My technique for note taking during in-person instruction on technical topics is to note down things that will help prompt my memory later. This usually includes enough high level chronological info about what was covered for me to reconstruct the “structure” of the lecture, to help make sure I don’t forget entire sections. Within that structure I try to note down particular details I thought were especially helpful or that I would be likely to forget. If there are specific facts that would be difficult to look up later, I try to include those as well. I may do some quick (ugly) sketches if a concept would benefit from a visual. I also note down direct quotes that I particularly like.
Then, as soon as possible afterwards, I go through my notes and fill in as much of the detail as possible surrounding what I had noted down during the lecture. This second round of notes are the combination of what I originally wrote down and what I can remember and it lets me capture a lot more detail than I could write down during the lecture or than I could remember without my written notes to prompt me. If my original notes were handwritten, this also includes typing them up.
If it’s something particularly important I’ll go through the typed notes a second time to clean everything up (I find that if I don’t do this second pass, my unrevised notes often resemble brain vomit). It’s often helpful to wait a while before doing this, both because I’m usually a bit burnt out after the first pass and because a bit of distance can make it easier to think about concepts, rather than the details of the original lecture.
Finally, since I’ve moved to a PKM system I’ve started doing another pass concentrating on organizing and linking my notes. Often this involves splitting or combining individual notes, tagging/categorization, linking notes together, and adding external references.
This is definitely time consuming, but the benefit from going through the topic multiple times pretty huge:
- I learn by hearing the original material.
- I learn from taking notes during the presentation.
- I learn from typing up the notes and filling in details from memory, based on the notes as a prompt.
- I learn from revising and cleaning up my typed notes.
- I learn from linking and reorganizing my notes in a PKM system.
- I have a nice set of final notes for reference.
While #6 may seem like the point of the exercise, I actually find that the more effort I put into 1-5, the less important the final notes are because I’ve internalized a lot of the information in the process (important since in a lot of circumstances I won’t have access to my PKM when I need this info).