Taking Good Notes

Business note takingThis week let’s talk about taking good notes in the business situation. Perhaps you’ll be making notes on an assignment you’re being given; you may be taking meeting minutes; or perhaps you’re learning a new process and want to be sure you get it right. You may be using your tablet, a laptop, or – yes, people still do this – even a piece of paper!

For a simple assignment, maybe just a piece of paper to remind you will be enough. For more detailed information, there will be two parts to taking notes: listening, and developing a good note-taking process.

1. Here are some ideas on listening:

• Listening – really listening – requires concentration, and yes, some work! So start with the idea of what you will do with the information you receive. How will you use it? What is the end result you need? Listen for, and note especially the information you need in these areas.

• There are two kinds of listening. Listen for the factual content, and then listen for the “between the lines” content. This implied content may be the most important part of the communication. Clues include the speaker’s volume, tone, gestures, and facial expressions, all of which can help you determine what the speaker actually means by what he or she says.

• As you are listening, ask yourself who (will do what); when; where; why; and how they will do it. Be sure you know your part in the whole matter. What are you expected to do, if anything? You will need answers to each of these questions to be clear on what is being said. The speaker may not include all of these elements, so be sure you are clear in your own mind about the answers to these questions.

• Much of what you will hear will be a combination of fact and opinion. Learn to separate the two. Fact is important and useful, and opinion gives you the strategic guidelines for working with this person.

• Identify the critical parts, and pay particular attention to the details in these parts. It may be embarrassing, but if you have forgotten, or didn’t quite understand some parts of the conversation, ask.

• As you review your notes, see if you can re-phrase them, as though you were explaining what you have heard to someone who was not involved.

2. As for your note-taking process:

You’ll want to think about two things – how to “format” your notes, and your own personal “shorthand” to speed the note-taking process.

We talked about how to “format” your notes when you will use them to write meeting minutes: (a) Have an agenda for the meeting; (b) have a separate piece of paper for each agenda item; (c) take notes on the appropriate agenda item page. This gathers and organizes your content for you at the same time, and eliminates the need to search every page of your notes to get this done. So think about ways you can simultaneously gather and organize your notes for the piece you will write.

If you’ve learned it, regular shorthand will work fine if you’re taking your notes on paper. If not, you can develop your own personal shorthand system. For example, you might omit articles like “a,” “an,” or “the.”

You might use abbreviations that mean something to you, like “prev,” “lbs,” “etc,” “psbl,” “s/b,” “reg,” “lg,” and so on. Perhaps your personal “shorthand” will involve the elimination of vowels. Maybe you will be using the first parts of words, like “intro.” You will want to develop abbreviations for the words you use frequently.

Hope you’ll find these tips and tactics helpful, and we’ll look for you next week – right here!

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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