Do You Think Handwriting is Still Relevant?


What do you think?

“I take better, more detailed notes with ________.”

  1. my laptop/tablet
  2. pen and paper

“I learn and remember more when I take notes with _______.”

  1. my laptop/tablet
  2. pen and paper

Unless you are a pro at writing shorthand, your answer to the 1st question was probably “A”. Even an average typist can bang out 40-50 words-per-minute, about double the average hand-writing speed. Logically, more words equals more detailed notes. Hard to dispute that.

However, if you also answered “A” to the 2nd question, you may want to reconsider. Researchers from Princeton University and UCLA set out to test which notetaking method helped students get more out of a lecture. Thier conclusion? The pen is mightier than the keyboard.


What’s the Big Picture?

The study found that taking handwritten notes helped notetakers extract the overall concepts of the lecture, the “take away”. This resulted in an overall better understanding of the purpose and relevance of the material. On the other hand, the study concluded that the “shallower processing” involved in typing notes actually impaired students’ ability to see the ‘big picture’, instead focusing on details and raw facts.

students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand


But my typed notes are almost verbatim! Isn’t that better?

Though it initially appears counterintuitive, taking less detailed notes may actually help you learn more. Out of necessity, you must choose which information is most important, then rephrase it in your own words to be as brief and concise as possible. Taking verbatim notes has the opposite effect.

laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning

Think of it this way:

Typing notes is more like reciting a story in the author’s words.

Writing notes is more like summarizing that story in your own words.


The laptop note takers tended to drift easily into ‘transcription’ mode, gathering as much information as possible, without thought to the value or relevance of it. Ironically, it seems such focus on gathering information distracts our brains from actually considering and prioritizing the information itself.

It is the very process of actively listening, sorting, and summarizing information that defines learning. In turn, the deeper the learning, the easier it will be to remember later on.


Writersblok notebooks in large and pocket sizes


More Effective Notes?

There was yet another interesting finding of the study, which  surprised even the researchers. See our post “Take Notes by Hand for Better Long-Term Comprehension” (coming soon) for perhaps the most compelling reason to take handwritten notes…

(via CNN)