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Taking notes...

I'm curious (or nosy?): how do you take notes for your classes? What's the norm at your program? any suggestions, for those of us who can't read our own handwriting?

I'm deeply fascinated by what seems to be program-centric differences. At SUNY Buffalo, it seems that everyone-and-their-mother had a recorder. I once sat in on a comp lit course and counted NINE recorders propped up around the table.   At my own unnamed, Ugg-wearing, palm-tree-infested program, most students seem to go with the old-fashioned method of pen-and-paper...with a few of us typing (slightly guiltily) on our laptops.

Personally, I've yet to figure out a method that works well for me. As an undergrad, our seminar classes only had final papers (if we had tests, they were a joke, existant only to fulfill university requirements)...so my notes were essentially a space to jolt down "interesting ideas" or try out thoughts before I jump into the discussion. In classes with actual tests, my professor provided meticulous outlines from which I can structure his class comments. Here, I have seminar classes which (mysteriously to me) entail some sort of test at the end...but I'm unsure what sort of information I'm supposed to be gathering in preparation for it.

I also have an awful habit of taking the wrong notebooks to class (or forgetting my notebooks altogether, which is why I prefer the laptop)...and end up writing my notes on random sheet of (borrowed) paper, or the back of class handouts.


( 50 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 4th, 2008 05:55 am (UTC)
I take notes in a notebook for a multitude of reasons. One of my classes requires response papers, so I can flip back through my notes to see what sort of points were important when considering what to write about. That said, when I take notes, I do keep in mind the possibility of collecting thoughts for a seminar paper. I'm still, however, in the mode of writing a lot of information down. A lot of my classmates, I've found, take less copious notes, jotting things down here and there. I've always been one for a bit of overkill, though. Most importantly, the physical process of taking notes helps keep me awake, which is important during days when I leave the apartment at 6am and don't get back until 11pm.
Nov. 4th, 2008 06:47 am (UTC)
I still don't know how you manage. Whatever it is that you're on, ship some my way.

I'm also trying to figure out just how much note-taking is helpful. At some point, if I'm trying to record every word, I begin to miss the overall argument. But as you and others have noted, the prime function of notes (one function, at least) is to help clarify (or simply note) the lecture at that moment, rather than preserve for posterioty.

I know I shouldn't, but I always feel self-conscious when the rest of my classmates are faithfully jolting down notes, and I'm the only one with an idle pen or silent laptop.
(no subject) - perihelia - Nov. 4th, 2008 02:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 4th, 2008 05:55 am (UTC)
I don't get recorders. Does anyone actually listen to lecture again?? Jesus, I can barely watch a movie again, much less a seminar discussion.

I just use pen and paper, all on the same notepad, and rip it out and file it later on (according to class and ordered by date). Of course I more or less never look at them again which is why my notes have been steadily declining since 9th grade. Still it helps me think sometimes to try to structure what's going on. And sometimes I like to plan out my responses/questions so I can find the most logical route to the center without forgetting anything.
Nov. 4th, 2008 06:34 am (UTC)
Actually, my roommate in Athens (she was from Berkeley) DID listen to her class recordings again before midterms and finals. She took meticulous notes on top of it all. Maybe that's why she ended up as a Rhode scholar...

anyways, when I did record lectures, it was mostly for insurance. Just in case my professor said something interesting, that I didn't quite follow the first time. I don't think I've ever gone back to listen to them, but it does come in handy when someone misses class and needs to be caught up...

And at SUNY Buffalo, this practice made sense. Their lectures were intriguing, but dense. I definitely struggled to keep up in class...and wouldn't have minded going back over a lecture (particularly if the topic pertains to a paper) to get a better grasp on things.
Nov. 4th, 2008 06:00 am (UTC)
I am a mechanical-pencil-and-notebook girl, myself! I can't do the whole notes-on-computer thing, and I can't even imagine a voice recorder. I couldn't pay attention to that! I work much better if I am physically involved in the note-taking, actually writing things down or holding a pencil in hand.

I have a system of stars, dashes, arrows and bullet points that helps me to separate out movements in conversations or different discussions about articles (that sounds really crazy, but I was taught it in 8th grade and I've been doing it ever since!), so if I need to return to things I thought were interesting about an article or a specific topic that we discussed, I can usually find it underlined with a squiggly line and all the info I will need will be below it. I'm not a crazy-meticulous note taker...I will take a lot of notes if something really interests me, but otherwise will just kind of note the general topic and let it rest at that. I'll usually do two notebook pages/class, if that gives an idea.

