Note-Taking Styles | GUTS Tip

There are a variety of note-taking styles students employ in there classes. For some, like myself, we have difficulty finding the right type of style that works best. This tip will explain five types of notes -outline, Cornell, mind map, course slides, and sketch notes- for you to consider (and try) in your studies. I personally tried a few of these styles and will be sharing my experience in addition to helpful information and descriptions of all of the styles that I hope you find as useful as they were for me.


The outline method is one of the most basic, but also popular, note-taking styles. Organizing lectures and course content into main points, with sub-points, and so on is the core of this method.

I usually have a heading and then bullet points for the topic underneath it.

You can also use roman numerals for broad topics and letters/numbers to segment that topic further, followed by the other and/or bullet points.

The outline method is very customizable but always has the same underlying structure of segmenting a larger topic into smaller pieces in a linear format.

Since there is so much information. highlighting important words and phrases is vital in order to pull out key information. I also use a different color to differentiate vocabulary and equations/formulas.

When to Use: When you want structure from the start, or when the lecture/course content is already structured and has a linear flow.

Pros Cons
Structured and logical flow Requires more thought about how to organize content
Easy to use Does not show relationships as well as other methods
Reduced reviewing and preparation time Can be overwhelming when studying


The Cornell method was pioneered by Professor Walter Pauk in the 1950s at Cornell University (hence the name). This method is also a structured way of taking notes, but focuses on three areas: the cues, the notes, and the summary.

The cue column has a width of 30% (2.5 in) of the page and is located on the left. In this column, write keywords, comments, and questions about the course content. Write in the cue comment immediately after class.

The notes column is the other 70% (6 in) of the space to the right of the cue column. This is where you write the main content (main points, bullet points, diagrams/charts, outlines). Leave space between topics. The bulk of a lecture and course content is in this section. Fill out this column during the lecture.

Finally, beneath the cue and notes columns is the summary section where you summarize each page. This section is the entire bottom two inches. Utilize the summary section in review and studying sessions.

When to Use: Any lecture situation.

Pros Cons
Organized and systematic Pages need to be divided before a lecture
Easy to use Requires some time for reviewing and summarizing the key concepts
Quick way to take, review, and organize your notes

Mind Map

The mind map (mapping) method is a less systemically-structured and more visual note-taking style that focuses on relationships between concepts. Mapping is an interrelated visual representation of connections from a central topic outward into smaller points/concepts and their supporting evidence.


The mind map starts with a title in the center or top of the map. This is the main topic of the lecture/course content.

From the title, you create branches throughout the lecture for main points/concepts discussed regarding the topic.

Then make branches from main points to their supporting evidence. If each supporting evidence has several “bullet points”, you can simply list them as one bubble, or if you desire they can all be separate branches.

This process can continue even further, and is very malleable to accommodate a variety of information presented throughout a lecture.

When to Use: When a lecture is dense with information and is well-organized. This is effective for lectures where you do not know what the content is about or when the content is heavily interrelated.

Pros Cons
Visually appealing Major points vs. facts are not clearly differentiated
Can be used to note information in a concise format May take up a lot of space
Easy to edit and customize Can look cluttered with too many branches


The sentence method is writing every new thought fact, or topic on a separate line, numbering each line as you go. This method is not as organized as the most of the others, but is useful when lectures are quick and/or complicated.

Abbreviating is very important to maintain a fast pace and consolidate words. Having an abbreviation chart in your notebook to reference if there are a lot of abbreviations you use regularly may be handy.

Also, it is best to immediately review these notes after class and rank the information from most important to least important. Consider rewriting these notes into another format, such as an outline or mind map, for easier reviewing and studying later on.

When to Use: When lectures are content-heavy and fast. Also when you hear the point but do not know how it fits with the other content in the lecture.

Pros Cons
More organized than a paragraph Overall disorganized
Easy to include a lot of information Difficult to edit
Difficult to review


The sketchnotes method is designed for creative people that want to make memorable and visually appealing notes. These notes are full of visuals from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements (arrows, boxes, lines).

Sketchnotes are a lot of effort but are effective as they utilize the Dual Coding Theory by Allan Paivio as both the verbal and visual components of a word work together to engage your entire mind.

I have personally made sketchnotes in the past, and I find them very fun and useful in memorizing content. I do not do them anymore though because I am a perfectionist and it takes a lot of time to create notes in such a visual way.

Here is an example of a sketchnote spread:

Most of the photos above (excluding the immediate one) are from The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking by Mike Rohde which I highly recommend you read if you are interested in this style.

When to Use: When you feel normal notes are not working for you, or you want something more visual. Best for classes that have a slower pace and content that can be depicted visually fairly well.

Pros Cons
Most visually appealing Can require significant time
Utilizes the Dual Coding Theory Most effective for creative people
More freeing than linear formats


Written by Cole Navin

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*This is an opinion post. While the topics described here are mostly based on research, please keep in mind not to assume all of the information described above is factual.

Content adapted from:

The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking by Mike Rohde

Sketchnotes photo:

Featured image retrieved from:

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