Making Notes

It is essential that you are able to record information gained from course activities in a way that enables you to follow up on your initial responses and observations. The notes you make are in themselves an interesting part of your research. Your notes will be representative of the specific context of your study– you may revisit the same source several times during your studies at GSA, with notes that are different each time because of the particular research question you are engaged with.

Do you make notes? Are they any use?

Most people take notes of one kind or another. However, it can often be challenging to make any sense of them afterwards, especially notes from lectures. It is challenging to make notes while focusing on what is being said, or concentrating on a process in the studio, and this often leads to chaotic and even unreadable notes.

The single most important thing is to have a strategy for making notes. Is the strategy you currently use for taking notes working for you?


In the outlining approach key headings are identified and under each key heading further sub-headings and notes are added, until the next key heading and so on.  Use bullet points and indent separate categories for greater clarity.



Sub heading 1

  • 1st detail
  • 2nd detail

Sub Heading 2

  • 1st detail
  • 2nd detail

New Heading, etc.

Mind Mapping


Image: Jason Rogers

Mind mapping is a non-linear method of taking notes. You may already mind map to an extent, when you find that you want to make connections between notes you have already made. The advantage to the mind mapping system is that you can add notes to your map at any time – which is often useful in lectures when the speaker may return to a previous theme. You may prefer to work  visually and in some respects a mind map echoes the way you might visually map your ideas in the studio.

Cornell Notes System

The name ‘Cornell note taking system’ sounds more formal than it is. In essence it is the strategy of planning your page before taking notes. By simply drawing 2 lines on a blank page prior to taking notes you create a choice of spaces to use for note taking. One possibility might be to use the ‘main’ section for your usual notes, the left space for additional questions or thoughts and the lower section to summarise the lecture/chapter/event afterwards.


Image from this guide.


You might feel you understand more by concentrating on listening to a lecture or the activity of reading for research. After all, most people do not take notes at the cinema and are still able to summarise the key points of a film afterwards. Thus an option might be to take no notes or just the minimum few words. If you choose this system it is essential that you write up a summary as soon as possible afterwards to help you remember the key themes or ideas. It is important to do this immediately after the lecture while the experience is still fresh, and to make sure that your notes will make sense to you later on.

Finally – be creative

Why not create your own system, or maybe combine mind mapping with the Cornell system? Perhaps the most important thing to remember is why you are taking notes. Your notes themselves will not be assessed by your lecturers. You might need different systems for different types of activities. Try drawings. Use your first language if you prefer. The systems above are recognised ways of making notes but, whatever system you use, keep thinking about how useful your notes are to your studies.

The most effective note making system is the one that works best for you.