The blog

Previous article

Next article

03 Apr

When the pen beats the laptop

Datum: 2017-04-03 15:35

What is best — mak­ing meet­ing notes using pen and paper or writ­ing them dig­i­tal­ly on a lap­top or a tablet? As in so many oth­er sit­u­a­tions, it depends.

Some­times it is impor­tant for us to remain focused on the con­ver­sa­tion with­out get­ting dis­tract­ed by oth­er things, which would sug­gest pen and paper is prefer­able since they do not have any ping!”s or oth­er noti­fi­ca­tion sounds dis­tract­ing you. Some­times we pre­fer mak­ing notes using our lap­top since we want to quick­ly and with ease get all the infor­ma­tion we need down in writ­ing and effort­less­ly save it in the appro­pri­ate (dig­i­tal) loca­tion after the meeting.

Remem­ber­ing what was said
When we are being giv­en new infor­ma­tion that we wish to remem­ber, pen and paper are the bet­ter option. This is the con­clu­sion of an arti­cle about a study per­formed by the researchers Pam A Mueller and Daniel M Oppen­heimer at Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty and UCLA.

In three sep­a­rate exper­i­ments they com­pared lap­tops with using pen and paper as the tool for tak­ing notes dur­ing meet­ings. Three groups of test sub­jects got to lis­ten to a hand­ful of short lec­tured and then answered a num­ber of ques­tions regard­ing the infor­ma­tion and facts pro­vid­ed in the lec­tures. Accord­ing to the researchers, this was the first study of its kind ever conducted.

Ini­tial­ly they arrived at the con­clu­sions that:

  • The per­son who is writ­ing by hand will be more brief (use few­er words) than the per­son using a laptop.
  • The per­son who makes notes on the lap­top copies” more of the infor­ma­tion giv­en word for word to a greater extent than those writ­ing by hand.

Slow becomes short
The con­se­quences of using the two meth­ods were that those mak­ing notes by hand gen­er­al­ly got a bet­ter score when lat­er asked ques­tions about the con­tent of the lec­tures, which the researchers inter­pret­ed as a sign of that:

  • The per­son who writes less since they are writ­ing by hand are forced to rein­ter­pret what he or she hears (and sees), and write it in their own words. This pro­cess­ing of infor­ma­tion makes it eas­i­er to remem­ber what we learned.
  • The per­son who copies” what is said since they are writ­ing on a dig­i­tal device miss out on some of this pro­cess­ing, which makes it more dif­fi­cult to remem­ber and retain the information.

More infor­ma­tion did not result in more knowledge
Some­thing that seem­ing­ly would argue in favor of mak­ing more lit­er­al and word-by-word notes on the lap­top is that more infor­ma­tion is writ­ten down, which means that there is more infor­ma­tion to access at a lat­er date and repeat as a part of learn­ing and remem­ber­ing. But, the fact is that even in the group of test sub­jects that were asked to answer the ques­tions regard­ing the lec­tures one week after the ini­tial test (and hence had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to revise and repeat their notes), the peo­ple who made notes by hand still remem­bered more and got a high­er score — in spite of actu­al­ly hav­ing less notes to revise.

So, accord­ing to Muellers and Oppen­heimers study, paper and pen is the supe­ri­or tool to make notes with when you wish to remem­ber as much as pos­si­ble from a meet­ing, a lec­ture or a conversation.

Do this

  1. If you want to take advan­tage of these research results, take a moment or two to think about in what meet­ings, sit­u­a­tions or con­texts it is impor­tant for you to remem­ber what has been said.

  2. If you are not already doing so, decide to make notes by hand in these meet­ings from now on.

  3. Put an emp­ty pad and a pen in your bag so that it is always avail­able when you are hav­ing meet­ings out­side of your office. Or, pick a place in your office where you place the emp­ty pad you wish to make notes on dur­ing these kinds of meet­ings with colleagues.

  4. If you wish to remind your­self to from now on make notes in the pad dur­ing these meet­ings, locate one or sev­er­al of them in your cal­en­dar and add a note say­ing Bring pen and paper!”. When you are get­ting ready for the meet­ing or get a reminder regard­ing it, you will also be remind­ed how you want to take notes.

  5. You now also need to deter­mine what you will do with the notes you made dur­ing the meet­ing after it is done, if you have not done so already. This is a suit­able top­ic for anoth­er tip on struc­ture, but let me just briefly rec­om­mend you to process these notes just like you process all oth­er papers or emails. Do not leave them in the notepad with­out first sift­ing out the to-do-tasks you said you would do dur­ing the meet­ing, as well as any oth­er infor­ma­tion you need for future ref­er­ence some­where else.

Remem­ber more
If you take notes by hand in all the sit­u­a­tions when it is impor­tant that you retain and remem­ber what has been said, you will (accord­ing to the study) find it eas­i­er to remem­ber the essen­tials from your meet­ings — with­out mak­ing any extra efforts. You rephrase what you hear and write it in your own words, and hence make this new infor­ma­tion your own” to a greater extent.

What is your method?
In what meet­ings or oth­er sit­u­a­tions would it suit you best to make notes by hand instead of using your dig­i­tal device? Write a com­ment to share.