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The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard

Being a geek I have had a constant struggle with wanting to take notes on my laptop versus writing notes in my notepad. I have been torn for so many years now on what is the right one to do and whether either has additional benefits or limitations. When I think about it deep down I feel that I get more out of taking notes on a notepad because of my ability to free form with my writing. Furthermore I believe that my retention is a lot better with long hand.

A few weeks ago I came across a journal article that holds the same title as my this blog entry. They authors undertook three different studies to determine whether taking notes on a laptop is more efficient/effective versus writing longhand in a notepad. The results aren’t that surprising in certain respects (less distractions / no multitasking), however the journal referred to two interesting concepts: encryption and external storage. Encryption in this context is the transform of information intake into your brain (Brad’s simplified definition) and external storage is how much of that information is retained in your system.

Although a person who can type quickly can increase the external storage factor due to the verbatim nature of taking notes on a laptop, the ability to process and absorb that information as part of the note taking process is inhibited. Simply put we type word for word rather than summarize as we would normally do when writing. Next, the studies showed better performance in factual and analytical recall when notes are taken on a notepad with a pen or pencil.

It’s a shame as I do like taking notes on my laptop due to the efficiency factor, yet the studies show this to be not as effective. Therefore I have to go back to the drawing board on how I approach this going forward. One approach may be to take the notes in my notepad and then scan them into OneNote so I have them retained and backed up.

In my work environment 90% of people that I work with bring their laptops into meetings and it is amazing to now think of the productivity loss given the way they are taking notes. If you observe executives and senior managers, most (if not all) do not bring laptops into the meetings, instead take notes with the old school pen and paper. It may be due to the fact that they grew up not having laptops to do this task, however, I think they also realize the effectiveness factor that I have mentioned above.

One should reconsider how notes are taken in school and in the work place. There may be short term gains, but just as many long term pains.

Note: Here is the reference to the article for those who want to read more about this topic:

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking

Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer Psychological Science published online 23 April 2014 DOI: 10.1177/0956797614524581