Want to Take Better Notes and Retain What You Wrote? Ditch the Laptop.

Nov 17

When it comes to taking notes during meetings, it may be time to get back to basics and ditch the laptop in favor of pen and paper.

I know, that’s heresy in the digital age where meeting attendees can be found hunched over their laptops, feverishly typing. But hear me – and researchers Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of UCLA – out. Their study shows that while typing notes on a laptop may be faster, if you want to retain information, it’s better to take notes in longhand.

In an interview with Rachel Martin of NPR, Mueller said, “When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can. The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”

The researchers also identified two types of note-taking: generative and non-generative. Generative note-taking pertains to the process of summarizing, paraphrasing and concept mapping what is heard, while non-generative note-taking involves taking verbatim note without processing the information.

Generative note-takers – those taking notes in longhand – summarize, shorten, and encode what they hear. Many will draw quick diagrams and underscore important points. These practices help embed information in one’s memory. Also, when they come back to their notes later, the highlights are easy to find. One downside, however; is not having totally complete notes.

Non-generative note-takers on laptops process lectures (or meetings) very differently. Their focus is capturing every word so the emphasis is on typing and less on understanding ideas and concepts. Learning and retention is sacrificed for more complete notes.

There’s another major downside to note-taking on laptops worth mentioning. It’s very easy for people to become distracted and wander over to a social media channel, check scores on a sports site or do a little holiday shopping. Try that with pen and paper. Not gonna happen.

Mueller and Oppenheimer concluded their study by saying students taking notes by hand performed better in terms of learning and retention than those using laptops.

As a lifelong written note-taker – I typically go through a couple of legal pads a week – I can attest to the effectiveness of writing what I hear in meetings in longhand. Another plus, note-taking sends a message that I’m committed to listening, learning and ultimately getting the job done.

Are you going to ditch your laptop in favor of paper and pen at your next meeting? It’s worth a try! If you do, let me know how it goes. And if you’d like to know more about how this note-taker spins words into awareness, audience engagement, leads, and sales, let’s connect.

Call, text, email or complete a form. Whatever you do, don’t wait. let’s get started