Take Notes with a Structured Template


As Jason recently reminded us, ProfHackers love to take notes. We’ve covered lots of tools and approaches to recording and searching notes, but few of these posts cover much detail about the content or structure of the notes.

As Lincoln noted in “Take Better Notes by Paraphrasing,” if you paraphrase,

You end up with a record not just of the source but of why it is important to your research. And . . . by paraphrasing while taking notes, you’ve already done some of the work towards producing a draft.

Obviously, you want to take your notes in a format that allows you to clearly distinguish direct quotations from your own notes, so as to avoid accidental plagiarism.  That’s one reason using a structured format like a precis or Cornell-style notes can be helpful.

Productivity author Michael Hyatt recently shared a template he calls Book InSIGHTS, which he uses to capture valuable information from non-fiction reading.  In addition to recording basic bibliographic information, he writes a brief summary, distills highlights, notes his disagreements with the author, and  records gaps in the book’s argument. His template could easily be adapted for academic reading as well, since it encourages the reader to analyze and comment upon the book, not just record topics mentioned in it.  Hyatt’s template includes categories for both “Insights” and for “Takeaways,” which I think of as abstract learning versus actionable points. But for some readers, or for some kinds of books, those might be redundant.

As Hyatt suggests,

The key idea with using Book InSIGHTS is to distill your reading to a short document that you can easily access down the road. It pays dividends in new ideas, personal growth, and life application. And I find just the practice of getting it down makes it sink in. I retain more of what I read when I take the additional time to record what I discovered.

You can view Hyatt’s complete template on his website, and also download it in PDF, Workflowy, or Evernote format.  Or create your own, using his as a model.

I already use a template of my own design for my academic reading, where I capture similar kinds of information. But I’m inspired by Hyatt’s template to try using his for my general non-fiction reading.

Do you use a note-taking template? Let us know in the comments!
[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user aml photography]

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