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Differences Between Note Taking and Note Making

Learn the ins and outs of note taking and note making, and when, where, and why they come in handy. Plus, get a free template.

Note taking and note making are pretty different despite how similar they might look on paper (no pun intended). Curious about these approaches to notes and why they have such similar-sounding names? Keep reading to learn how to use note taking and note making to their full potential – and your full advantage.

What is note making?

Note making is the process of creating simple notes and rewriting them in your own words. Through note making, you can reword someone else’s ideas into notes that fit your needs. 

Oftentimes, the notes you make (as opposed to the notes you take) might be easier to remember – you, yourself, have created them. After all, when’s the last time you took someone else’s word over your own intuition?

What is note taking?

Note taking is the process of typing notes as you read or listen to something in real time. When note taking, you flex your multitasking skills and think on your feet as you work to jot down all the important stuff.

Note taking’s efficiency makes up for its lack of creativity. Because you’re taking down lots of information the moment you hear it, not rephrasing it in your own words, it’s often way quicker.

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Differences between note taking and note making

Below are some of the key differences between note taking and note taking.

  • Language

With note taking, you record a key idea in the moments that you’re first exposed to new ideas or knowledge. With note-making, you instead rephrase the original idea in your own words. In other words, note making is all about your own wording, while note taking comes straight from the source.

  • Speed

Oftentimes, you’ll find that note taking is speedier than note making, as you’re just getting down your real-time thoughts. It usually takes more time to write something your own way than to type someone else’s words.

  • Issues-related

Each of these types of notes comes with its own baggage. For example, note taking might be more efficient, but your notes can be tougher to remember. Similarly, the notes you make might last longer in your mind, but note making can be less practical in a fast-paced setting.

  • Definition

Note taking and note making have two different names for a reason – they’re, by definition, different from each other. Note taking starts with jotting down others’ ideas, and note making is all about what you actively create after that.

  • Nature

Note taking requires more active listening, while note making requires more active engagement. Note taking can come in handy when you’re listening to someone speak, while note making is better suited for reading.

Similarities between note taking and note making

Note making and note taking aren’t just different – they have things in common too. If anything, they go together like avocado on toast. Note taking and note making have the following in common.

  • Similar skill sets

Note taking and note making both require you to think critically about what you’re hearing or reading. Similarly, both note taking and note making involve pulling the key points out of a whole lot of information. Whether you’re using your own language or someone else’s, you’ll highlight only the most important ideas. 

  • Active listening and engagement are key

The simple act of making and taking notes has been scientifically proven to help things stick in your memory. One study even suggests that students who use note-taking strategies score 13% higher on exams than those who only trust their working memory. When you actively listen to and engage with your information, you can remember things more accurately.

  • Great for when you’re listening to something

While note making is better for reading, both note taking and note making are great for remembering anything you hear. Whether you’re using your source as a springboard for making notes or taking notes in real time, you can listen while you work.

The key principles of making notes

While there’s no one way to make notes, note making always has the below principles at its core.

1Building upon past ideas

Making notes might help you answer some of your biggest long-term questions. When making notes, you can consider how they fit into the broader context of a past meeting, a time-consuming project, or your own growing knowledge. Think about how your notes might connect all your past projects.

2Connecting ideas 

With note making, you can find hidden connections between topics that you might have thought were unrelated. Similarly, if your original notes are wordy or redundant, making your own notes is a great way to cut to the chase.

3Rephrasing an idea

Sometimes, the best way to understand something is to put it in your own words. That’s especially true if you’re sitting with ideas that are super dense or tricky to understand. In that case, note making – rephrasing and rewording –  is exactly the right idea.

4Highlighting key information

You don’t need to memorize every little thing you hear or read. For example, let’s say you’re in a meeting with way too much information. In that case, you may want to note some meeting takeaways rather than trying to remember everything. Through note making, you can zero in on what’s most important to you and your goals.

4 examples of note-making methods

With these principles in mind, you can consider a few tried-and-true note making strategies.

1Linear method

You might not know it yet, but this is probably one of the first images to pop into your head when you think about notes. It involves vertical lists with headers, subheaders, and lots of bullet points. Think of it as a cut-and-dry way of organizing your rephrased thoughts.

2Zettelkasten method

The brainchild of German sociologist Dr. Niklas Luhmann, this method requires index cards and active listening and engagement. Writing your notes on a “zettel,” or a paper slip, can help you sort the key facts and ideas.

3Digital gardening

This is the most long-term (and metaphorical) method on our list. You’ll “plant seeds” by becoming curious about the material, “grow trees” by learning about your seeds, and “harvest fruits” by cranking out some new thoughts. This note-making approach is often visual, so feel free to get creative.

4Mind mapping

Yet another visual note-making strategy, mind mapping is kind of like free association. You’ll place your main topic in the center of the page and expand outward, both literally and figuratively. If you have a hard time coming up with new ideas, give this method or some other brainstorming techniques a try.

5 tips for effective note taking

Note making might not always fit the bill, so you should also know when – and how – to lean on note-taking strategies. Here are some tips for better note-taking.

1Choose a method

There are tons of note-taking methods to choose from – the right one depends on your priorities. If you like to see big-picture points before going deeper, Cornell notes might be your best bet. This format features a “notes” column for gut reactions, a “recall” column for the most important stuff, and a summary section to wrap it up.

If your source already organizes the main ideas for you, you might reach for guided notes instead. In this style, your source’s pre-existing categories, such as subheaders from an article or presentation slides, become your notes template. If you’re a traditionalist when it comes to taking notes, give outlining – the highly-popular method of bullet-listing the key points – a shot. Choose whatever method works best for you – the note-taking world is your oyster.

2Cut out distractions

Only you know your preferred working environment. Some people thrive off the bustling energy of a coffee shop, while others prefer to hole up and work in silence. Whatever rings true for you, make sure that you’re somewhere you can focus on your notes.

3Add color and pictures

If you’re a visual learner, think about the best way to include colors and images in your notes. If certain colors bring up certain ideas for you, color coding might be your jam. Similarly, if you can better understand an idea in your notes with visuals, don’t be afraid to add them.

4Stay organized

No matter which note-taking method you pick, organization is key. If that’s something you struggle with, brainstorm some organization ideas that might jive with your work style and schedule.

5Find a note-taking tool

Just as with note-taking methods, there are endless note-taking tools you can try. Whether you prefer interactive software or a blank screen full of possibilities (or a platform that’s both), only use what you’ll enjoy most. 

For example, MeetEdgar president Sarah Park swears by her work journal. “Keeping regular notes about progress on goals reminds you that you’re working toward something bigger, even on bad days,” she says. And for more inspiration, check out Fellow‘s options for digital note-taking – you just might find what you’ve been looking for.

Free note taking template

Make and take effective notes with Fellow

While note taking is best suited for taking down real-time ideas, note making works best when you’ve had the time to mull your thoughts over. They’re also both easy when you use Fellow for your notes.

Through Fellow, you get accessible, user-friendly, and – dare we say – fun tools for taking and making notes. With Fellow’s tools, you can make and take notes before, during, and after all your meetings. The result is clear communication and transparency for not just you, but your whole team.

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Konstantin Tsiryulnikov

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