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Microsoft 365
July 01, 2022

How to Keep Notes Organized

Taking notes is a great way to keep track of things—but how do you keep track of your notes? Here are some practical approaches for organizing your notes so you can put them to good use.

The Value of Notetaking

The classic approach to collecting info, notetaking has myriad benefits whether you’re a student, taking notes at work, or notetaking for a project of your own:

  • Heightened attention and focus1
  • Deeper understanding of topics covered1

Notetaking Methods

How you choose to organize your notes may depend on how you take your notes. Let’s look at the common ways you may find yourself jotting things down.

Analog Notetaking Approaches

  • Pen and paper. Whether you’re working with napkins and scribbling in the margins of books or have a pad of scratch paper, this is the tried-and-true way for notetaking on the fly.
  • Dedicated notebooks. This isn’t just the domain of students. You may find that you keep a notebook for your work notes, a notebook for your hobbies, and a notebook for your journaling practice.
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  • Notecards. A favorite for those who’re working on research papers, notecards can also be handy for jotting down facts to study later.

Digital Notetaking Approaches & Apps

  • Cloud-based notetaking apps. The flexibility afforded us by the cloud means there are whole apps dedicated to notetaking that sync across your mobile and desktop devices and offer browser-based access. Microsoft OneNote provides a user interface that looks like a notebook, for notetakers who want to move to the cloud but feel like they’d miss their old pals.
  • Cloud-based word processing apps. If you prefer to take your notes in Microsoft Word or similar word processing apps, you can still organize your notes in the cloud. When using Word, your best bet is OneDrive.
  • Email. Sometimes inspiration strikes while you’re online and the easiest approach to notetaking is sending yourself an email—or drafting one that’ll wait for you to review later.
  • Dictation and voice notes. Why type or write when you can rattle off your ideas to transcribe later? Or take advantage of speech to text technology for faster turnaround.

It’s been proven time and again that handwritten notes engage the brain differently than notes taken on digital devices, which can yield more effective retention2. While this doesn’t mean you should never use a phone or computer to take notes, it’s a good reminder than a hybrid approach might be the most beneficial for you. Consider two-in-one devices like the Microsoft Surface, which offer the ability to jot things down by hand with the convenient stylus, the Surface Pen.

How to Organize Notes

Organizing your notes is the key to using your notes effectively later. You can organize your notes while you take them, after you take them, or both. You can also combine your notes with notes from other classes, meetings, study sessions, or instances of notetaking.

Organizing While Taking Notes

  • Outlines. If you’re taking notes from a text—or if you’re used to thinking in hierarchies and can follow a speaker quickly—outlines provide a logical structure for your notes.
  • Tables. Not just for numbers, tables are a way to combine textual information with visual representation.
  • Headlines and subheadlines. Different than an outline, headlines and subheadlines provide other kinds of visual mile markers in your notes. Facts can be arranged by theme, topic, or any other similarities that make sense.
  • Diagrams and sketches. Representing notated information in a visual way boosts memorization and retention.1

Organizing After Taking Notes

When you’re organizing notes after the fact, you can use any of the above organizational approaches combined with specific ways to store, label, and separate notes such as tabs, folders, and notebooks. Digital notetaking tools, like Microsoft OneNote, offer all these organization hierarchies and more so you can mix and match whatever works best for you.

Finding a note organization approach that works for you unlocks the power of notetaking because it allows you to effectively reference those notes.

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