Loyola University Chicago Libraries

Library Workshops: Techniques for Taking Useful, Organized Notes

How to Fill a Notebook: Techniques for Taking Useful, Organized Notes

The Workshop --

Research indicates that learning is most effective when notes are written by hand.  Discover strategies for creating a notebook that is well organized and notes that will help you succeed academically by attending this workshop.  Questions may be sent to Jane Currie (jcurrie@luc.edu).

View the slides used during the workshop

Open a recording of the workshop

The Research

Researchers have found that we learn more from taking notes when we write them by hand than when we use a laptop.

Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer conducted three studies in which they collected these findings.  They published their research in an academic journal, Psychological Science, in 2014.  Pam Mueller is at Princeton University; Daniel Oppenheimer is at UCLA.

A Scientific American summary of their research received lots of attention.  The article published by Mueller and Oppenheimer is available here.

Your Notes - Content

Your notes should include:

Pertinent, new information – Identify what’s pertinent through reviewing summary or objectives listed in the syllabus, presented at the beginning of the lecture, or indicated in the reading’s introduction; existing knowledge need not be written down

Questions – Note your questions about things not understood, gaps in the content that need to be filled in, or content that seems to be inaccurate, incomplete, or otherwise problematic

Connections – Note relationships between current content and that learned earlier or elsewhere

Ideas – Note topics that might be developed into an upcoming project, paper, or other activity

Clues – Note statements or inferences regarding upcoming assignments or exams as well as how this content may be applied later

Illustrations – Note examples, stories, or visual cues that might aid in retention and recall

Your Notes - Organization

To make your notes efficient, consider:

Dating – So that you can refer back to content covered during a particular period of time

Skipping lines – To allow more content to be added later

Leaving wide margins – Also to allow more content to be added later

Labeling – To categorize content

Highlighting, underlining, emboldening – To make key concepts stand out

Indexing – To make it easier to locate notes by topic later (save space for index pages at the front or back of a notebook; number pages in the notebook as you fill them)

Your Notes - Reviewing

Strategically review your notes:

Within one day of class – Return to your notes and identify things you missed and questions you need to ask

With a classmate – Look for someone who is also taking careful notes; suggest that you compare notes from time to time so that you can contrast what you thought was important with what s/he did (note that this can also become someone you can ask for notes should you ever need to miss class)

Before the next class – Anticipate what will be covered by reviewing content leading up to the current class period

When the information becomes pertinent again – Such as before starting a class with that one as a prerequisite, when studying for a comprehensive exam, when starting a new research project related to the content covered in the notes

The Cornell Method

Walter Pauk, a professor of education at Cornell University, developed the Cornell Method for note taking in the 1950s.  Subsequent research has documented its efficacy when students need to recall content from their notes at a later date.

In the Cornell Method the page is divided into sections:


  • Topic (obtained from reading’s title or lecture topic as presented in syllabus or by the lecturer)
  • Date
  • Name of the presenter (book/article title and author, lecturer’s name if class includes more than one)


  • This section is completed in class or as you read (with any gaps filled in later)
  • Remember the content-related concepts discussed earlier
  • Remember the strategies mentioned earlier such as leaving space for later and noting questions/connections/ideas

Cue Column

  • This section is completed after class or after the reading assignment is finished
  • Write the main ideas and keywords that are in the notes section of that page


  • This section is also completed after class or after the reading assignment is finished
  • Use writing this as a test of your comprehension; if you can draw together what was covered in an inclusive and accurate summary then you understand the content
  • Note how these summaries could be used to generate the index mentioned earlier

The advantages of the Cornell Method really become apparent when you need to study your notes.

When studying later, spend most of your time reading the cue columns and summaries; look to the notes only when your memory fails you such that the cue column and/or summary content do not make sense.

Test yourself: Cover the notes and turn the cue column content into questions; ask yourself whether you can recreate the notes only through cue column prompts.

Learn More

The library collection includes books that detail note taking strategies generally.  The first title listed below is one such book.  Others, such as the second listed book, are subject specific.  A librarian can help you find these and other titles.

Dillon, Ann G. Making Connections: Study Skills, Reading, and Writing. Australia: Thomson Wadsworth, 2007.

Freeman, Richard P. J. Study Skills for Psychology: Succeeding in Your Degree. London: Sage Publications, 2006.

Subject Librarian

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Jane Currie
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