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How to Take Excellent Program Notes: 10 Tips

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Here are 10 tips to help you take excellent notes during your Blue Pencil Institute program:

  1. Prepare to take notes. While waiting for the program to begin, write the date and program name in your notes.

  2. Listen carefully to the speaker’s introductory remarks. These tell you where the program will go and indicate the important points to get. If an outline of the program is provided, refer to it as the program unfolds.

  3. Listen before you write. You should not be spending the class time as a stenographer, but as an active listener. Don’t immediately start copying what’s on a PowerPoint slide, overhead, or board. Listen to the ideas the speaker is explaining, begin to understand them, and then write the ideas down in your notes. If you miss some of the words, you can get them later from a classmate or your speaker.

  4. Go for meaning. Always remember that your goal is to understand the material, not just copy it down.

  5. Make it yours. Write ideas down in your own words, not verbatim from the speaker.

  6. Flag any points you’re unclear on as you go along. If the speaker pauses for questions, ask for clarification. Otherwise, you can come back to these points with your classmates or the instructor later.

  7. Focus. If you find your mind wandering, try to guess what the speaker will talk about next, what the final main point will be, or how this material fits in with that of previous programs you’ve attended (or your own experiences).

  8. Listen and watch for key points. Pay particular attention to clues from your speaker that an important point is about to be said. The speaker may make a dramatic pause, stop walking around the room, or simply say, “The three principles are…”, “In summary…”, “The key here is that…”, “Therefore…”, “Remember…”, etc. These are all clues to get ready to write down something.

  9. Listen carefully to the concluding remarks. Most speakers try to end with a punch line, whether it’s a summary of the main point, an explanation of why the material is important, or a statement of how the material will connect to your work or to further reading. Don’t be in such a rush to pack up your things and leave that you miss the point.

  10. After the program, read your notes through once and revise them. Those 10 minutes or so will make the program much more worthwhile in the long run. Many people find that they can improve their program notes significantly if they say them out loud, so consider reading out your notes to yourself or a colleague.


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