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Oct 16 2017
by Nicole Molinari

The Note-Taking Debate: Typed or Handwritten Notes?

By Nicole Molinari - Oct 16 2017
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Taking notes is essential to our success as students. We need them for studying, writing papers, understanding concepts and the list goes on. With the increase in laptop usage over the recent years, many people have been stuck on one question: Is it more effective to take notes on a laptop, or to take them by hand? Let's take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of each to gain a better understanding.

Arguments for taking notes by hand:

A study completed by a psychology professor and graduate student at Princeton found that students who take notes on laptops are more likely to transcribe what the professor is saying. This makes it more difficult to study for quizzes and exams, because you haven't been forced to put the content into your own words and understand it, rather, you're trying to memorize and regurgitate information for the sake of maintaining your grades. 

To elaborate on this idea, students who take handwritten notes during lectures are forced to summarize the information internally and write it down especially since they cannot transcribe the lecturer while also catching all of the information. This quick and sudden digestion of information deepens the student's understanding of the content and allows for more retention of information.

Psychology Today also considers the importance of spatial layout. Designing the layout and processes through which students take notes is critical for their ability to learn and retain the information when the lecture is over. Achieving specific spatial layouts is very difficult on laptops, given restrictions faced when using word processors and other types of note-taking software.

The Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching also notes the idea that taking notes by hand limits distractions during class. There have been too many occasions where I've found myself bored during class and went onto Facebook or other social media sites, only to miss important content. Limiting distractions is key to success in college.

Arguments for taking notes on a laptop:

The most common argument heard from students is that they can't keep up with the lecturer. Their professor moves too fast and it's impossible to get all of the information down without a laptop. My own parents even say that they don't know how they made it through school without laptops, because their professors always spoke at much faster paces than they could write.

Global News also highlights the idea that students who feel their writing isn't legible could also benefit from taking notes on a laptop. Reading through messy notes is challenging in itselfand makes learning more difficult if you lose track of your notes. 

Overall, the research points to handwritten notes as better for your learning. This is surprising, considering most people I know take notes on their laptops. However, it's important to remember that the fact that you're able to better transcribe your professor does not indicate automatic success for you in that class – you still need to put in the time and effort to understand the content.

If you prefer taking notes on a laptop but want to reap the benefits of handwritten note, try taking notes on your laptop during lecture then writing them out on paper later.  You will not experience the same benefits as someone who writes notes during a lecture since your brain isn't being forced to synthesize and digest the material on the spot, but it will help to deepen your understanding of the material and improve your retention. 

If you're not sure which method works best for you, then give both a try! Work out a deal with a friend where you can share each other's notes in case you think you've missed some lecture content – this way you can try different methods without feeling like you've messed up your notes.

At the end of the day, your notes are your notes. What works for your friends may not work for you, so experiment with your note-taking techniques and strategies until you find one that works for you.

Lead Image Credit: qiye via Pixabay

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Nicole Molinari - Wilfrid Laurier University

Nicole is a sophomore at Wilfrid Laurier University who is pursuing a major in business administration and a minor in writing. She loves working part time as a lifeguard, and in her spare time she enjoys reading and making memories with friends. A victim of late night syndrome, she knows she needs more sleep but wouldn't want to live her life any other way.

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