Cornell Notes are more than a way to take focused notes. They have the power to transform your studying and allow you to retain information better. At first, taking Cornell notes can feel overwhelming but gets easier with practice. The key is starting with small steps rather than starting big and failing at the beginning. You will want to take advantage of Microsoft Word and create your own Cornell Notes templates for different classes or projects or use the downloadable template.
What are Cornell Notes?
If you’re not familiar with Cornell Notes and the benefits, then take 5 minutes to watch this video presented by a biology teacher. I think she does a nice job of summarizing the note-taking technique. This technique is equally effective outside the physical classroom. For example, it works equally well if you’re doing an online class or attending a conference.
The concept is to take notes in a structured way using a suggested layout that facilitates learning. Each of the designated areas has a specific purpose that is used when you take the notes and when you review them. However, it’s not so structured that you can’t personalize it. Think of it as a focus notes template.
This past year, more people have been doing online classes and inquiring about “pretty notes” or “aesthetic notes”. These are loosely defined phrases where the note-taker emphasizes colors, fonts, bullets, and other styling. These visual clues can help in learning. Feel free to edit the downloadable Word template to make your own aesthetic notes template.
Microsoft Word templates are a special type of file designed for reuse. Templates provide the structure and more items such as auto text entries and macros. They are the basis by which Word documents are created, whether it’s a new document or a sales letter. In fact, Microsoft Word starts by opening a blank page based on an autostart macro in the normal.dotm template.
Microsoft Word comes with many pre-built templates and groups them by function. You may have other templates that add-in tools or programs have created. You see this interface when you select File | New. You’ll see a listing of your available templates on the top row.
Two Template Examples
There are actually 2 Cornell method templates attached to this tutorial.
 Cornell Notes Template for Word
This ruled template was designed to be very simple. You can either use it as the source for new documents or print out copies. I intentionally kept the document as black and white even though I’ve seen templates with color background areas. While color has its benefits, it can be costly if you need to print these out. Again, if you’re an aesthetic notes fan, you might prefer color.
Also, I kept the top section blank instead of putting specific fields for the class, teacher, etc. This generic approach allows you to use it for other learning scenarios like conferences. Feel free to add your own customizations or symbols. If you’re adventurous, you can even add a watermark.
The template also has X‘s in the Cue Column. This was a request from people who wanted to punch holes to place the notes in a ringed binder. You can delete those if you don’t need them.
 Printable Cornell Notes PDF Template
This is the same design as the Word template. However, it’s not meant to be an interactive PDF file, so it’s best used for making printed copies. Some commercial printers prefer the PDF file format.
How to Make the Cornell Notes Template
If you’ve not seen the Cornell Note-taking system, it divides an 8.5″ x 11″ page into three sections:
- Cue Column – used for questions, keywords, definitions
- Note-taking area – main notes
- Summary – your quick explanation of the topic
Depending on your preferences, some people like to have the note-taking area (2) lined like notepaper. For our template, we’ll add the lines.
Setting the Template Page dimensions
- Open a new Microsoft Word document.
- From the Page Layout tab, select Margins.
- Click Custom Margins… from the bottom of the drop-down.
- In the Page Setup dialog enter 0 for the Bottom, Left, and Right margins. For Top, use 1″.
- Click OK. (If you get a message saying your margins are outside the printable area, click Fix and then OK.)
- Press your Enter key once.
- Press Enter again if you want to add leading text to write in the class name, topic, etc.
Creating the Table
- From the Insert tab, select Table.
- From the Insert Table menu, select Insert Table…
- On the Insert Table dialog, enter 2 for columns and 34 for rows.
- Click OK. You should now see your table.
- Right-click in any table cell in column 1. From the menu, click Select and then Column. This should turn column 1 a different shade.
Note: In Word 2016, you need to click just above column 1. You’ll see a small arrow appear.
- Right-click again and select Merge Cells.
You should now have two equal-width table columns. The first column will not have any lines.
Changing Table Properties
In the initial example, you can see that the two columns are differing widths, so we need to define those. You may also adjust the column widths and row height to your desired settings.
- Right-click column 1 and select Table Properties…
- Click the Column tab, and enter 2.4 for the Preferred width.
- Click the Next Column button >>.
- Enter 6.0 for Column 2 Preferred width.
- Click the Row tab.
- Click the check box for Specify height and type 0.25.
- In the Row height is field, select Exactly.
- Click OK.
If you go to Print Preview, you will see the cell lines in the Cue column (1) do not display and you have a summary area (3) at the bottom. I intentionally added 1″ before the table as it makes it easier to adjust the position or add a description. At this stage, you can change the dimensions to meet your needs.
Saving Your Notes Template
- From the File menu, select Save As.
- In the Save As dialog, navigate to your Templates folder. This will vary based on your profile. For example, mine is:
Alternatively, you can right-click on an existing icon in your My Templates area and look at the file location.
- At the bottom of the dialog, type Cornell Notes as your File name.
- Change the Save as type to Document Template (*.dotx).
- Click Save.
Using the Cornell Note-taking Template
- From the File menu, select New.
- Click the icon for My Templates on the top row.
- Click the Cornell Note template.
- Click OK.
Your document will open, and you can make further changes. For example, some people may want to adjust the top area to type class name and date. That’s why I added the paragraph break before the table. Other people put their names in case the notes are lost. Finally, print out how many copies you’ll need and head to class.
Google Docs Compatibility
Although I built this template with Microsoft Word, it works with Google Docs. You might want to create a folder to put your template files. The paid version, which is part of Google Suite, allows you to create private templates.
- Download the template from the Finished Resources section.
- Click the + icon for a Blank document.
- From the File menu select Open.
- Click Upload from the top menu.
- Drag the template into the Open a file window or select the file on your computer.
- From the File menu, select Make a copy.
You now have 2 copies of the file and can use one as the source the next time it is needed.
Pre-made Cornell Notebooks
When I wrote this article in 2005, the technology was different, and no one made Cornell Notes paper. Levenger made something that was close but didn’t have the Summary section. Since then, several vendors have popped up. These are notebooks specifically designed for Cornell Notes. You can see an example from Amazon below. The notebooks also come in different sizes. (Please note that I am an Amazon affiliate and will make a small commission if you purchase through them.)
- The Notes page is divided into Cues, Notes and Summary Notes comparable to the Cornell Note Taking System
- The pages include areas for Date, Subject, Topic, and Source
- Wire-O Bound, book lies flat when open, Archival quality, acid-free paper
- 120 Pages, Page Dimensions: 8.5" x 11”, Wire-O Bound book with Color Cover and Translux Protective cover
- Made in USA, Proudly Produced in Ohio. Veteran-Owned.
Downloadable Cornell Style Templates
Disclaimer: Images from Amazon Product Advertising API. I may receive an affiliate commission on these products if you buy. Updated: 2021-04-17