I don't really go back over my notes or anything after class unless I want to connect them to something later, so they really serve me as more of an aide to help me make connections during class and to help keep me actively involved in the conversation. I've done the wrong notebook thing this semester, and just ripped the pages out once I got home and stapled/taped them into my correct notebook - not the perfect situation, but it's all there chronologically in case I need to go back and look.

I'm interested to see what everyone else does! Good question.
Nov. 4th, 2008 06:50 am (UTC)
When I did/do take pencil-and-notebook notes, it was largely a series of words, phrases, random arrows, circles, odd symbols stolen from my math and logic classes. This was in part due to my awful handwriting...but also because it seems more likely to jog my recollection.
(no subject) - perihelia - Nov. 4th, 2008 02:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - e_k_p - Nov. 4th, 2008 04:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 4th, 2008 06:06 am (UTC)
I use pen and paper too. Most people in my classes do as well - apparently us English grads are old-fashioned:) If I had a lighter laptop that was more mobile, I could potentially consider taking my laptop to class. However, I'm a really, really loud typer so it may not be the most considerate thing in a small class setting.

My undergrad institution had a rule in the English dept. that each course had to have a final exam, worth at least 25%, so it forced me to take good notes and actually pay attention to class. Now that I'm here and exams are a thing of the past, I've gotten quite lazy with notes (sometimes I come home to find random words scribbled down, where I just can't figure out their significance). Perhaps I can follow rymanes' route to planning out my responses more carefully in class...

I have never ever seen anyone record their lectures though.
Nov. 4th, 2008 06:41 am (UTC)
"I use pen and paper too. Most people in my classes do as well - apparently us English grads are old-fashioned"

I must ask--do you have lovely handwriting? (Saunders was just flaunting hers. It looks like 18th century script. Since mine is completely illegible, I'm horribly jealous. Though in my defense, I have a injury on my writing hand that makes holding a pen for an extended period quite difficult)

I do have a 3-lb laptop, which I bring everywhere. I suspect that my writing will enthrophy to the point where I can no longer decipher a grocery list...

"sometimes I come home to find random words scribbled down, where I just can't figure out their significance"

Me too! It makes me anxious. I feel as though I stumbled across a promising idea...then promptly forgot it :)
(no subject) - perihelia - Nov. 4th, 2008 02:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dottiemeister - Nov. 4th, 2008 02:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - circumfession - Nov. 4th, 2008 05:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - decantering - Nov. 4th, 2008 02:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - circumfession - Nov. 4th, 2008 05:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kello24841 - Nov. 4th, 2008 05:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - circumfession - Nov. 4th, 2008 07:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kello24841 - Nov. 4th, 2008 09:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - circumfession - Nov. 5th, 2008 09:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rokikurama - Nov. 8th, 2008 12:34 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - decantering - Nov. 4th, 2008 02:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - circumfession - Nov. 4th, 2008 05:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - decantering - Nov. 4th, 2008 06:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - circumfession - Nov. 5th, 2008 09:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 4th, 2008 06:14 am (UTC)
I am also guilty of writing notes on random sheets of paper. Handouts are where most of my notes get scribbled in margins.

I think I'm particularly bad at formal note taking, and I usually only jot down snippets of phrases and whatnot. Occasionally (when there's time!), I will type up outline notes on a reading and then jot down the seminar notes on my printed ones. I think that actually works rather well, because it saves on the amount of stuff I have to write down while in class.
Nov. 4th, 2008 06:36 am (UTC)
I feel better. Unfortunately, looking over my "notes"...they're not attached to the handouts for the correct days...or sometimes, even the correct classes. *sighs* Damn. I need to get a handle on organization.
Nov. 4th, 2008 06:21 am (UTC)
I use a pen and notepad myself. I don't usually go back and look at the notes (unless I had a good paper idea I jotted down in the margins), but I find the act of taking notes helps me absorb the seminar discussion. The act of writing something down imprints it in my memory in a way that listening does not do for me.
Nov. 4th, 2008 06:37 am (UTC)
"but I find the act of taking notes helps me absorb the seminar discussion."

