Take Better Notes on Your Readings

No matter what you’re studying, or at what level, you’ll have readings to do for homework and you’ll be expected to master that content to a certain degree. Since I have personal experience as a student and as a teacher, I thought that I would walk you through things you should do while reading so you can take better notes. More specifically, I hope that these things will help you to understand annotating a bit better, as annotating can really help you to understand what the reading is saying. Generally, annotating is when you add notes to your readings. But since there are so many different methods of taking notes, it can be difficult to figure out what to add to your reading if you aren’t used to doing it.

Oh, and I’ll accompany these tips with pictures from my actual homework so you can see what I’m talking about!

Take Better Notes


    • Highlighting: The problem here is making sure that you don’t highlight everything. The way I see it, I highlight the things that I see as worth remembering or going back to. This might be during the class discussion or when I’m writing a paper.

Take Better Notes: Highlight



    • Summarize: Either next to a paragraph or at the top or bottom of the page, I’ll write a word to a sentence explaining what that segment was about. This makes it easy at a glance to find where something about a certain topic is and it also helps me remember the information.

Take Better Notes: Summarize


    • Physically draw connections between elements in the text: I find this especially helpful when I’m trying to avoid highlighting everything. I’ll draw an arrow to indicate what a word or sentence is referring to or what it makes me think about.

Take Better Notes: Draw Connections


    • Define: There are two sides to this. If you come across a word that you don’t know the definition of, you might want to look it up and then write a short explanation next to it. The other side is if the text itself explains what a word or phrase means. In that case, I write the word it’s referring to next to it.

Take Better Notes: Define


    • Label: This differs from summarizing because it is just one word. It makes it easy to find where the author explains settler colonies, for example, if I write “settler” next to it. This is one of the most common notes I include.

Take Better Notes: Label


    • Ask questions: These questions might be things that confuse you so you’ll bring them up in class or they might be just general questions that the text makes you wonder.

Take Better Notes: Ask Questions


    • Make connections between the text and other things: Make a connection between the text and popular culture, something else you read, a current event, any other knowledge you have, whatever.

Take Better Notes: Make Connections


    • Identify important parts: I do this by drawing a star, underlining an also-highlighted sentence, or writing, “This is the point.” This is especially helpful if your teacher or professor asks you, “So, what was the point of this reading?”

Take Better Notes: Identify Important parts


Some other last-minute things to remember: use abbreviations in your notes (I abbreviated Ireland as I. in mine) and don’t be afraid to reread a passage or two. Sometimes you don’t know how important something is until after you’ve already read a page. Don’t be afraid to go back and make a note of it!

Download a free printable to get all of this in a handy one-page sheet!

Any questions about this or other tips for taking notes? I’m more than happy to do another post about how to take notes in class, how to outline articles or chapter, or anything related to that. Just let me know!


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  • Reply Kit Spy

    This was helpful! I am guilty of over-highlighting. I looked at my most recent reading – highlights everywhere. Best of luck with your semester! Is it your first as a grad student?

    September 10, 2015 at 12:26 pm
    • Reply Kate Mitchell

      I’m so glad! Highlighting is a dangerous place to go. It can be helpful … but not if you do it too much. This is kind of my first semester. The way my undergraduate program worked, my last 2 years of undergrad were spent taking undergrad and graduate classes. I only took graduate classes my senior year. So this is my first year officially as a graduate student, but it also isn’t, if that makes sense.

      September 10, 2015 at 6:38 pm
      • Reply Cherish.

        I’ve seen some of my peers highlight PARAGRAPHS of information. . . And it’s like, “how is that helpful?! You need to focus on keywords!!”

        Anyways, if you want to check it out, although my post is more “niche”, I do have a post under “medical school” about how to study for success. . . AND on monday I’m rolling out a post on I take and organize my notes (I even got all fancy and made a video to supplement it lol)

        February 19, 2016 at 6:04 pm
  • Reply Nicole Harris

    Taking notes if so important! I especially like your tip about making connections between the text and other things. I find that this always helps me

    Meet Me in Midtown

    September 10, 2015 at 1:32 pm
    • Reply Kate Mitchell

      Thanks! That kind of stuff definitely helps take your understanding to the next level. It took me a while to recognize how important the note-taking part of annotating is, but I’m glad that I do it now!

      September 10, 2015 at 6:35 pm
  • Reply Morgan Gifford

    These are great tips! I’m the worst note taker of all time. Thank you for sharing 🙂
    Morgan –

    September 13, 2015 at 2:15 am
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  • Reply Cynthia Taylor

    A big thank-you from a fellow note-taking addict 😉 I still take notes in books that I read purely for pleasure, mostly quotes that I resonate with. My favourite thing is to use neon post-it flags so I can easily flip back between sections of the book and find my little notes. Glad to read this. Thanks for posting Kate.x

    September 14, 2015 at 6:14 pm
    • Reply Kate Mitchell

      Those sound great! I’m glad you liked the post!

      October 13, 2015 at 6:16 pm
  • Reply ttpopcorn

    This is very useful but I want to ask question. I study Master Degree and I often use computer more than book. How I can take note? I should read a lot of article and journal for my class and do you have any tip of taking note in class. Anyway Thank you for your tip 🙂

    March 15, 2016 at 5:14 pm
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