A Dreamer Walking

Notes on Taking Notes

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 18, 2011

I thought I would give you a list of suggestions on taking notes. Going through my notes from about two and a half years ago I have realized I have gotten much better at taking notes and have worked out a system. I don’t know if my system will work for you but you might find some of these points helpful. Enjoy!

  1. Leave Room for Clarity: Thank goodness in most countries paper is not too expensive. I made the mistake of buying small notebooks my first few months of taking notes on films. The notebooks did not give me much room for clarity. For the most part my notes looked like a jumbled mess. However, I eventually learned and I now use Five Star Wide Ruled notebooks (You probably could find them for a cheaper price just going to Wal-Mart). These notebooks are very much worth the extra price. They give you room to clarify what the notes you are taking are for. I start at the far left of the page and begin to write, I leave a extra space blank when the filmmaker I am listening to is going on to another subject. However, if the subject is connected with my last note I simply go down a single space and tab a few spaces over and begin writing. Make sure to tab to the right before writing so you know you are addressing a separate point even though it is connected to the same subject. Do not write on both sides of the paper. If you write on both side of the paper you will always be struggling to read your notes because most of the notes on the other side of the page show through. You will be leaving space if you go about writing this way but the space I think you will find is helpful, especially when returning to your notes months or years later.
  2. Create a Clear Heading: Make sure you post the valuable information on the head of your notes before going on to write anything else. If you are taking notes on a Charlie Rose interview I would suggest you write something like this for your heading: Charlie Rose: Steve Jobs and John Lasseter: 1996: You can underline this title and then begin with your note taking. If taking notes on the commentary, state the name of the movie and then the names of the people composing the commentary along with their jobs on the film. The reason for this is because you want to know clearly what you took notes on so two years later you don’t mistakenly watch the same interview again. You also want reference so you can look the interview up again if you need to get a quote or piece of information from it.
  3. Stay Organized: This sort of involves my last point. You must try your best to stay organized with your note taking. I try my best to leave sections open in my notebook for curtain directors or filmmakers I am studying. It is much easier to go back and look at notes I wrote about someone like Steven Spielberg if they are all in the same section rather then scattered all through out my notebooks. This is the reason why it is wise to study only a few people at a time rather then jumping all over the place. Another reason it is important to have a clear heading is so you know when you are moving on to a new interview. Dating interviews is also a good idea, you will most likely find the person you are studying has changed his or her view a little bit depending on the year the interview or commentary was taken. When it comes to organization all the little things count. You do not need to spend forever preparing to take notes on a interview, but the more organized you are the more time you end up saving when coming back and trying to understand your notes.
  4. Write in First Person: No matter if you are quoting the person word for word or not I would suggest you write in first person while taking notes. Rather then saying, “Ridley Scott says,…”, just begin to write what Ridley Scott says. You can miss a line or two, make it a little more understandable for you, and you can abbreviate at times, but the objective should be capturing the person you are listening to voice, not yours. You don’t need to feel conflicted on whether you agree with what he or she is saying, that is not the reason you are taking notes. I believe you should be taking notes to hear that persons perspective. I write down what the filmmaker says and think about it later. I actually like the idea of them having different philosophies then I do, some of which I agree with and some of which I disagree with. For the most part, if I want to speak from my point of view I write in parentheses and let the reader know what I am saying is from my point of view. I also come back to my notes with sticky notes, this is when I begin to flesh out what the filmmaker said with my perspective. Make sure you make it clear who is talking, especially if you think they are making a good point. You do not want to write in a paper or blog post Ridley Scott said something only to find out later it really was his writer Steven Zaillian who said it.
  5. When in Doubt Write it Down: I write down everything. I rather be too detailed then not detailed enough. For one, writing things down usually helps you remember what was said. You are sort of repeating the information and processing it while writing. Remember, you do not need to agree with everything you write down, you just need to think it valuable enough information to come back to or remember. Do not be afraid to hit pause on the remote and take a few minutes to write down what has been said. I personally spend more time with the video paused then playing when I am taking notes. You can use some abbreviations but make sure they are clear enough so they are understood when you come back to them years later. You never know what information you will need down the road. If you think the point the person is making is really good, I would suggest you write down word for word so you can quote him or her on a later paper or blog you write.
  6. Figure out a Highlight System: It is always good to go back to your notes and highlight what you feel are really good points. However, I would suggest you figure out a highlight system for writing in the moment. This might mean you should carry a highlighter while writing notes. However, I find quicker and more useful ways of highlighting points are by just writing stars on the side of the post and circling the star a few times depending on how good of a point you feel it was. I even have began to draw little arrows to the main points I find in the interviews. I draw arrows only about five or six times during a interview. I want to be picky with what I consider really good information so if I am in a hurry reviewing my notes I know exactly what to look at. Also, I am sure you will find it interesting when looking back on your notes years later, what you thought was a really good point and what you felt was just worth writing down. 
  7. Write a Small Review: After each one of my commentaries or interviews I write a review of the material. You might think this is a bit obsessive, but I find it helpful. First I rate the material I just looked at from a scale of 1 to 10. If I give it a “5 out of 10” or lower that means I think it is hardly worth watching and I probably don’t even need to review the notes. If I have it a 8.5 out of 10 or higher I probably will post the interview if possible on my blog because it is valuable information worth hearing. I also think it is just good to write about what you thought so you begin to clarify in your own head what you learned. Sometimes after writing about the material I change the rating and make it higher or lower because I have thought through what I have just seen a little bit more.

Well there you go. If I think of a few more notes on how to write notes I will add them to the list. I think this will be useful for some. Feel free to give me advice on how you take notes. Ignore what you don’t think is useful and try what you think might be useful. Each person has their own style. However, it is obvious from seeing my notes from two and a half years ago, some styles need to change.

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