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Note Taking in Word: A Tale of Two Methods

As classes get into full swing, I thought it would be a good time to look at two different methods of taking notes in Microsoft Word. The classic problem is how to take reading notes as well as class notes, keeping both sets of notes organized and accessible.

Side by Side

The first method involves using two separate Word files, one for each set of notes (reading v. lecture). Simply take notes in a Word document while reading, and then use another Word document for taking notes during class. You can label each set of notes with the date for the assignments, and in this way you can keep your reading notes aligned with your class notes.

Here is the awesome trick for the two-file method: Word enables you to view two documents side-by-side. The process is simple. Open Microsoft Word, and then open both of your documents (you can have more than those two Word docs open, and this will still work). Then, in either of the docs you want to view side-by-side, select “Window” and then “Compare side by side with…”. If you only have two Word docs open, the menu will display “Compare side by side with “. If you have more than two Word docs open, then once you click “Compare side by side…” you will be given a box from which to select your other set of notes.

Once you can view side-by-side docs, your reading and class notes should be easy to keep track of. You can view both sets of notes at once to easily reference your reading notes while in class.


Another method of organizing your two sets of notes is to use a simple table in Word. To do this, create a new Word document and insert a table that has two columns and one row. Then it is simply a matter of typing one set of notes in one column, and the other set in the other column.

This method works best if you do not take very many notes of one category. If this is the case, you can make the column for those notes really narrow, providing more room for notes of the other type. For example, in some classes I take very few reading notes. Thus, I make the reading notes column about 1 or 1.5 inches. This provides ample room for my lecture notes.

You can also play with the formatting of the table to make it more to your liking. For instance, I removed the solid line border and only have a line going down the middle between my two columns.

When all is said and done, what matters most is that you have a note taking system that works for you. Hopefully one of these methods will help you find a system that you like. Please let me know if either of these help you out.

Do you have a good note taking system? Let us know by leaving a comment, or you can drop me a line.

[tags]legal andrew, note taking, notes, class, microsoft word, word, side-by-side, columns[/tags]

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3 Responses to “Note Taking in Word: A Tale of Two Methods”

  1. [...] Found this link: http://www.legalandrew.com/200.....thods/. Describes a good way to take notes using Word. Helpful for classes where students need to read a textbook, and then take notes on a lecture based on the textbook. Posted by admin @ 1:38 pm :: eLearning Comment RSS :: Trackback URI [...]

  2. George Lenard
    January 19th, 2007

    Great suggestion. Back in the day when I was in law school (1980-82), my “reading notes” were just color-coded underlining and marginal asterisks in the casebooks. I then took lecture notes and reviewed the cases and notes simultaneously to prepare meticulous outlines.

    Now that I’m done reminiscing, fast forward to 2007. I have gone one better than your side-by side method, which is somewhat cramped.

    I now use a two-monitor system, especially when writing up research, with downloaded cases or statutes on one monitor and my memo on the other.

    With a laptop running XP all you need to do is plug in a standard monitor, decide which one should be the primary monitor, and you’re good to go. You can drag screens from one monitor to the other, and the mouse smoothly crosses the boundary (you can set the geometry of the monitors — top-bottom or left-right).

    If you don’t have one, you should be able to pick up a used CRT monitor very inexpensively.

    It should make merging the highlights from the two sets of notes a snap, if that’s what you want to do

  3. Andrew Flusche
    January 19th, 2007


    You are absolutely right that dual monitors are a good way to go. I actually wrote about this a while ago: Multiple Monitors Increase Productivity.

    Now that I have a new, better laptop, a nice secondary monitor is high on the tech to-buy list. I envision precisely the scenario you suggest: research on one screen, writing on the other.

    Thanks so much for commenting. I’m really glad to hear your feedback.


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