How To Take Notes

So with my previous post on the theological methodology for note-taking in mind, and as part of a textually minded culture, I think we should be taking notes—no matter the tool (computer, notepads, mp3 recorders, stenography). In this post I want to six goals for taking notes.

1. Note the verses used.

If the preacher is speaking on a specific text, note what that text is. If you’re recording an mp3, label it according to that text (if that helps) or put that information in the meta-data. If you’re taking notes highlight the main text (maybe in the heading, maybe in the color, or maybe even in the document name). If the preacher cites verses, write them down and tie why they’re being cited. Most of us will not remember these things but this process will help us examine the thought flow in the light of the text.

2. Note the main points.

If the speaker is emphasizing something, it is likely (though possibly not) important to the message: list it as a point. You might not want to spoil your mp3 recording with you whispering “important” at key points, but it might mean you jot down a time mark with the key point that is being made. Likewise here, you shouldn’t be inserting what you expect to be the main point. If it takes a while for the point to become clear, leave the heading blank and insert after the point is made.

3. Note point substantiation.

Usually (though admittedly, and sadly, not always) the speaker substantiates his or her points with either verses, or a logical argument, or an illustration, or an example. Take note of how that point is substantiated. Here you shouldn’t be running off and adding further [, that is, your own] substantiation. [We’re simply noting what logic or verses the speaker uses to substantiate the point; or if he assumes the point note the assumption. This is note-taking, not helping the preached message.]

4. Summarize the general message.

Break down the entire message into a basic thrust or three. What was the important take home point? What did it teach about God? What was mandated of the listeners? Why was this all important. I usually do this close to the end of the meeting, after the concluding points and closing prayer while the whole thing is still fresh in my mind. For you it might mean doing it later.

5. Ask how it relates to the Gospel.

If the Scripture points to Christ and the Gospel, we should rightly ask what the preacher unveiled about the Gospel in a positive way (yes, the message clearly reflected Christ and God’s Gospel in this point here, there and the other) or negatively (no, the message laid on me a demand—something I had to do—when I know that I don’t have the power to do it. It preached “law”). If “no” was there ever a solution found in the Gospel or was it strictly demand and command?

6. Ask how it relates to the rest of Scripture.

Look up the text and the immediate context—does it support the speaker’s point? Read commentaries and equipped teachers—do the given translations match what is actual? Is it supported in the text (all of it) which preaches God’s Gospel? With so many tools on our e-Bibles I’ll offer a warning: don’t do this while the message is being preached!

Next I’ll answer if note-taking is necessary.

(Crossposted at Digital Sojourner)

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2 replies on “How To Take Notes”

I’m not sure I understand your point about not noting further substantiaion (3). I often do, but it is usual only 1, my brain can’t keep up otherwise. I find it helpful when I review the notes, which I suppose is the salient point to note taking.

Ugh, that was poorly edited on my part. It should be that we note the speaker’s point substantiation and shouldn’t run off to substantiate the points on our own. If he assumes something, note that it is an assumption. If he substantiates the point with faulty logic (ie: Some Bad Teacher teaches the same thing; therefore this is wrong) then note that. In 6 we get busy trying to figure out proper connections but in 3 all we’re doing is noting how the speaker establishes his points without helping him out with our input in the notes.

The reason is that sometimes we come out of a message hearing what we wanted to hear instead of what we did hear.

I hope that explains it and I’ll add a note above.

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