Female student taking notes in lecture

Taking effective notes

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

Writing clear, easy to understand notes quickly will help you throughout your degree. Discover how to simplify your notes and save yourself time in lectures and when you research.  

Lots of people spend time writing out full sentences and long phrases in lectures or during their research. It can be difficult to keep up with your lecturers when you do this, and you might miss key information. Meanwhile, some people note down key words and phrases and struggle to understand their notes later. Writing notes this way is known as note-taking.

Note-making on the other hand involves engaging with your subject material. While note-taking involves mimicking the information in front of you, note-making means processing and understanding the content as you write it down. This helps you remember the content. Try to think about what you're writing and summarise or paraphrase the content, or link it to your own ideas or other resources. 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. There are plenty of popular ways to shorten particular common words and phrases but you can use your own abbreviations and symbols too. Write down what each symbol means so you don't get confused later. 

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 note-taking symbols

  • & or + and, plus, with (the ampersand symbol can be difficult to draw freehand so many people use a 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’


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

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 could look like: 

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

This is much quicker to write down that trying to capture the whole sentence, and you haven't missed any key information. It's also easy to understand when you know what each symbol means. 

Mind mapping

Mind maps can help you to organise your ideas, plan your assessments and communicate visually.

Students discussing notes in pre-sessional English session
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