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Note taking


Taking note of note-taking

Tips on note-taking applications, making and organising notes, and annotating electronic texts:

Active or passive note taking

Active or passive? quiz

Note taking can be active or passive. In other words, active notes include your own thoughts, words, and questions, meaning that you are already engaging with the material and not just copying it out. This quiz will help you to identify what is active and what is passive note taking so you can think about how you take notes and what you could improve.

For each note taking example, choose whether it is active or passive. Click on the "Next" arrow to begin.

Underline words and quotes in the text


Write your own explanation of what something says or means


Make connections within the text, to your topic and other texts


Write notes on everything you read


Copy direct quotes


Look for answers to questions you have, and make a note of relevant information


How do you take notes?

Well done. You got of 6 questions correct.

Now that you've taken the quiz, think about how you take notes. Do you use more of the active or the passive techniques that were listed?

If you use more of the passive note taking techniques, you're less likely to remember things you learn, so you may end up doing more checking of your notes when writing assignments or revising. Try out some more active learning approaches such as those found in this quiz and check the note taking guide for more handy tips.

From note-taking to note-making

Good note-making will help you to get the most from lectures and taught sessions:

This video provides four approaches to creating notes: linear written notes, annotated slides, mind maps and an introduction to the Cornell note-taking method.

There's more resources available to help you think about ways of studying and how you engage with lectures and other teaching sessions:

Taking note of note-taking applications

Taking notes isn't just about what notes you's also about where you take them.

There's no best place to take and store your notes. What is important is that you find an approach that works for you, ensuring that you can find your notes again when you need them and can access them however you want to. You might find one particular application is good for you, or you might use a combination of apps for different purposes, or use a notebook and an app, or even just use a notebook. We'll look at the features of some note-taking apps available at the University of York, but you may find other ones that suit you better.

Google Keep

Keep is Google's note-taking application. You can log into Keep in a web browser at or use the Keep apps for iOS and Android to use it on your phone or tablet.

Key features of Google Keep:

  • Write notes in a sticky note format, with the ability to add a title, or add checkboxes to notes to turn into a to-do list.
  • Handwrite and draw notes either in a web browser or on mobile apps, with some handwriting recognition features.
  • Change the colour of notes and add labels for organisation.
  • Use the mobile apps to record voice notes that have some transcription features.
  • Turn a note into a Google Doc for futher formatting by clicking a Copy to Google Docs button.
  • Share notes with others by adding Collaborators.
Google Keep allows you to add sticky notes which can have checkboxes, images, and audio files, and can be tagged up.

Google Keep is good for short notes or for making handwritten or spoken notes, particularly on the go. You might use it together with Google Docs, by making brief notes in Google Keep and then copying them to Google Docs to write up more fully or add other content.

Microsoft OneNote

OneNote is part of Microsoft Office and is a tool that allows you to create notebooks of notes, adding pages and formatting and using various Microsoft Office functionality. It has mobile apps for iOS and Android as well as a desktop app and a web version, but your access may depend on what kind of Microsoft Office access you have. To use OneNote if you have Microsoft Office downloaded via the University of York's Office 365, you will need to sign up for a free personal OneDrive account to use it, as OneNote now only works if you can save the files to OneDrive.

Here are some of the features of OneNote:

  • Create named notebooks with pages inside, making it easy to organise by topic, module, class, or piece of work.
  • Use the Draw tab on compatible devices to handwrite notes with different colour pens and highlighters.
  • Format notes using Office tools for lists, fonts, etc.
  • Insert a range of content including tables, images, audio, and equations.

In the resources for our Taking note of note taking applications session, we showcase some online note taking applications, looking at how you can annotate PDFs and other online documents to be efficient with you note taking.

Note-taking in lectures

Take a look at the above link to see a couple of examples of note-taking using a tablet and stylus.

Grid notes

Grid notes is a useful note taking technique for assignments where you need to compare and synthesise information from numerous sources. You collect information under specific headings in a grid or table, which helps you to:

  • pull all your notes together in one place.
  • focus on finding just the information you need in sources.
  • identify patterns in source information.
  • plan structure and write.

Find out more:

Some common note-taking abbreviations (select to expand)

et al.and others
c. approximately
cf. compare
decreases, falls
grows, increases
= equal to
equivalent to
> greater than
< less than
results from
results in, leads to
" same as above
similar to
esp. especially
N.B. Important
i.e. that is to say, in other words
pp pages
e.g. for example
v very
re with reference to

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