Emphasis and Remembrance

My favorite part of note-taking is drawing emphasis to certain crucial sections, definitions, and the like. Emphasis is the key to remembrance after the fact. Plus, its a fun was to be uniquely expressive and creative with your note-taking. There are multiple methods for drawing emphasis, many of which you can customize to match your personal needs and styles.

Methods of Drawing Emphasis to your notes:

Bolding and Color – There are two main ways that you can draw emphasis through bolding. If you are writing in pencil or pen, simply darken the word(s) or write over them a second time. If you are interested in color-coordinating in your notes, you can write word(s) requiring emphasis in your chosen color, to help them stand out from the rest of your notes. This makes it easier when you skim over your notes later.

  • For example:

Entropy – a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work. Also the lack of order or predictability or a gradual decline into disorder.


Underlining – There are an unlimited number of ways to use underlining to draw emphasis to a phrase or word. Any combination of styling and color can give you a multitude of options.

With styling, you can come up with lots of underline styles that are flexible and can be given different meaning. For example you can have a straight underline, a double straight underline, a zigzag, or an underline comprised of dots. Once you assign meaning, these help with instantaneous recall of ideas and definitions, as well as make it easy to locate key points and section headers.

With color, this can be done similar to how you use color with bolding. If you are interested in color-coordinating, you can have each of the underlines written in your chosen color, to help them, once again, stand out from the rest of your notes.

  • For example:

A paradox is a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.


Bulleted and Numbered List Hierarchies – A lot of times when you’re note-taking in lectures, classes, and meetings, there are main points and sub-points to the topics presented. This usually requires an indented hierarchy of some kind, i.e. a bulleted or numbered list. For example:

  • Main Topic, i.e. Chapter, meeting date and/or topic, etc.
    • Section, i.e. Section 2 of the current chapter, discussion point in meeting, etc.
      • Main Points of the Section
        1. One sub-point
        2. Another sub-point

There are a bazillion options for how to carry these out and you could spend all day reading a list of various combinations. The key point is to decide on an indented hierarchy before you start writing. Once you’ve decided on it, be consistent! Write it on a sticky note and store it in your notebook at the back. Now overtime you need to reference the styles you chose, you have a removable key. Every time a new section starts, remember to follow that scheme. You can also begin incorporating bolding and underlining into how your hierarchy unfolds.

More often than not, emphasis is in the eye of the beholder. It is something that can be suggested, but not taught, since each of use learns and remembers differently. You may need to experiment and see what helps you study and learn the best. You may also need to tone down your choices if they become to complicated to do in a hurry. All of these things are okay – the importance is in how it helps you to learn and study!


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