I completely agree. (the same goes for reading: by taking notes, if only in the margins and taking the time to bookmark notable passages, I force myself to slow down and reflect on what I just covered).
Nov. 4th, 2008 07:30 am (UTC)
I use the pen and paper, too.
In survey courses where anthologies were in use, I would sometimes just write important notes or thoughts in the margins next to the passages they pertained to.
I solve the wrong notebook grabbing problem by having one 1 1/2" binder with loosleaf and a few dividers. Just have a 50 sheet packet in there to start with and add as necessary later. To cut down on the weight of it (if your notes are piling up), I'd suggest adopting some sort of filing system as mentioned in an above comment. That also assures that you don't lose an entire term's notes if your binder disappears.
Nov. 4th, 2008 05:17 pm (UTC)
That's a very wise idea. I actually have a filing cabinet. (I just can't find anything in it!)
Nov. 4th, 2008 01:02 pm (UTC)
I'm also for the mechanical pencil and notebook. I just have one little notebook that I keep everything in. I have notes for all my classes, application stuff, my to-do lists, paper planning, abstract outlines, the whole of my academic life is in that thing. I shudder to think what would happen if I lost it. Then again, I don't really go back to my notes except to check details or paper ideas I jotted down during class.
I also take notes much less than others in my classes. I always worry that I'm missing something, but I suspect I'm just more minimalast.
Nov. 4th, 2008 05:23 pm (UTC)
"I just have one little notebook that I keep everything in. I have notes for all my classes, application stuff, my to-do lists, paper planning, abstract outlines, the whole of my academic life is in that thing. I shudder to think what would happen if I lost it."

I have an ipod touch, which I also use for everything. I'd....cry, I think...if it's lost or erased.
Nov. 4th, 2008 01:10 pm (UTC)
Once again, I'm forced to confront my own crazy rituals and obsessive compulsive habits. Thanks, Kat ;-P
I take *extensive* notes, using the old fashioned paper-n-pen method. And by extensive I mean 5 pages front and back per 1 hr. seminar. Occasionally, when the prof says something particularly apt/funny/insightful/genius, I will write it down verbatim. If there was a test (which was rare), I would type up my notes as a way of studying--it helps me remember a lot better than just reading then can. Overall, I'm trying to stop my crazy note taking because I find it hinders my ability to really *engage* and participate with the class. Every class I've taken with grad students in it I was shocked to see how little notes they took. The guy next to me in one grad class just wrote maybe 3-4 key words REALLY BIG on his notebook... and that's it. I could never figure out how that worked for him (I ended up w/ a better grade than him on the final paper... so... not bragging or anything, but maybe it's the notes?). Also, my handwriting is atrocious, and becomes super-atrocious when I'm writing fast, so if I have the time (or I'm trying to procrastinate) I will re-hand-write my notes. And at the end of the semester it all gets filed away in my file cabinet. I rarely write on my handouts, but I write the date on the top of the handout and then "see notes".
Laptops were kind of taboo at my school (at least in the humanities), so no one in any english or art history classes used one. And my history professor yelled at people using laptops in a lecture once... it was intense.
As for recorders, I've taken grad level english *and* art history classes at my alma mater, and only the art history kids used recorders. Like, they *all* used them. But no one in english did... it was very peculiar. Maybe because art history is more about historical facts, and english is more about ideas?
I would use a recorder if everyone else did. But again, I'm afraid that I would become too dependent on it.
Nov. 8th, 2008 05:44 am (UTC)
*grins* I only aim to please.

Actually, reading your post is a little scary, because I follow many of the same methods.

"If there was a test (which was rare), I would type up my notes as a way of studying--it helps me remember a lot better than just reading then can."

I can one-up you on this one. I re-type the entire semester's worth of notes as a long study guide (often 20-40 pages worth, all typed by hand...every single quote. It helps me remember them). Then I go through the study guide again, organize and distill it down to the most salient points (usually 5-10 pages). Finally, I bold the most important points...and go through it until I can "recite" the study guide back, verbatium. I once had a teacher essay several essay questions for this test. He would give us 10-12 in advance, of which he'd pick 5-6, and we'd write on 3 (I think). I discarded the 2 topic that I disliked the most, wrote a full essay for every remaining question, outlined my essays, MEMORIZED them...and brought in the outlines (in my head) into the final.

Tests were my bread-and-butter. I'd take risks on papers only because I knew that if I screwed up badly on those, I can make up the points with my test scores.

