Practical Pointers: Taking Good Notes

In our new series, Practical Pointers, our HH&K attorneys will make suggestions on very practical issues.  The first in our series—Note Taking.

Ah, taking notes.  It happens on an almost daily basis in most businesses--notes of a phone call;  notes of a conversation; notes during an investigation.  Even at home, we make lists of what we need for shopping, note a book or article we want to read when we hear it on the radio, and scratch down that phone number or recipe we may need later.  Notes are all around us. Lawyers take a lot of notes, and they read a lot of them, too.  Here are a few points to improve the usefulness of your notes:

    • Legibility Matters.  If you or someone else cannot read your notes, they don’t serve their intended purpose.
    • Use Complete Phrases or Sentences.  All of us have likely stared at some cryptic words on a page and wondered what we meant.  Notes are rarely used immediately afterward.  Make sure they will make sense months from now.
    • Avoid Acronyms.  Particularly those that mean something only to you, or that you will have no idea what they mean when you look back.  Better to take more time now than later.
    • Someone other than creator may need to use the notes.  In business, it may not be the original investigator who uses the notes to come to a decision.  At home, your significant other may use your list to buy groceries.  Notes are rarely just for you.

For more formal note-taking, such as an interview during an investigation, a few more pointers:

    • Avoid erroneous, distracting or unnecessary material.  People may wonder if you were really paying attention if the page is filled with doodles.
    • Make sure you have paper to take notes on.  The back of an envelope may work for a quick phone call, but shouldn’t be used for a formal investigation.
    • Be consistent in your note taking and retention practices.  Type them up afterward?  Do so consistently.
    • Make sure you write down names, dates, and descriptions of events accurately.  Ask to verify spellings of names and places and repeat dates to make certain they are correct.
    • Document who was present during conversation and when it occurred .  You will likely remember who you were speaking with, but may not remember who else was in the room. Likewise, it is difficult to remember exact dates, even though it may be critical to a case.

Good note-taking is an art that takes patience and practice.  Try implementing a few of these suggestions, and see if it doesn’t make your next shopping trip a little less frustrating, and your next business transaction go more quickly.

Article written by Dawn J. Lanouette, Partner at Hinman, Howard & Kattell, LLP.  To contact Mrs. Lanouette directly call (607) 231-6917 or dlanouette@hhk.com. 

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