Digital Note Taking: How to Use Your Computer to Take Great Notes

Recording notes digitally is now very common. Whether it's through your laptop, cell phone or any other device, there is certain to be a way for you to digitally transcribe information that best suits your needs. Get some tips on digital note taking to help you succeed in class. Schools offering Information Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Taking Dictation

Using Your Computer to Take Notes

Taking good notes is key to success in almost any class. Active note taking can help cement facts in your mind as you learn them, and well-organized notes make it easy to retrieve information later. But now that most professors allow laptops in class, many students are having to change their note taking strategies. Read on to learn how to use your computer to take great digital notes.


Even if you normally type at 80 words per minute, it can be a lot harder to split your attention between listening to your professor and keeping up with your notes. If you find yourself struggling in class, consider practicing your listening and typing skills. You can download a free lecture through OpenCourseWare and practice taking notes while listening to it, or check out a free application like Listen and Write, which plays audio clips of current events while you transcribe what you're hearing.

Stylus and Tablet

Use the Right Tools

A laptop or tablet computer and a word processing program are all you need for basic digital note taking. But there are tools that can make your life easier. If you're taking notes in a science or math class, you may find that you need to draw graphs or diagrams - easier said than done with a keyboard. The low-tech, and low-cost, solution is to keep a pencil and paper handy, but then you'll find yourself needing to scan your graphs later to keep your notes together. A stylus, such as the Wacom stylus and tablet, will allow you to draw directly into your computer.

Organized Desktop

Get Organized

Organizing your notes is the most important part of making them work for you. Before you go into class, set up a document folder on your hard drive for each class. You may also find it beneficial to create sub-folders within each class folder for major sections or topics in the course. As you're settling in to take notes, open a new document, name it with the current date, and save it in the appropriate folder. That will make it easy to go right back to your notes for the day at any time.

But you're not done when class is over. Going back through your notes and reorganizing them can help you remember what you learned that day and make it easy to retrieve the right information when it comes time to write that paper or study for a test.

However, this doesn't mean shuffling around your saved documents into new folders - leave those where they are. Instead, you'll want to open each document and retype the highlights into a new document. Many people find it easier to use a database application for this process. A database allows you to enter information into separate fields so that you can call up exactly what you're looking for later by searching for the right field.

sticky notes

Create a System

Creating a system is part of keeping your notes organized, but it's important enough to highlight separately. Coming up with a logical labeling system at the beginning of each class will make it much easier to organize and retrieve information over the course of the term. For example, if you're in a math class, you could create a separate label for geometry, algebra and trigonometry (G, A and T). Use those labels in your class note file names and database fields, and you'll always know how to find what you're looking for when you're studying.

Furthermore, a labeling system can help you coordinate your class notes with your reading notes. If you use the same organization and labeling system for taking notes in class and taking notes from your textbook or online research, it'll be a snap to put it all together.

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