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The Cornell Note-Taking Method: A Guide for Effective Notes

Explore the Cornell note-taking method: a dynamic, effective way to capture, organize and summarize your meeting details and action items.

By Mara Calvello  •   February 12, 2024  •   6 min read

From note-taking to note-making, knowing how to take helpful meeting notes during and after a meeting can ensure your team stays on track, meets objectives, and clearly understands what they are responsible for. 

Whether you take handwritten notes or leverage notes apps, clear and concise meeting notes are essential for every meeting to be effective. If you still prefer taking notes manually, you may want to consider the tried-and-tested Cornell note-taking method.

New to the concept? We take you through everything you need to know to use this method below, and how Fellow can help.

What are Cornell notes?

The Cornell notes are a note-taking system that was created in the 1950s at the Ivy League Cornell University by Professor Walter Pauk. This method promotes notes of all kinds (not just for meetings!) that are written with clarity and reflection, as it focuses on taking, organizing, and summarizing notes for better overall comprehension.

The strategy behind Cornell notes involves note-takers dividing their paper into two columns with a row across the bottom. Typically, the Cornell method consists of taking notes by hand, but there are many ways it can be applied in digital note-taking. It all depends on one’s preference, but either method can be used for meetings, brainstorms, workshops, and even educational courses.

Take meeting notes in real-time

It’s easy to forget the discussions, decisions, and action items that happen across your many meetings. With Fellow, you can have one source of truth for every meeting, boost transparency and accountability, and never forget what was discussed.

How to take Cornell notes

Taking Cornell notes is easy, as it all comes down to how to section off the page being used for notes. It should consist of one small block at the bottom of the page and two columns in the middle, with one being larger than the other.

1The notes

The main (and largest) section of your physical or digital piece of paper will be the notes section, where you’ll outline the contents of the meeting in addition to thoughts and ideas that come to mind. This is the largest section of the three, but the space should still be used wisely. Consider making the most of short sentences, abbreviations, and bulleted lists to keep your notes clear and concise. 

You can also use different colored pens and highlighters to emphasize certain notes or important takeaways from weekly team meetings, for instance, within this section.

2The cue

Next is the cue, which is the column on the left. This section of the notes is smaller than the notes section and could be for items that require special attention, a follow-up, personal commitments, or overarching topics from the notes. The name comes from being a space to “cue” questions or specific points to jog your memory of what took place and the key themes of the meeting.

You can also think of the cue section of the piece of paper as a meeting agenda written in reverse. As you review your notes in the cue column, you can compile a list of the most important topics, talking points, and decisions covered in the meeting.

3The summary

Lastly is the summary section. This is the space at the bottom of the page where you capture the meeting’s big picture or main point. It should only be a sentence or two where you write down the key meeting takeaway. As you scan your notes, reading the summary should help you understand what took place.

Depending on the type of meeting, you can also use this section to create a to-do list of the most important tasks from the meeting or the responsibilities that pertain most to you and your role. You can then go back and check off the tasks as you complete them. This would be ideal for one-on-one meetings with your manager or a direct report.

Why use the Cornell note-taking method? 

There are many benefits to using the Cornell note-taking method at work.

  • Summarizes the most important information: The Cornell note-taking method can provide the level of understanding needed to summarize the most critical information from a meeting. A robust summary can be incredibly helpful when referencing past meeting notes or sending meeting notes to team members who missed the meeting.
  • Clarifies action items: Because the Cornell note-taking method has a place for employees to jot down their personal action items, it helps to remember what’s on their plate and when to follow up, and ensure nothing falls through the cracks. In other words, it’s a great way for employees to stay on track and not lose sight of the big picture.
  • Organizes notes and questions logically: Sometimes, we look back at our notes from meetings and find that what’s been written down is a little unorganized, written in a rush, or just generally all over the place with no clear thought. Since there’s a dedicated spot for key details and important takeaways, the Cornell note-taking method helps ensure we take clear notes in every meeting. 

If you’re worried about taking notes during meetings and missing a key point or decision, Fellow’s action items feature makes it easy to assign and track your team’s tasks after the meeting.

Cornell notes example

Need an example of Cornell notes in action? Below is how one may use the Cornell note-taking method in a weekly sales team meeting.

Take the best meeting notes with Fellow

The Cornell note-taking method definitely has its benefits, but there may be a more efficient way to use your time.

Consider leveraging Fellow to efficiently and productively manage your meeting notes. Fellow’s collaborative meeting agendas allow you and the team to take meeting notes in real-time together, ensuring everyone’s points are captured.

Fellow’s AI meeting assistant transcribes, summarizes, and records meetings so participants can stay focused and engaged in the discussion, rather than focused on writing down details. The searchable AI transcriptions make it easy for all stakeholders to find key discussions, decisions, and action items independently, rather than relying on one note-taker.

Plus, with a wide range of time-saving (and free!) templates, Fellow makes taking digital meeting notes a breeze. 

Start having smarter and more effective meetings with Fellow — get started for free today!

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