Step #5: Develop Your Own Shorthand
Shorthand is a method for writing quickly using shortened versions of words or even symbols. Try to develop your own kind of shorthand; this will enable you to take down more material faster and with less effort. Many study guides teach specific formulas and codes for taking notes in shorthand. The problem with these methods is that you wind up having notes that are practically written in secret code.
Don’t make your notes overly complicated by developing all kinds of crazy signs and formulas. Find a way to take notes that make sense to you. Here are some basic ways to develop a shorthand that is simple and easy to read.
Avoid Complete Sentences
There’s no reason why your notes have to be written in complete, grammatically correct sentences. Sentences are filled with words that aren’t necessary for one to understand the gist of them. You can still understand the basic meaning of a sentence without using all the words in it. For example, you can leave out articles (the, a, an) and pronouns (he, she, they, it) and still understand the basic information.
Look at this sentence:
You can omit the articles and pronouns from sentences and still be able to understand them.
You could write it is as:
Omit articles pronouns from sentences still understand
… . And you can still gather what was meant.
Keep Descriptions, Examples, and Anecdotes Brief
Very often, your professor will launch into a long description or anecdote as a means of illustrating or explaining some larger point. When the professor does this, you don’t necessarily need to transcribe the entire example or anecdote in your notes. You are better off putting down your pen and listening; then write a few key words in your notes to sum up the example or anecdote. Those few words will usually be enough to trigger your memory of the entire explanation.
For example, when discussing the classic love tragedy Romeo and Juliet, your professor may cite several films or parallels in literature that reflect this same “impossible love” theme. He may show a classical painting depicting tragic lovers, play a clip of the musical West Side Story, or even show a clip of the animated film Gnomeo and Juliet to demonstrate how rivalries prevent lovers from being together.
Enjoy your professor’s examples—resisting writing down word for word what she presents—and then just list the words West Side Story or the title and artist of the painting shown to jar your memory of these illustrations at a later date.
Abbreviate Only Repeated Key Terms
Using abbreviations is an excellent way to take notes more quickly. If you can reduce words to just a letter or two, it is obviously going to help you write faster. But be very careful. When you abbreviate too many terms, your notes become difficult to read. And if your notes don’t make sense to you, then writing more quickly didn’t really help you. You should, therefore, only abbreviate key terms that are repeated frequently throughout the lecture.
Use Signs and Symbols
It can also make note-taking much easier if you use signs and symbols for certain commonly repeated words. Again, the idea is to keep it simple. Don’t fill up your notes with so many signs that they become impossible to read. Settle on a few common signs that you understand and use all the time. That way, when you read over your notes, you’ll know what the signs mean right away without having to think about it.
Using a circled question mark as one sign, you can go on with your note-taking and know you have to come back to that point later. It signals where a problem is and that you need to get more information. The important thing is not to get stuck on these confusing points—there’ll be time to sort them out later, outside of class. Make certain to put the question mark in a circle so that you can distinguish it from other question marks.
Sketch Charts and Diagrams
As the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words. When it comes to taking notes, drawing a picture is sometimes quicker and more concise than writing detailed explanations. You might, therefore, want to sketch charts and diagrams whenever possible. You don’t need to be Picasso to draw a quick, easy-to-read sketch that conveys important information. Just don’t overdo it; the purpose of including charts and diagrams is to save time and make your notes easier to understand. If a teacher sketches a portion of your lesson on the board, then by all means try to copy that down in case you are later asked to reproduce and describe parts of it.
Don’t take notes with different-colored pens or highlighters. Taking notes in different colors can be time-consuming and distracting. While attending class, you should remain focused on the teacher, not on color-coding your notes.
Charts are particularly effective at indicating relationships among terms, people, and concepts. For example, if your professor is telling you about the British royal family, it is much easier to sketch a small family tree that indicates the family’s relationships than to continue writing “and Henry married Eleanor and their children were Henry, Edward, and Mathilda, and they married …” Charts are also effective when a professor is comparing and contrasting various concepts. You can align the concepts side by side in your notebook to show how they are similar or differ.