There are two common English expressions using the word ‘notes’. We often say ‘to make notes’ or ‘to take notes’ but what’s the difference between the two?
The phrases are often used interchangeably but there is a slight difference between the two. We generally use ‘take notes’ for talking about when we write at the time something is happening, such as a lecture or an event. So we could say: “I took notes while he was speaking so I could look at them later.”
‘Make notes’ is usually used for talking about when we write information in a short form to organise our thoughts about reference material or something we are preparing for. For example: “I made notes about the information in my course book so I could write an essay.”
Today, we’re talking about ‘taking notes’. Taking notes is a very personal thing and varies from person to person, but there are some techniques we all have in common. It’s not possible to write down everything a person is saying as he or she is saying it. Very few people could type fast enough, and even if they could, they wouldn’t be listening properly if they were concentrating on typing.
The first thing to consider when taking notes is the layout. Make sure to leave plenty of space to add to notes after the event. You can either leave space between the lines you are writing on, or divide the page into two columns and only write on one side.
Make sure you get to the event early so you can get a seat where you can hear well. You’re not going to be able to take notes if you can’t hear what’s going on!
Next, think about what you are going to write. Write down just the most important words: dates, times, names and key words to describe feelings and actions. Don’t bother with I/you/he/she and ignore most of the prepositions. If it’s quicker to draw a picture, arrow or diagram, do that instead of writing the word.
You can use titles and subtitles to organise your information, as it will help you find things later. Use underlining, boxes and symbols to link pieces of information in your mind and on the page.
Remember to make the most of abbreviations. Some words and common phrases have standard abbreviations, for example: ‘eg.’, ‘tbc’, ‘ie.’. It’s fine to invent your own too. Think of the most common words related to the subject you are taking notes on and make an abbreviation for each one. Just make sure you will remember them later!
It’s very important to focus on keeping up with the event rather than your writing. Make sure that your attention is always on the speaker rather than your notes. If you aren’t able to write down something, just get one key word and move on to what the speaker is saying now.Look at your notes soon after the event. There’s no point in taking notes if you don’t do anything with them.
Make sure to look at them after the event then go through and fill in any details you were unable to write down at the time.
Experiment with these ideas and find a style of taking notes that suits you. Having a system that works is really important and a personal thing for all of us.
What is your English level?
Take our short English test to find out. Start now