How do I take notes from books

Efficiently take notes that make sense

This is how your records really help you

Regardless of whether you work with highlighter or rather with pencil, whether you write in the books or on the copies, on a pad or on index cards - if you want to anchor a complex text in your memory, you have to take notes. The writing process alone helps us to better remember what we have read.

Perhaps you already have a well-functioning system for taking notes. But many people change their approach from book to book, from specialist article to specialist article. Probably because there was not much you could do with the previous notes. They may be too diffuse, illegible, unsystematic, too fragmentary. So after you've been struggling with your records for a while, reread the article - it'll save you time.

There are a few simple tips that will show you how to take notes efficiently that will really help you anchor what you've read and also be able to refer to it later.

Simple system

Come up with a simple system that you can persevere. Stick with the system, even if it has a few small catches. There is no such thing as the perfect system. Much more important is getting a routine using it. So: first make friends with the old broom before you buy a new one.

Think of simple characters or abbreviations that you write in the margin, e.g. characters for

  • further research
  • important facts
  • Previous knowledge available
  • Questions, contradictions to previous knowledge
  • individual topics that you want to work on e.g. for a specialist article
  • Reference to further, own thoughts that you have written down on a pad
  • Quotes you want to use

You then add your characters or abbreviations to this index

Efficiently take notes - this is how it works

So that you can create a meaningful system, invest some time before reading it. By taking a closer look at your reading expectancy, you will have a good compass to guide you through the text. Think about it:

  • What do I want to find out through this text?
  • Which questions would I like to have answered? (an abbreviation for each question could then be useful)
  • What do I already know about the subject?

Avoid the generous use of highlighters. Keep your compass close. In this way you avoid having to mark every line indiscriminately - and at the end. It may well be that everything in the text is relevant. But is really everything for her relevant?

In addition to the markings, you can write down the main message of each paragraph. With this you do two things: you reflect on what you have read and put it in your own words. With this you offer your brain two anchors.

Cornell method

The Cornell method is widely used in American universities. It goes back to the university professor Walter Pauk of Cornell University. He had thought about how he could enable his students to work on texts efficiently.

For this approach you need an A4 sheet of paper that you divide into three segments:

Your abbreviations or symbols are well suited for the left column, i.e. the core questions. Even small drawings give you an indication of what you wanted to record with your notes, i.e. the large column on the right, at a glance.

Here is a template for the Cornell Method

This is also very effective

I would like to recommend two more tips to you:

  1. Take breaks
    Give yourself regular breaks. Experts recommend taking a break after just 5 minutes. Why? Well, working memory is full after 5 minutes (if you are reading a difficult text - not if you are working on Asterix and Obelix). Everything that comes after that has to find a place in working memory. And that makes it pretty rowdy: it simply throws out what has been read before. It goes on and on.
    If, on the other hand, you take a break and think about what you have read, your memory has the chance to transfer the new knowledge into long-term storage. The main memory is thus empty again and ready to accept something new.
    As always, I recommend here too: try it out. Even if you think you don't have the time for breaks - at least try out a specialist article or a few book chapters.
  2. Talk about it
    There may not be a willing sacrifice for every subject. But just sprinkle your most important findings from reading over lunch with colleagues. Ask your partner what they think of this or that claim. In this way you make what you have read into your own thoughts and have set a really stable anchor.

Buy now: BrainRead. Read more efficiently - keep more. Read like the Swedes. Linde Verlag, Vienna 2013

192 pages, EUR 16.80

Prof. (a.o.) Göran Askeljung is the author and owner of BrainRead, managing director and senior trainer at and immediate effects, certified facilitator and partner of Consensus in NY, and heads Consensus Austria and Germany. He is professor at the Institute for Sales & Negotiation at the Georgian School of Management, member of the board of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Austria and member of the advisory board of WdF. He previously worked as Managing Director of Microsoft MSN in Austria and Business Unit Manager of Ericsson Data CEE in Vienna. He is married and has two children.


Göran Askeljung2018-06-19T13: 43: 38 + 00: 00