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Note-Taking Vs. Note-Making: 9 Methods & Tips

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

By Fellow.app  •   March 6, 2024  •   7 min read

Note-taking and note-making are pretty different despite how similar they might look on paper. Are you 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.

Note-taking vs. note-making: key similarities and differences

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

Note-making is the process of creating simple notes and rewriting them in your own words. It allows you to rephrase someone else’s ideas into notes that fit your needs.

Similarities between note-taking and note-making

  • Similar skill sets: Note-taking and note-making both require you to think critically about what you’re hearing or reading. Similarly, both involve highlighting the key points from a 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. You can remember things more accurately when you actively listen to and engage with your information.
  • 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.

Differences between note-taking and note-making

  • Language: When you’re first exposed to new ideas or knowledge, you record a key idea with note-taking. With note-making, you 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: Often, note-taking is speedier than note-making, as you’re just recording 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, your notes 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.

Streamline meeting note-taking and making

Note-taking and note-making are easy with an all-in-one meeting notes, AI transcription, and management software like Fellow. Fellow empowers your team to take detailed meeting notes and agendas collaboratively and keep an accurate record of decisions in real-time.

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 

Note-making can help you find hidden connections between topics you might have thought were unrelated. Similarly, if your original notes are wordy or redundant, making a set of new notes is a great way to get to the point.

3Rephrasing an idea

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

4Highlighting key information

You don’t need to memorize everything 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-taking, 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

One popular note-making method is the linear method. You might not know it yet, but this is probably one of the first images that pop into your head when you think about notes. The linear method 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

Another effective note-making strategy is the Zettelkasten method. The brainchild of German sociologist Dr. Niklas Luhmann, this method involves writing your notes on “Zettel” or “slips” on index cards or their equivalents. Each slip contains a single idea or concept and is then organized to connect related ideas. This can help aid understanding of complex topics and encourage active listening and engagement.

3Digital gardening

For a more long-term and metaphorical approach to note-making, consider Digital Gardening. It involves “planting seeds” of curiosity through writing down key information, “growing trees” by learning about your seeds, and “harvesting fruits” by developing new insights. This note-making approach is very visual and creative, so it may best suit a visual learner.

4Mind mapping

Mind mapping is a visual and free-associative method of note-making. You’ll place your main topic in the center of the page and expand outward with related ideas, 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. This method is perfect for tackling complex issues or when you need to come up with and explore new ideas freely. 

5 tips for effective note-taking

Note-making might not always be appropriate, so you should also know when and how to use note-taking strategies. Here are some tips for better note-taking.

1Choose a method

There are many note-taking methods to choose from—the right one depends on your priorities. Cornell notes might be the best note method if you like to see big-picture points before going deeper. This format features a “notes” column for gut reactions, a “cue” 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 preexisting 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, ensure you’re somewhere you can focus on your notes.

3Add color and pictures

If you’re a visual learner, consider 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

Make sure to explore various note-taking tools to find the one that suits your preferences. Just as with note-taking methods, there are endless note-take apps or AI note-taking tools you can try. Whether you prefer taking handwritten notes, computer notes, or a digital notebook (or a platform that’s both), only use what you’ll enjoy most. 

Free note-taking template

Fellow’s got you covered to take streamlined, efficient meeting notes with a free Meeting Notes template. This template allows your team to document updates, key decisions, and next steps so everyone leaves the meeting feeling focused and aligned.

Make and take effective notes with Fellow

While note-taking is best suited for recording real-time ideas, note-making works best when you’ve had the time to mull your thoughts over. Both are easy when you use Fellow for your meeting notes.

With Fellow’s meeting minutes feature, you can make and take detailed notes before, during, and after all your meetings. This results in clear communication and transparency for you and your whole team. You can even use one of Fellow’s pre-built meeting templates to save time before your next meeting.

Note-taking and making can take a lot of effort, but Fellow can help automate this process and give your team members back valuable time.

Fellow’s AI Meeting Copilot automatically records, transcribes, and summarizes your meetings with no effort on your part. The AI meeting transcription and summaries capture discussions across many meeting platforms so attendees can focus on the discussions and then review and share important insights, decisions, and actions after the meeting has ended.

Ready to make and take more effective notes? Get started with Fellow today.

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