The Sentence Method of Note-Taking: A Quick Guide

Taking notes with the sentence method is a good idea. Sometimes.

"I write the first sentence and trust in God for the next."

Laurence Sterne

It’s time to cover a bit of a mixed bag of a note-taking method: the sentence method.

The sentence method is a technique you don’t really want to use unless there’s no other option available.

Myself, I only use the sentence method on the rare occasion that I come into a fast-paced, unorganized live lecture without any preparation. Then, after class, I rewrite the sentence notes into a more digestible form with something like the outline method or Cornell method.

Still, the sentence method is a viable strategy under some circumstances and it deserves to be covered the same as all the other note-taking methods.

In this article, you’ll learn:

What is the sentence method of note-taking?

The sentence method of note-taking uses line spacing to separate thoughts, concepts, and ideas from one another. Every time a new idea is introduced it is written on a new line, resulting in notes with large quantities of sentences in a vertical order.

The sentence method is one of the most “bare bones” styles of note-taking methods out there. In fact, it might even be a stretch of the imagination to call it a method. The vast majority of students who have never heard of efficient note-taking typically use some form of the sentence method without even realizing it as it does not require any preparation or planning beforehand. 

At one point, I was an avid user of the sentence method myself. Nowadays, however, I try to avoid using the sentence method unless all other methods are ruled out. That’s rarely the case, though, because nowadays I study fully online and I can go into classes whenever and however it suits me best.

Example of the sentence method of note-taking
Example of sentence method note-taking.

When should you use the sentence note-taking method?

Using the sentence method of note-taking can be useful for you if the:

  • Class is fast-paced and you are completely unprepared,
  • Lessons don’t follow any clear structure, 
  • Information does not need reviewing. 

In specific scenarios such as these, choosing the sentence method can be justified. 

However, in most other cases, the sentence method can be easily replaced by the simple and versatile Cornell method. It’s more systematized, allows for easier reviewing, and it’s a much more efficient method in general.

Taking Cornell notes does require you to have some structure to the information, though, so for the most chaotic of classes, it’s not suitable.

Know when to take notes with the sentence method, and just as importantly – when NOT to use it. It’s a method that’s better than nothing, but it’s not exactly efficient.

Pros & cons of the sentence method

These are the benefits of using the sentence method:

  • Versatile enough to be used for any type of class and subject
  • Very easy to learn and use
  • Easily usable during live lectures

And, here are the drawbacks to using the sentence note-taking method:

  • Reviewing the notes after class is very time-consuming and inefficient
  • Efficient organization of large quantities of sentence method notes is nearly impossible
  • Lack of space relationship awareness between notes
  • Main concepts and takeaways are difficult to distinguish from small details
  • Does not show the internal connections between topics and subtopics
  • Requires very quick handwriting or typing skills

While the sentence method does have some specific uses, I do think the method comes with significantly more drawbacks than benefits. If you have no other option, then taking notes with the sentence method is likely better than taking no notes at all. However, there are a variety of different note-taking methods out there that overshadow the sentence method.

How to take notes with the sentence method

The sentence method is very simple to follow. All you need to do is follow these three steps:

  1. Record each sentence on a separate line
  2. Add numbers to the lines
  3. Review your notes

Record each sentence on a separate line

The sentence method requires you to have very quick writing or typing skills, as you’ll be recording everything the instructor says. Also, make sure to record each new thought, idea, or concept down onto a new line.

If you’re taking handwritten notes, developing a shorthand technique that works for you will be very helpful for using the sentence method efficiently. Writing shorthand can drastically increase your handwriting speed and the sentence method does rely heavily on your writing speed.

Add numbers to the lines

Add numbers to each separate line that you recorded in the previous step.

Doing so will help you out in the note review process later on. Without numbering, sentence method notes tend to spiral out of control rather quickly.

Review your notes

Once you’ve recorded and numbered your notes, it’s time to review them.

Sentence method notes are some of the most difficult and time-consuming types of notes to review. That is because they lack any type of note reducing capabilities, and sentences are simply written out in full form rather than a summarized version.

To make the review process easier, I would recommend you rewrite the notes instead by using any other note-taking methods that are suitable for the material. This may seem tedious, but it’ll likely give you much better results in the end.

Overall, though, taking effective notes with the sentence method is not easy, and you’ll likely benefit from choosing another method if you have the chance to do so.