In the last post, I presented you with 4 systems for taking notes. Now it’s time to cover a technique you can use to write information more quickly, which is a simple form of shorthand – using abbreviations & symbols.
When you’re trying to write quickly, often there is simply not enough time to write the whole word, especially if the word is long. Look at the word “reconstruction.” This takes a long time to write out, so you should shorten it. Now, the shortest way to write this word is probably just to write “R.” But if you look at your notes later, will you know what “R” stands for? Probably not, so that’s not a good idea.
However, if you know before the instructor starts speaking that that the topic of the lecture will be all about “reconstruction” you can probably guess that “reconstruction” will be repeated many times by the teacher. If that is the case, then I suggest you write “R = reconstruction” at the top of your page, and then use “R” in your notes. Then you’ll know what it represents when you look back on your notes, and you’ll be able to take notes a lot faster. However, if “reconstruction” is not used often in the lecture, then it’s probably better to use and abbreviation like “rec.” which you may be able to understand in context.
Some words are so common in the English language, that well-recognized abbreviations have been created. It’s a good idea to learn and use some of these:
Remember that it’s not so important how you use capitalization and punctuation, as long as you can understand. Using symbols are another way to write more efficiently. These, too, are commonly used when note taking. Some of them get their meaning from mathematics:
Depending on the subject you are studying, there are also abbreviations that you might find useful because the vocabulary used in that area of study is repeated frequently. Below you can also find some common abbreviations that might be used in European history, for example:
Now, you also might want to consider using abbreviations or symbols in your own or in another language, if you know it. For example, Japanese and Chinese characters often take a lot less time to write than they would in English to express certain meanings. I’m not a Japanese native speaker, but I sometimes use Japanese characters because they are so convenient. For example, I often use 人 for people, 中 for inside, まで for until, 大 for large and 小 for small, and I also use kanji the days of the week: 月火水木金土日. Kanji or Chinese characters are clearly so much faster in some cases, if you know them.
Generally speaking, however, should you take notes in your native language? Well, if you are new to note-taking, it’s probably going to be very hard for you to write only in English, so it’s OK to write a little bit in your own language at first. However, if you care about your English skills, make an effort to write in English more and more.
If the content you are listening to is more important than the fact that it is in English, then you might think that you don’t have to worry so much and you can write in your language, right? But actually, this is not necessarily true. You need to be careful, because when you listen in English and write in another language, your brain is under a lot of stress because it has to translate. This is something to consider.
Now, there are a lot more abbreviations that you can use (see links at the end of this post). You don’t need to remember all of them. Just pick and choose what works for you, and gradually you’ll be able to use more and more of them. And of course, it’s fine if you make up your own abbreviations and symbols. Your notes are for you, after all! You can even draw pictures:
Don’t go crazy, however. If you cannot remember what your original abbreviation or symbol means, then you’ll be very confused and frustrated when you go back to study your notes! It’s probably best to stick to common abbreviations and symbols at first.
Remember not to overdo your use of abbreviations and symbols in the beginning. When you are first learning them, you might not be able to remember and write them fast enough for them to be useful. It could be faster just to write down the whole word!
OK, I’ve gone over some common abbreviations and symbols you can use to help you write faster. I’ve also advised you to gradually use more and more of them. In the next post of this series we’re going to have a look at reviewing and previewing your lecture notes. This is particularly important if you want to really solidify (or make permanent) the information and your understanding of it in your brain. Of course, it will also prepare you to do well on exams.