By hand

It may be worth prefacing what I am about to write with the assurance that I am certainly not a technophobe. I have always been pretty much the first adopter of any technological innovation, ahead of anyone in my peer group. I was using a word processor in 1981, I had my first PC in 1983 (and my first Macintosh in 1986), I was on the internet in 1992 and was using an iPhone and an iPad and so in the very first wave.

Why am I protesting so much? Because what I want to suggest here is that one particular form of using technology may not be ideal: taking notes on a laptop or tablet. I had started doing this some time ago, and at meetings and discussions I was always there with my laptop, and later my iPad. Then one day I was at a meeting and had forgotten to bring any of this equipment. I borrowed a piece of paper from someone and started writing by hand; and suddenly found that I was paying more attention to the meeting and getting a better quality of written note. So since then I have gone back to taking notes on paper. I digitise it afterwards, but the actual note taking is by hand. Indeed, I have even managed to recover my one time ability to write fast, a talent that had been lost due to lack of use.

Now I find that my experience may reflect a broader truth.  A professor and one of his students at Princeton University have conducted a study that has revealed that students who take notes by hand on paper during classes perform much better at subsequent tests than those using computers to take notes. It seems that the mental processes are different and therefore produce different results.

These days as I sit at meetings I notice that, usually, I am the only one to write notes by hand (though I will have an iPad to consult meeting materials). Maybe it is time for all of us to re-discover handwriting. We might even resurrect the fountain pen.

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9 Comments on “By hand”

  1. anna notaro Says:

    Might be worth a mention that the study only looked at the use of laptops and not tablets which, as the professors admitted ‘could be the best of the two worlds”…

  2. V.H Says:

    Why don’t you simply switch on the record function. And do the same with any phone calls. I find it provides really useful evidence when dealing with ones doctor solicitor and civil service.
    The new tech is a godsend to me, who has handwriting I’ve hardship in reading myself.
    On this topic whats actually getting to be a problem is when forms from say the Law Society are in PDF but aren’t formatted for filling in via the keyboard.

  3. irishminx Says:

    I believe the reason why writing notes, as opposed to typing them works best, is because you use more of your senses when you are writing. I used to say this to my daughters when they were learning spellings and tables in school, write out the spellings and tables and as you write each word / tables, you will learn them faster! It is why we have our senses! Good blog Ferdinand🙂


  4. Yes, I agree, but when you get invited to a really boring meeting where people drone on and on (surprisingly common in academia) you can do your email while pretending to be taking notes.

  5. paddy60 Says:

    There is no doubt that technology provides great tools for writing and writers. However, it should not be assumed that single kind of technology (hardware or software) can provide all the tools. Writers have ways of working and some may prefer technology such as iPads while others prefer paper and a round pencil. Each writer must find the best tools that suit various tasks and use them accordingly without feeling any pressures to use specific technology. Personally, I take notes with paper and pen or pencil but sometimes I handwrite into my iPad. At other times I feel like typing on my iPad or laptop.

  6. iainmacl Says:

    Moleskine’s revenge! The only technology you need for learning and meetings😉

    There is also research that shows too that reading on tablets and e-readers is less effective educationally than reading from printed books. In part, this and the note-taking, use different cognitive skills to organise information. There’s a spatial aspect that is missing in electronic texts, such as remembering where in the book the information is and how it is spread out across the page. The act of writing itself also, particularly if linked with diagrams or drawn linkages, etc, is also making more use of spatial memory and helps with encoding.

    all fun stuff

    • paddy60 Says:

      Good and valid points. I find that what technology does not support is non-linear and divergent thinking. OK, we end up writing linear text mostly using a word processor or the like – unless we are constructing a hypertext. My problem is that I don’t take notes linearly and often use drawings and sketches. At the moment no technology supports this properly so paper is best for notes and planning and then comes the technology. One day (maybe soon) there will be electronic paper that will allow me to be all over the place …🙂

  7. anna notaro Says:

    You might have a point however research suggests that differences might be smaller than one thinks. This piece is a useful summary of most recent studies http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/

  8. Ivonne Says:

    You should try live scribe it seems to be the best of both worlds as you use a pen but it does the converting although there is a point of the thought process of summarising and thinking during the process if digitising


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