Looking back...I scare myself.
Nov. 4th, 2008 05:42 pm (UTC)
Still an undergrad, but have been a part of a few grad courses, so of course take this with all due skepticism.

Laptops are horribly distracting. It's difficult to keep up when writing by hand. It's difficult to re-listen to lectures you've recorded.

I type MUCH faster than I write, so my notes are much more thorough on a laptop. However, it's harder to do in a smaller class because 1) it's distracting; 2) I'm more often asked to participate, and it's hard to do when I'm busy typing things and figuring out how to format them so it'll make the most sense later. (And never mind when you actually have the internet turned on and accessible. Biggest note-killer right there. :D)

I write pretty fast and with decent legibility (though I am left-handed, and always leave with a huge smudge on my hand), but no matter how quickly I write I find I eventually lag a point or two behind discussion. Handwritten notes have the benefit of being far more flexible than typed notes; I can't tell you how many times a version of the Merovingian genealogy has popped up on the blackboard and I've suddenly needed to set aside my computer and get out a piece of paper anyway. This is not even to mention that I end up with 4+ pages of notes per hour of discussion.

Never used a tape recorder because I just can't imagine spending that much time with the text of what the professor said. Besides, asking questions to clarify what I thought you remembered from the day before is what helps me retain what information I didn't write down quite right. Most of the professors I've worked with are really wary of recorders, anyway, citing privacy issues.

The best combination for me is a little from column A and a little from column B. *My* best solution is to invest in a tablet computer: that way I can hand-write my notes, but also jot down pictures, and if it turns out to be a lecture where I'm struggling to keep up, I can just flip the screen and go to typing.


That was really long for an undergrad's experience. :) The grad English course I took (Old English) involved 4 laptop-users (myself included), 6 pen & paper note-takers, 2 who seemed to write only on class handouts and 3 people who appeared never to take any notes at all. The professor did not allow voice recorders, so I am not sure how many would have used that option.

I would say it basically appeared that people used what they had learned worked for them. I actually talked to one of the p&p people about their experience, and they said that hand-writing notes allowed for her to absorb the material much better, and the portability allowed her to take it with her whenever she wanted a change of study venue. She took the time to digitize them (not always just typing; if the situation demanded, she scanned or otherwise found a way to reproduce the pictures and other scribbles) and then recycle the paper they were written on. Sounded pretty clever to me!
Nov. 4th, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC)
I heart your icon. Now I will never again look at a medieval manuscript without imagining the figures LOL-speaking.
(no subject) - saecla_vincere - Nov. 4th, 2008 10:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 4th, 2008 08:28 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty good at taking notes. Non-spiral bound composition notebooks and black Pilot Precise V5 extra fine pens. I don't divide up the notebooks, I just write straight through with a line showing divisions between classes. I'll write down more or less everything important the professor says, but I rarely do it verbatim. I editorialize and often swear and make funny little connections to other things that inevitably lead to strange looks when people ask to borrow my notes. I easily take the most in all three of my grad classes, filling page after page after page. Mostly I take so many because it helps reinforce the ideas and concepts. I never ever read them again. I just remember.

I've tried taking my laptop to class for notes, but I get embarrassed because it seems like no one else has them. I'm a much quicker typer, but I guess it can be loud and weird, and I'm always wondering if the professor is wondering if I'm actually paying attention. Also, finding convenient outlets can be a pain.
Nov. 4th, 2008 09:06 pm (UTC)
It's funny you should mention black Pilot Precise V5 extra fine pens, because it happens to be my opinion that these are the BEST. PENS. EVER! They're my official List-Making Pens :-)
(no subject) - feraldolce - Nov. 4th, 2008 09:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - negcap - Nov. 5th, 2008 03:26 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kello24841 - Nov. 5th, 2008 03:45 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - negcap - Nov. 5th, 2008 04:43 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - circumfession - Nov. 5th, 2008 07:35 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - saunders - Nov. 6th, 2008 03:14 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - circumfession - Nov. 8th, 2008 04:40 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - circumfession - Nov. 5th, 2008 09:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 8th, 2008 03:46 am (UTC)
i'm at comp lit at suny stony brook and we do it the old-fashioned way, recorders are lazy imo, sorry
Nov. 8th, 2008 04:40 am (UTC)
Re: recorders???
To each, her own. Calling it "lazy" is a bit narrow-minded, I think. Most of the students with recorders also take notes. I do use both (all three methods, actually) and I certainly do not consider myself lazy.
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