Whether you’re in the boardroom or the classroom, taking effective notes is a crucial skill. People have had the luxury of using digital voice recorders for decades now, but it was not until recently that humanity gained the luxury of using professional transcription services to upload clear audio of meetings and lectures and have them turned into perfect audio transcripts.
True, accidentally smudging pencil graphite with your sleeve or putting a hole in your paper with an old pink eraser is no longer as much of a concern as it used to be. Nevertheless, many of the tips we were once taught for taking notes by hand can also apply to note-taking with a laptop or a tablet. With that in mind, here are some of our tips for taking better notes in just about any setting.
5 Tips for Taking Better Notes
- This may seem obvious, but don’t try to transcribe every single word that is said. This is not only impossible, but it is also unnecessary. It bears repeating, as many people (business people and academics alike) continue struggling to keep up with rapid-fire speakers. Don’t be the one in the room putting your hand up every twenty seconds to say “hold on.”
- Speaker talking way too fast? Use some quick dashes (or spaces) for words in the meantime. Leave enough room so that you can fill in details later (or when the speaker takes a breath). This may feel awkward at first, but once you get the hang of this tip, it’s very easy to do.
- If you’re taking notes on paper, don’t take up valuable seconds erasing or over-crossing out a mistake. While you’re erasing, they’re still talking and you could be missing valuable information. Draw a quick line through it to save time.
- Of course, use abbreviations and shorthand as much as possible, even if you are the only one who can decipher your abbreviations. Unless you’re taking notes for someone else, like your lazy friend who has missed Biology lab for the last 7 weeks but somehow hasn’t missed a single episode of Lilyhammer. If you’re using abbreviations and think you will need the notes later (say, a few weeks or months), you’ll want to spend some time later filling in the actual words. Unless, again, you are positive you’ll remember that “aa” is short for “antarctica” and not “amoeba” six months down the line.
- Find your happy medium between legibility/neatness and speed. Remember that your notes only have to be legible enough to be read comfortably later on; they do not have to look like the examples in a grade school handwriting workbook. If you are writing too neatly, you’re most likely not writing fast enough. This also applies to taking notes electronically, in the form of allowing yourself to make a reasonable amount of typos, without needing to type each individual ASCII character perfectly.
Writing vs. Recording Notes
Which of these is a better note-taking method overall will differ for each individual person. Many people say that they need to take notes by hand because it helps them remember the notes better.
That is definitely true for some people. However, I would posit that many others might gain greater comprehension and memory of a meeting by putting away the notes/laptop and simply listening actively and participating in the moment; letting an audio recorder “transcribe” the notes in the meanwhile.
Audio File Transcription
If you want to save even more time (like, the most time), rely less on voracious note-taking. Give those digits a rest and use a digital voice recorder, laptop, or smartphone to send the audio off to an online transcription service.
With iScribed, you can simply upload the audio files on our website or email them to us, whichever is easier. We’ll take care of the tedious transcribing for you for only $0.89 per minute of audio—and with less than 48 hour average turnaround (Our 1 business day rush transcription service is also available for a small fee).