Notes, Notes, Notes

Considering the fact that I am still a student, taking notes is a huge part of my life. However, note taking is not strictly limited to the classroom. One recent example of a time when I took notes outside one of my classes was my pre-departure orientation for my Hong Kong summer study abroad trip. Because the people in charge of the program were going over important information about our trip, such as how to get to our hotel from the airport, what items to bring, what we can do to prepare in advance, etc., I thought it necessary for me to take notes. Of course, I chose to take notes, rather than use a different form of writing, in this situation because the main aim of notes is to help remind you of important information that you will need to reference later on in time.

I believe that note-taking is a very personalized form of writing due to the fact that the primary audience is yourself. (While it is not uncommon to share your notes with others, you still originally wrote those notes for yourself.) But because note taking is very person-specific, I do not feel there are many conventions people have to follow. In fact, I believe that there is really only one convention that people follow when taking notes, and that is to not write in full paragraphs as in other forms of writing. Instead the information is broken up into smaller pieces and is organized in a list format using some type of bullet point. This convention is one that I learned unconsciously through seeing many examples of notes that other people had taken since a young age. One example would be seeing the notes my elementary school teachers would have on the slides they projected for the class. However, these examples also helped me develop my own personal style for taking notes. This is seen clearly in the fact that I draw a star next to points that are extremely important, a habit that is surely the result of many of my former teachers also putting a star next to what they thought was most important.

Another thing that I, like many other people, tend to do when taking notes is to abbreviate words. Because I am the main audience, which makes my own personal understanding of something the only thing really at stake in my notes, there is no problem abbreviating things as long as I know what they stand for. In my notes from the orientation, for example, some of the abbreviations I used included “+” for “and,” “w/” for “with,” and “HK” for “Hong Kong.”

Now in the case of notes, the response or feedback you get is not the typical one, if there is any at all. This is because people generally imagine a response or feedback coming from someone other than the original author, but in the case of notes, almost all of it comes from the original author. For example, in my case, when I find something I don’t understand when looking back at my notes, I mark it with big question marks to communicate that this section needs clarification.

However, note taking is different from other forms of writing, particularly other forms of writing closely related to academics, for other reasons as well. Most other forms of academic writing require you to start somewhat in advance. However, for my orientation notes, as with all my other notes, I did not start until the person lecturing/presenting started speaking. I then continued to work/ add to my notes while the orientation was still taking place in the classroom. Additionally, most other writing is used as a tool to articulate your own thoughts, but in note taking you are only trying to write down things other people are telling you with little to no incorporation of your own thoughts. But as a result of focusing so much on writing down what the other person is saying, I generally don’t think or have any feelings about what I am writing.

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