Female student taking notes in lecture

Take effective notes

Use these quick shapes and symbols to write and understand your notes quicker

In lectures and when reading, many people spend a lot of time and effort writing out whole sentences and long phrases. In lectures, this makes it very difficult to keep up and vital information can be missed. When reading, many people just re-produce the text. Others tend to copy only key words and points, and then have problems knowing what they mean when they look back at them. Both of these are note-taking.

Note-making, on the other hand, involves engaging with the material, which helps with understanding and memory. The best thing in most cases is to think about what you are noting, perhaps summarising, paraphrasing, or adding your own or other writers’ ideas. See our tips on mind maps for an alternative to linear notes.

This page provides a number of common abbreviations to help you to save time and keep up in lectures.

Getting started

Make up your own abbreviations. You'll find that some words and phrases are commonly-used and you can find a way to shorten them. However, make sure you don't become confused with other, similar words, which is all to easily done. Make up your own short forms, and take a note of it or you might forget what it means. Be as creative as you like!

Three abbreviation techniques

1. Use the first few letters of the word

Use just enough to remember what the abbreviation stands for. Ensure that there are enough letters to prevent confusion between other words with the same first letters.

For example:

  • imp for ‘important’
  • info for ‘information’
  • eval for ‘evaluation’
  • dev for 'development'
  • gov for 'government'

2. Use initials for phrases


  • UP for 'University of Portsmouth'
  • RS for 'reflective skills'
  • LG for 'local government'; NG for 'national government

3. Remove all (or most of) the vowels from the word

Use just the key consonants bunched together.

For example:

  • mngmt for ‘management’
  • mkt for ‘market’ (and mkting for ‘marketing’)
  • dvpt for ‘development’

Common symbols used in note-taking

  • & or + and, plus, with (this symbol, the ampersand, is rather difficult to draw freehand – many people use a simple squiggle ( ) to represent ‘and’)
  • – minus, without
  • = equals, is the same as, results in
  • ≠ does not equal, is not the same as, does not result in
  • ≈ is approximately equal to, is similar to
  • < is less than, is smaller than
  • > is greater than, is larger than
  • ↑ increase, rise, growth
  • ↑↑ rapid increase
  • ↓ decrease, fall, shrinkage
  • ↓↓ rapid decrease
  • ⇒ or ∴ therefore, thus
  • → leads on to, produces, causes
  • x no, not, incorrect
  • xx definitely not, disproved
  • ? uncertain, possibly, unproven
  • ✓ yes, correct
  • ✓✓ definitely, certain, proven
  • # number
  • ✳ special, important, notable (when added to a word or phrase)
  • / per – for example, £50/day instead of ‘fifty pounds per day’


Some common general abbreviations

  • c. approximately, roughly, about (abbreviation for the Latin ‘circa’)
  • e.g. for example
  • i.e. in other words (usually used when adding more detail or an explanation)
  • cf. compared to, by comparison with
  • w/ with
  • w/o without
  • v. very
  • vv. extremely
  • C century (e.g. C19 for ‘nineteenth century’)
  • etc. and so on
  • K or k a thousand (e.g. 500K for ‘five hundred thousand’)
  • m a million (e.g. $6m for ‘six million dollars’)
  • vs. against

Note taking example

An example of the use of symbols and abbreviations to take efficient notes is below.

Imagine you heard the following in a lecture:

The United Kingdom’s population, at around sixty million, is similar to that of Italy, but Italy’s population is now shrinking because its birth rate has fallen below its death rate. The UK’s population is still growing, albeit very slowly – at a rate of 0.09% between 1995 and 2000.


Your notes might look like: 

UK pop c60m ≈ I. BUT I. ↓ due BR < DR – cf. UK ↑ slow ie 0.09% 95 – 2K

Download our note-taking revision sheet

Download this page as a PDF for your revision notes.

Do you want help with note taking?

We can provide tips and guidance at the Academic Skills Unit (ASK) at academicskills@port.ac.uk

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