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Using symbols & abbreviations How 2 take nts ↑ qckly

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One of the most difficult aspects of taking notes during lectures is that you cannot both listen and write at the same time. When you stop to write down an idea, you might miss something else which is important. This means you need to find a way to write down the main ideas as quickly as you can, so that you can maximise the amount of time you spend listening. This is where symbols and abbreviations can help.

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Ways to abbreviate words

Almost any word can be shortened during note-taking. Below are some ideas about how to do this.

Use the beginnings of words

One way to shorten a word is to use just the beginning of the word, for example:

  • pol - politics
  • gov - government
  • subj - subject
  • info - information
  • intro - introduction

Use the beginnings of words with the final letter

Sometimes it can be useful to add the final letter of the word. Some people prefer to also add an apostrophe ('), others don't. For example:

  • govt - government
  • gov't - government
  • interl - international
  • inter'l - international

Omit vowels

Sometimes you might need to write out the whole word, but even so, you can probably leave out the vowels and still understand the word, for example:

  • prblm - problem
  • schl - school
  • bkgd - background

Abbreviate -ing

The ending -ing is very common, so find a way to abbreviate it, for example:

  • ckg - checking
  • ckng - checking
  • ck'g - checking

Abbreviate specific words from the lecture

If there are words which are commonly used in a particular lecture you are listening to, you should try to abbreviate them. For example, in a lecture about acid rain, the speaker might frequently talk about sulphur, nitrogen, pollution, factories. The following abbreviations could be used:

  • AR - acid rain
  • S - sulphur
  • N - nitrogen
  • pol - pollution
  • facs - factories

Common symbols & abbreviations

There are many common abbreviations and symbols which you can use for note-taking. You probably already know many of these (especially the mathematical symbols), but perhaps had not thought about using them before. Try to learn some of these and start using them when you take notes.


leads to, causes (showing result)
caused by, because of (showing reason)
increase, more, go up, up
decrease, less, go down, down
=equal to, is, are
not equal to, is not, are not, is the opposite of
>greater than
>>much greater than
<less than
″ ″ditto (same as above)
& +and
man, men, male
woman, women, female


e.g.for example
i.e.that is
etc.etcetera, and so on
Ccentury, e.g. C20: 20th century
approxapproximate(ly) (see also ≈ symbol)
diffdifference, different, difficult, difficulty
impimportant, importance
1stfirst (similarly 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc.)
UKUnited Kingdom (similarly US for America(n), Aus for Australia(n), Eur for Europe(an))
no.number (see also # symbol)
posspossible, possibly
probproblem, probable, probably

Personal symbols & abbreviations

You should also try to develop your own list of personal abbreviations and symbols, which might use different rules from the ones above. Some might be suggested from your own language. One I particularly like is 人, the Chinese character for 'people', which is much quicker to write than any English abbreviation or symbol. I also use 'dgl' for 'the same' or 'similarly'; this is a German abbreviation (short for 'der gleich') which I learnt at university when studying mathematics.


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Sheldon Smith

Author: Sheldon Smith    ‖    Last modified: 03 February 2022.

Sheldon Smith is the founder and editor of He has been teaching English for Academic Purposes since 2004. Find out more about him in the about section and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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