How to Effectively Take Notes While Reading

by Tanya Robertson; Updated September 26, 2017

One of the best ways to retain information after reading it is to take notes on the subject matter while you're learning it. When a person reads, he may not remember what he just read after he's finished. If the person reads the information and also writes down notes at the same time, he's taking an extra step and reinforcing that information in his mind. This reinforcement will help him retain and recall that information much faster and with less effort.

Step 1

Begin reading your information. A common process of taking notes is to jot down quick notes in the margin while reading the information, and then taking more detailed notes and writing a summary when you're finished. As you read, jot down relevant keywords and ideas into the margins. Also, take note of any questions or objections you come across while reading so you can follow up on them later.

Step 2

Make hierarchical charts or cluster notes for any relevant information that should be organized together. For example, if you're reading about the organizational structure of a business, you may want to use a hierarchical chart to organize the data. Similarly, if you're reading about effective methods for marketing products, you may want to use cluster notes as a method of organizing your product marketing brainstorming ideas.

Step 3

Write a summary of what you've just read and include the content you've identified in your margin notes and charts. The Cornell format is ideal for this step, but you can also just write freestyle paragraphs if you prefer. The Cornell format is divided into three sections that include notes, keywords and questions, and a summary. The summary is also a good section to write down any conclusions you've come to. An introductory template to this format is available on the English Companion website.

Step 4

Follow up on any questions or objections you noted both during and after reading. This way you'll gain a greater understanding of the subject matter you're reading about.


  • Venn diagrams and other methods of note-taking can also be used interchangeably along with these methods to better cater to your needs and style preferences.