Notetaking (With Pictures!)

Post your notes/notebooks and share your favorite tips!

So at this point in my life, I’ve been taught a dozen and a half “notetaking methods.” I’ve found that by far, the “Cornell notes” approach seems to work for me, but I’ve always felt my technique could use refinement.

Last semester, I invented a shorthand that included the twenty some-odd most frequently used words in my notes. I wrote out this legend to ensure I used and internalized it.

I also made sure that it took significantly less time to draw the ideogram than to write out the word, with one exception. This semester, I’m adding more. I figured I’d just add more and more symbols gradually to avoid getting overwhelmed.

My big thing of late has been finding notebooks that fit in on the damn teeny weeny desks used at universities.

(Cropped. Click for full image.)

I’ve gone through numerous brands, binding types, and even colors. The only thing I know for sure is I don’t like pads of paper where you can’t write on both sides without tearing pages out, and I prefer graph ruled pages to the point where I almost demand them.

My biggest note-taking problem is with math. I find I rush to replicate on board scribbling. I’ve tried following closely and not taking notes, but that ends with me not being able to review later. I kind of wish I could video record lectures, but profs have gotten twitchy when I’ve asked in the past. So if anyone has tips there, I’d appreciate it.

Beyond that, I prefer to inject whimsy into both my class and personal notes. It makes thinks easier to remember and it incentivizes me to read over the notes again later. Below is cover page from long term project to build a spring wound clock. For personal notes, I really like Roaring Springs comp books. I used to use pencil, but as you can see, it kind of gets smeary and I swear it gets fainter with time.

For project notebooks, I’ve learned to use ELBOW: No erasures, leaves torn out, blank spaces, overwriting, or writing between lines. I’ve learned to prefer to preserve my mistakes, so I’ve switched to pen.

So feel free to share your notebooks, and I certainly won’t judge you for blurring/cropping embarrassing details from your pictures. Lord knows I have enough of my own.


I only kept 2 of my notebooks: one from calculus and one from the second part of my business analytics/stats courses.

I like graph paper.

My preferred writing implements are a mechanical pencil and erasable colored pencils. I tend not to use notebooks these days, since all my profs use powerpoints. I’ll print the slides 4 to a page and write notes as we go. I also digitally record my classes so I can go over the lecture later, if I feel like I missed something.


I keep a hardback pocket notebook (A7 size) on me at mostly all times full of ideas, riffs, art crap and random thoughts. It’s pretty personal, so no pics (also camera is buggered!) but they all get modded the same way with a loop of elastic hot-glued to the back cover to hold a pencil.

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This is my big beef with PP presentations. I get a lot out of the act of writing. It helps with memory. With powerpoints, there’s less need for it, and you can fall behind if you attempt it. That’s when I realized that important concepts aren’t always discussed and sometimes they’re just kind of “pointed at.” You can’t keep up in notetaking because concepts are moved through very quickly. Ever see a prof running low on class time? Holy shit do the slides fly. What was tha-? Hold o-? Was that import-?

Still, the worst is when you get an instructor that tries to use them as an attendance thing where your PP is missing concepts and words, so that you’re forced to take notes a particular way.


This is all I have at the moment. The other 99.8% of my notes (mostly chemistry, statistics, and calculus) are stored away and I don’t have time right now to scan them. I’ll get around to it. Eventually.


I hate you and your mad skillz, you awesome bastard.


That is BEAUTIFUL! Puts my chicken-scratches to shame. :wink:


Those of us who prefer teaching with blackboards are in a death struggle to keep them from all being torn off the walls. Next semester I’ll be teaching in a room which used to have a wallful of magnificent sliding blackboards, now reduced to one narrow column of scratched-up whiteboards to make room for a pair of sctreens.


Last semester we had a couple of different profs drop in to teach my linear algebra class. Every single one of them complained that the single strip of board at the front was inadequate. (And it was.)


A former head of the IT department where I work said this too. I noticed him taking handwritten notes in a meeting. I was used to seeing him work on a laptop. He said, “I noticed I retain more if I write by hand.”

Mine aren’t pretty but I use school notebooks decorated with pictures for most of my writing.


It really is. Especially in math where you sometimes want to keep one piece of information prominent throughout*, it’s nice to be able to slide that board to the top and save it where you can always point to it. Plus the pole to pull the boards down when they’re too high up to reach is fun.

  • There’s surely things like this in other disciplines as well, but i’m discipline-provincial.

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