5 Tips for Color-Coding Your Notes


Color-coding your notes can help you organize information more effectively and study more efficiently. Optimize your color-coding system and make it a highlight of your study strategy by using the five tips in this article.

Why Color-Code Your Notes?

Color-coding is a dynamic way to organize the information that you need to learn. Even if you're short on study time, color-coded notes allow you to rapidly review the most important information.

The use of bright colors captures your attention and is especially stimulating for visual learners. (If you're not sure what your learning style is, it's important to find out so you can tailor learning to the style that works best for you.) However, the colors are more than just eye-catching: The significance you give to each hue serves as a form of mental shorthand, giving context to the material you mark and helping you to process it more meaningfully and efficiently.

Five Tips for Color-Coding Your Notes

Before you stock up on highlighters and colored pencils, consider these tips for making color-coding a powerful part of your study routine.

Highlighters are a popular tool for color-coding your notes and making them easier to study.

Tip #1: Color-Code after Initial Note-Taking

You may be tempted to color-code your notes as you're taking them down during a class or a lecture. However, this can be counterproductive.

Once you've finished taking notes, you can color-code them without interrupting the flow of information from a lecture or textbook. Color-coding after initial note-taking also gives you the opportunity to organize your notes and to review them as you do so.

Tip #2: Choose the Right Tools

Here are some easy-to-use tools for color-coding your notes. You can use them to change the color of the text, circle important points, box off information, or create borders between sections of notes.

These tools include:

  • Highlighters in an array of fluorescent colors
  • Colored pencils for both writing and shading in areas surrounding text
  • Multi-colored pens, which combine several different ink colors in a single writing instrument

Sticky notes are a handy way to add color-coding to your notes. You can use them as bookmarks to quickly find the information you need to study.

  • Sticky notes - available in a wide variety of bright hues, these self-adhering slips of paper can be used to annotate your existing notes with additional comments.
  • Electronic color-coding options - if you take your class notes on a laptop, tablet, or other mobile device, you can color-code them by changing the text color, highlighting the text, or adding comments with virtual sticky notes.

Tip #3: Be Consistent

Whether it's red for main ideas, green for action items, or blue for facts and figures, always use the same colors throughout your notes to signify the same categories of information. Keep a table in the front of your notebook with a list of the categories and their corresponding colors.

Try to use the same system for all of your classes to avoid confusion. The meanings of the individual colors will become second nature to you as you use them consistently.

Tip #4: Limit Your Color Palette

Don't over-complicate your system by introducing more than three or four colors. In order to make sense of your color-coded notes, you will need to remember what each color means as you study.

Choose highlighter colors that contrast with the text to make the words stand out. Stick to text colors that are easy to read against the page's background.

Tip #5: Use Color-Coding Judiciously

Limit your use of color-coding to the most critical information. If everything is highlighted or colored, nothing will stand out as important.

Think of color-coding like road signs: If there were too many road signs, you would be bombarded with too much information and you might even get lost.

Using just a few colors to color-code your notes can make them easier to study.

In the same way, too much color-coding can be distracting and lead to information overload. Remember that the goal of color-coding is to focus your attention and make your notes clearer and easier to navigate. Every color should serve a specific purpose and point you in the right direction.

Color-Coding: an Illuminating Study Habit

Color-coding your notes can highlight important information, help you organize the material logically, and make your study time more productive.

For additional tips on how to get the most from your study time, check out this Study.com article on how to improve your study skills.

By Michelle Baumgartner
December 2019
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