How I Use Cornell Notes

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This an overview of the basic Cornell notes style for taking notes. The Cornell system uses a special template as a guide for note taking. You can see a small image to the left. The idea is to organize your notes, and your note-taking, before you even start to write.


The Cornell Note-taking Template

The standard Cornell notes template begins with an ordinary 8.5 x 11” (A4) sheet of paper that has a 2.5 inch column on the left, and a central 6 inch space that serves as the central note-taking area, the “body” of the template. A third area begins at the bottom of the template, two inches tall, and eight inches wide; this is the summary area.

The basic idea is to take notes, using brief and specific statements in the central body portion of the template (see these note-taking tips), to make marginal notes or glosses about the central points or topics of the body notes in the narrow column on the left, and then, after the class or or lecture, to review your notes and summarize them at the bottom.

The Cornell notes system, by helping you organize your note-taking, helps you organize your thoughts. The basic assumption in the Cornell notes notes system is that after you take your notes you review your notes, adding to them as you review, making marginal glosses to highlight the most important points, or even adding to your notes by referring to pertinent passages in your texts and making connections between your notes and what you already know.

How I Use Cornell Notes

The image above is one of the Cornell style templates I made for my own use. I use variations of the Cornell template for summarizing research articles (the template above) and a slightly different version for translating texts from dead languages, where I have the text in the body, my glosses in the margin, and a crude translation in the summary field.

How To Obtain Cornell Note Paper

I print my own Cornell notes on 24lb HP paper and a laser printer. I used OmniGraffle to make my templates. There are lots of free .pdf templates for Cornell notes online. There are also several generators that allow you to design a .pdf template for Cornell style notes. You can take an ordinary sheet of ruled notebook paper and add the sections yourself using a ruler; this allows you to vary the size of the margin and the summary field. This method lets you use a notebook or pad of paper you already have while you try Cornell style note-taking. You can also buy pre-made Cornell note paper and notebooks; they may be called Cornell notes, or Harvard notes, or Focus notes or Focus Notes Paper. I don’t use a Cornell template all the time, but it does save time and labor in some circumstances.