May 10, 2017

The pen is mightier than the keyboard

hand-written notes

If you’re about to go into an important meeting you might want to take a pen and notebook with you along with, or instead of, your laptop or tablet. Taking notes longhand will help you remember information better than typing them out, according to research from a pair of psychologists from Princeton University and UCLA.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, compared how well more than 300 students retained information after taking notes on 15-minute TED Talks either by hand or with a laptop. Across three different experiments, the researchers found that taking notes with a laptop can be detrimental to learning. Both groups performed about the same when recalling facts from the lectures half an hour later, but longhand note-takers were much better at recalling concepts.

These results of only a few hundred students paid to watch lectures in the lab might not exactly translate in the real world, but they do suggest laptops might not be great for retaining information. The researchers postulate that the effect might stem from the fact that while typing, it’s easy to write down verbatim what the speaker is saying, without really thinking about it. Taking notes by hand requires listening to the information being said, processing it and then summarising it in your own words. The students who took notes on laptops tended to write more words than those who wrote by hand, but when given the chance to study their notes afterward, all that extra content didn’t help much–students who wrote their notes longhand performed better on a test a week later, both on questions of conceptual understanding and the factual content.

“It may be that longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently,” the researchers write.

Recent years have seen a resurgence in the popularity of notebooks (the paper kind) and all the pens, pencils and paper paraphernalia that the world of stationery has to offer, including the use of productivity list systems such as a bullet journal, but now it seems there could be additional benefits to these analogue alternatives in this digital age.