The Ultimate Guide to Taking Notes on PowerPoint

By Chelsea Jackson on April 21, 2017

Love them or hate them, PowerPoint slides have become an integral part of most college lectures. While most professors will add a great amount of detail to a slide during a given lecture, there are still a few professors who simply reiterate what they have typed into the PowerPoint document.

Regardless, taking notes in a PowerPoint document is a painless method for note taking. Plus, note-taking via PowerPoint presentations allows you to reduce your waste by conserving paper.

While you run the risk of losing your PowerPoint data due to file corruption or other technical difficulties, you can easily backup your data into your Dropbox account or convert your PowerPoint to a Google Slides e-document.

The prep work

Before your lecture, you should extract your professor’s PowerPoint document and download it onto your computer. You should familiarize yourself with the contents of these slides so that you are prepared for the next class.

Beyond reviewing these PowerPoint slides, you should add questions in these slides. These queries can range from issues understanding a concept or about a relevant problem in the textbook. To add a question, I would suggest that you add a comment so that you can resolve these comments with answers during your next lectures.

In order to add a comment, simply click Insert in your PowerPoint document and then click comment. The Comments section will appear to the right side of the document, where you can type a question or concern in individual comment bubbles. These blurbs will serve as helpful reminders during class.

Otherwise, you can add questions and additional text in the form of notes in your PowerPoint.

Adding notes

In order to add notes to an appropriate slide, select the slide and at the bottom of the PowerPoint document click the Notes or Add Notes space.

If you would like to change the hierarchy of your notes per each slide, you may select the Home tab and use the Font and Paragraph tools to reorganize how these notes will be printed out. These adjustments will not appear as you view the PowerPoint document. Instead, you will only see these amendments in the Presenter View or Preview Mode or once the document is printed.

Drawing a diagram or figure

In order to create a comprehensive figure in a PowerPoint document, all you need to do is select the Insert tab, then click either the SmartArt or Chart tab (dependent on the purpose of your visual). Both the SmartArt and Chart options open up an additional dialog box so you can choose the perfect shape(s) or chart(s) for your needs. Once the appropriate dialog box pops open, you can change the diagram’s shape, size, and spacing to make your professor’s hand-drawn illustrations.

You can add an uncomplicated diagram or chart by creating a diagram in OneNote, separate from your PowerPoint document entirely. The benefit to creating a diagram separately in OneNote is that it will give you more space in your PowerPoint’s notes section to actually type notes. Simply click the Draw tab and then select various objects in the Shapes gallery to form your desired diagram. If your diagram requires you to use multiple different shapes, such as for a simplified illustration of a molecule, you can select Lock Drawing Mode once the toggle menu from the Shapes gallery appears.

Microsoft Office support also has additional videos to show you how to choose the diagram or chart for your PowerPoint slide. However, you can also hand draw your own custom shapes and figures, which can help you create more detailed figures for anatomy classes, engineering classes, or otherwise.

In order to design your own custom visuals for your PowerPoint document, you should start by clicking the Review tab. This tab may also be labeled as Draw for any Microsoft Office 365 users. Afterward, select the option that says Start Inking on the far right-hand side.

After you select Start Inking, a plethora of drawing options will appear. You may use a pen to freehand an educational illustration, the highlighter option to highlight portions of your notes, or even clip and select sections entirely.

When selecting the pen tool, you make alter the color selection and even the line thickness of your PowerPoint drawing utensil. The Start Inking feature is particularly useful if you are skilled at creating simple drawings using your mouse or if your laptop has a touchscreen. If you are a design student or would like to create more detailed visuals for your PowerPoint, you can simply purchase an inexpensive and portable drawing tablet to connect to your laptop.

A drawing tablet, such as a HUION H420 Graphics Drawing Tablet Board, acts as a sketchbook so you can actively draw images on your laptop’s screen. While you won’t be able to see the image you’re drawing on the tablet’s surface, you can easily train your hand-eye coordination to cultivate functional figures for your PowerPoint document.

It’s essential to note that you can only add these drawn diagrams and figures to your slides. You cannot add them to your notes; however, you may add additional slides to your PowerPoint presentation to make room for these supporting visuals.

You can also add photographs of your professor’s notes to your PowerPoint’s notes, as this will also save time so you can focus on the lecture. If your professor gives you verbal and/or written permission, you can also record his/her audio during class and include it into your PowerPoint document. To add audio, click Insert, Media, and then Audio. However, it’s critical that you ask for your professor’s consent before each lecture, as otherwise, you can face a prodigious lawsuit.

While it’s important to annotate your PowerPoint slides appropriately during class, it’s vital that you understand the difference between necessary, or noteworthy, information and filler knowledge. You shouldn’t waste the entirety of the course writing vigorously typing notes in your PowerPoint slides. Instead, spend your time listening to your professor and dissect and type in any information that isn’t self-explanatory in the slides or the textbook(s) themselves.

I live in Iowa now, but I was born and raised in Florida. When I'm not writing, I'm probably drawing or cooking.

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