Friday, July 3, 2015

Efficient Note-Taking Tips

No matter how good your research skills are, they won’t do you any good if you don’t have an efficient note-taking system. Organizing all the information you collect is just as important as finding it. Without good organized notes, whatever you write will take twice as long.

While some writers still cling to the one-note-on-an-index-card system they learned in school, that’s not the most efficient way of organizing your information. First, it’s a technique that originated before the Digital Age. Today, there are far better ways of doing the same thing.

One of the simplest ways to take notes is to create a note file in your word processor. Into that, you can type in whatever notes are pertinent to the writing project you’ll use the notes for. At this stage, don’t worry about gathering notes in any particular order. Add them to your note file as you find them.

Let’s say your writing an article. At some point, you need to block it out. Blocking is a simple technique that lists the main parts of your piece. It’s not detailed like outlining. Try to stick to a half dozen or so sections for your article. Think of the phrase that you write for each section as its heading. Organize the sections in the order best suited for the article, beginning with the lead. Finally, number each section in order from the lead to the conclusion.  This should take about 10 minutes.

Once you’ve gathered all the notes for say an article, print out your note file. Read over your notes, underlining key passages. In the left-hand margin, jot down which section of your article that piece of information applies. After completing this sorting process, go back and place the section numbers to the left of each note. The numbers won’t be in order. But by following their chronological order, you can begin to write the first draft of your article. Depending on how many notes you have, this should only take 10-15 minutes.  If the subject of your article is pretty straight forward, you should be able to complete the first draft in 60-90 minutes. By allowing another 30-45 minutes for editing, you should be able to complete the finished article in about two hours, not counting your note-taking time.

There are lots of other ways to gather information. You could use a tiny digital recorder and take your notes orally, then transfer what your read into the recorder to a word-processor-ready file in your computer.

If you’re taking notes from written material, you can use a program like Dragon Naturally Speaking, to read selected bits of information into your word-processor directly. This program is extremely accurate and will cut down your note-taking time considerably.

Another option, especially if you don’t have the time at the moment to read through and select information is to use an OCR program like Omnipage Pro. In this case, you scan the pages you want to use and the program converts the printed text to workable word-processing text. Afterwards, when you have more time, you can either go through the text on screen or print it out and underline those parts you wish to select. You’ll then have to go back and using the side-by-side feature of your word processor, copy and paste the parts you selected to a separate note file.

Keep all the notes for each writing project in a separate file folder. Obviously, you’ll have many of them for a book project. In that case, create a folder for each chapter in which you may have several printed out note files.

Being a successful freelance writer demands that you work as efficiently as possible. After all, time is money. The less time you spend on note-taking, the more money you’ll make for each project.