Top tips for note-taking success

Effective note taking is a key skill for any professional. Here’s how to get it nailed


By Ernest Richardson

Mind maps, lists, doodles, shorthand. Whatever method you use, it’s important to perfect the skill of effective note taking at an early stage in your career.

Whatever your profession, sooner or later you’ll be required to note down information. Maybe in an interview or meeting, or perhaps during a briefing with colleagues or client pitch.

Develop an accurate and reliable technique for taking notes now and you’ll be sorted for life. To help you out, here are our top tips for note-taking success. Paying attention? Then we’ll begin.

    Deliberately steer the person speaking off course for a moment.  

1. Find a method that works for you

There is no right way of recording information. Our brains are all wired differently, so the important thing is to find a method that works for you.

Some people use visual clues to jog their memory, and some people write word-for-word records of what they hear. Others use mind maps or shorthand and some use a recording device.

Try a few different techniques until you find the one that’s effective. Then perfect it over time until it becomes a reliable method for getting down what you need.

2. Use technology, but don’t rely on it

An MP3 recorder can be a great tool. Some are even embedded in pens so they complement your written note taking. But every writer who’s used a Dictaphone will tell you of the time the tech failed. Which means you need a way of surviving even when your batteries are flat or the record button fails to switch on.

In other words, treat technology as an aid, but don’t rely on it alone. Make written notes or use a back-up device. That way, if the worst happens and the tech fails, you’ll still have a way of remembering what was discussed.

3. Every conversation has a lull. Take advantage of it to update your notes

If you’re trying to record the detail of a conversation or presentation, it can be tough to note down every word.

But every verbal exchange ebbs and flows: sometimes the person talking will be off message or their comments won’t be related to the topic at hand. When this happens, take advantage of the lull to update your notes.

If you feel as if you’re struggling to keep up with a conversation or briefing, throw in a question that isn’t directly relevant to the topic. Deliberately steer the person speaking off course for a moment. Then use the time to bring your notes up to speed.

4. Make sure your notes are legible

Writing quickly does not a clear typescript make, so be sure to correct your notes as you go in order that they are accurate. There’s nothing worse than struggling to decipher your scrawl a day or two later.

Shorthand can be a massive help here. You don’t have to learn the formal discipline. Develop your own style. So long as you understand it, it’ll work fine.

5. Write up your notes as soon as you can

The end of a briefing or interview is not the end of your note-taking process. You should go back to your notes while they’re fresh in your mind and make sure they’re crystal clear.

Correct misspellings or write key points more legibly. Use a highlighter to identify any areas of uncertainty and email or phone your contact for clarity.

If you need to write your notes out on a computer so they’re easier to read in future, do so now. No time spent tidying your notes is wasted. You’ll be grateful for the effort when you come back to them.

    Plus, you’ll find it easier to write at a range of angles  

6. Don’t forget a spare pen

This one’s obvious, right? Pens dry up or run out of ink, so you need to make sure you have a spare. In fact, have two. And a pencil, just to be on the safe side. There’s nothing more embarrassing than asking to borrow someone’s pen when you’re supposed to be taking notes.

On the subject of writing implements, it’s well worth investing in a decent fountain pen. Lamy sells them at reasonable prices. That way, you can always carry spare cartridges.

Plus, you’ll find it easier to write at a range of angles: leaning on a car bonnet, sitting on a train or park bench, standing in the lobby of a corporate office block. All of these are places where you may need to take notes. With a proper ink pen, you’ll be able to beat gravity and keep writing.

Published 28 October 2019

© Just Recruitment Group Ltd

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