3 Note-Taking Systems That Help You Conquer Research

By Roxanne Wells

Having clear, concise notes is super important when you are writing that paper or studying for that test, but taking in information and taking good notes at the same time can be a tricky skill to master. The good news is that there are several different note-taking systems that make things easier for students—it’s just a matter of finding the one that works best for you. Try the three popular methods below to find your favorite!

As you take notes, don’t forget to keep track of your sources. The best way to do that? Start building your references list as you research! Cite This For Me has tools that help you easily create citations in MLA style, APA, Harvard referencing, and more styles.

Create an Outline

The outlining method allows you to group pieces of information by relationship and order of importance—you just have to use indentation on your page.

Here’s how:

The most important points sit closest to the left side of the page, with related points listed underneath. Indentations are used to convey the importance of the information.

For example:

Types of cells









Map It Out

It’s definitely a digital world, but some students still prefer to use pen and paper (or screen and stylus) to take notes the old-fashioned way. If you find that your notes flow better freehand, the mapping method could be the one for you.

Here’s how:

Connect your ideas to a central point using a variety of graphic tools including arrows, bullets, numbers or color-coding. If you want to test your memory you can easily cover points over and try to guess what they are.

For example:

Cell biology

                           2 Types of Cells

                                /             \

                    Prokaryotic Eukaryotic

                    – bacteria            – protists

                    – archaea             – fungi

                                                  – plants

                                                   – animals

The Cornell

The Cornell method makes research and revision easy. It can be used both when taking notes on a computer or freehand with pen and paper.

Here’s how:

Create a left-hand margin that’s about a quarter of your page. Write your notes in the larger section, then add a cue word for each point in the margin. The idea is to use the cue word to recall the information, eventually being able to use it as a form of shorthand going forward.

For example:

DNA The DNA found in linear chromosomes is tightly coiled and packaged around special proteins.
Plasmids   Plasmids contain additional genes that may increase a bacterium’s chance of survival.

Tip: Using two or three words may help if the point is quite specific, i.e., plasmid genes, for the above.

Whichever note-taking method you find works best for you, remember to also note down the sources of research that will be useful when it comes to creating citations for your work. For tools and more info on citations, including APA style, Chicago Manual of Style, and how to do in-text citations, check out Cite This For Me.