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Taking Notes Module

Outline Method

The Outline Method is the simplest approach to note-taking, and you're likely already familiar with the style.

By creating an outline while writing notes, you can organize information in a structured and logical way, which makes it easier to see how smaller details and discussions relate to bigger concepts and ideas.

Example of the outline method.

How to Use the Outline Note-Taking Method

How to Take Notes Using the Outline Method

  1. Write headings on the left side of the document: Headings represent the start of a new idea or a new topic of discussion and will be more general. For example, you are currently reading the Taking Notes in Class (Heading) section in the module about Note Taking (Title).
  2. Write subheadings with an indent to the right of the heading: Subheadings represent an idea or topic that falls under the main topic. For example, the Outline Method (Subheading) is one of six sections in the Taking Notes in Class (Heading) section of this module. Other subheadings include the Cornell Method, the Matrix Method, and Concept Mapping.
  3. Add points with another indent to the right of the subheading: Points are any supporting thoughts or facts about the subheading.
  4. Add sub-points with another indent to the right: Sub-points are any further details you need to add about a point you've included in your notes.
  5. Continue creating new headings for different topics or new subheadings for ideas that relate to your current heading: Tip—Your professor's PowerPoint slides are likely written with the Outline Method!

Pros & Cons of the Outline Method

Pros

  • Well suited for classes with structured lectures and course readings with clear headings and subheadings.
  • Indentations and groupings show relationships between information.
  • Headings can be used create active recall study questions.
  • Excellent option for online learners or students who prefer taking notes on a computer.

Cons

  • Allows for thoughtless recording, where students write down everything their professor says without adding their own thoughts.
  • Students must be careful and maintain organization throughout the class.
  • Not ideal for some science, technology, science, and math (STEM) subjects, such as physics and math.
  • Difficult to use in classes that are fast-paced or where lectures are unstructured.

When to Use the Outline Method

Use the Outline Method when

  • Your class lecture is presented using an outline organization (e.g. often in PowerPoint slide format).
  • You don't have enough time in your class to make decisions about how you want to organize information.
  • You know you'll want to re-write notes in a different format to help you study for tests.