notes, for example) into digital text. The only downside to OneNote is that it’s occasionally laggy, and doesn’t match Evernote in the ability to share between platforms & devices.

Note Taking in Consulting Examples

If you’re an aspiring consultant, how you take notes on the job is likely to differ from how you take notes as a student. Consider the work life of a consultant. You are balancing multiple meetings per day with a great deal of your own work in-between. Plus, you’re working long hours. In sum: you have a lot of information, and a large variety of it too. All of this will start to blend together at the end of a long day.

While the note taking methods you’re likely to use may vary with each meeting, there are certain best practices you can implement now. In just about any meeting you attend, you’ll want to know several pieces of information:

  1. The names/titles of all people present & mentioned
  2. The date & time
  3. Any important statistics, benchmarks, or objectives discussed
  4. The key conclusions or implications of important parts of the discussion
  5. Any key decisions reached during the meeting
  6. Any further action items required at the end of the meeting

One thing to keep in mind when considering note taking methods in consulting is that it’s critical to stay engaged and offer your perspective during meetings. Many junior analysts don’t realize that their managers or directors want to hear from them. If you selectively make a point during the discussion, you can both advance the discussion and build your reputation as a thought leader. But to do that, you can’t lose yourself in taking notes of everything that is said. You have to strike a balance between taking notes and staying present in the meeting.

Finally, junior consultants are often asked to send notes to the team summarizing a meeting. Yes, being comprehensive in this task is important. But, sending a long note with irrelevant or extraneous information is generally not helpful. A better approach is to organize your summary note around key conclusions and implications of the meeting. Do that, and you’re well on the way to rockstar consultant status!


Working with insufficient note taking methods is like a driver working with a faulty steering wheel. It’s not just enough to presume that you know how to take notes because you’re a good student. If you’ve never intentionally tried to improve your note taking, then you might see a serious boost to your effectiveness in moving work forward by implementing some or all of the above note taking methods.


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Filed Under: Consulting skills