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Law Research & writing skills: Note-taking

Research & writing skills for law

Notes and exams

  • The notes you take from your readings and your lectures should be organised around major topics and key points so that they can be easily summarised as 'memory-triggers' for exam revision. 

  • As you finish a topic, try combining your notes using a comparative table in columns. Examples of column headings could be "key points", "key cases" and "legislation".

  • You may prefer to use a mind-mapping system - one section for topics, linked to cases and legislation. To save yourself time at the end of semester, plan your note-taking carefully from the beginning. 

  • Try out different note-taking styles to see which you like most, then combine and update information on a regular basis. 

The advantages to this are that you are summarising, using your own words and constantly reinforcing your own understanding. These combined summaries will form the basis of your exam summaries. 

So that you can cite your sources accurately, make sure that you know exactly what needs to be recorded before you start taking your notes. For all material, including material from the web, refer to the Australian Guide to Legal Citation.

For a more detailed discussion of the close relationship between good note-taking and exam success, read Claire Macken, Law Student Survival Guide:9 Steps to Law Study Success (ThomsonReuters, 2nd ed, 2010).

Styles of note-taking

  • You may wish to use the Cornell system for note-taking in lectures and the Outline view in Microsft Word for your readings.
     
  • Stella Cottrell, The Study Skills Handbook (Palgrave Macmillan, 3rd ed, 2008) 123 - 4 and Emily Finch and Stefan Fafinski, Legal Skills (Oxford University Press, 2nd ed, 2008), 228 - 230, both have examples of different ways of note-taking. 
     
  • Edwina Higgins and Laura Tatham, Successful Legal Writing (Sweet and Maxwell 2006) have some good examples of legal mindmaps

Suggested reading

Listening and note-taking in lectures

Make sure you always start your notes with the full details of the source, including lectures, to avoid inadvertent plagiarism.  

For lectures, record lecturer's name, unit code, topic and date.

Take a look at this infographic for some more tips.