Taking notes in class has long been the accepted way for students to retain information from lectures. Once laptops became essential for education, many people switched from note-taking with a pen and paper to typing their notes. Because most people can type faster than they can write, this was at first seen as the better option.
But an interesting trend emerged. It seems that although typing may allow you to take more in-depth notes, it does not always lead to better retention of the information they contain. This started a debate among notetakers and those who study them: between typing and writing notes, which is more effective?
The point of taking notes is to record information from lectures to revisit it and eventually commit it to memory. For this purpose, both typing and handwriting notes have benefits and drawbacks.
The biggest advantage of typing your notes is speed. The faster you can type, the more information you can record from a lecture.
Typing relies on muscle memory. The reason people can type faster than they can write is that the information travels directly from the ears to the fingertips with little mental processing involved. The fingers simply hear the words and type them out, similar to how we can stand and walk without thinking about it.
The biggest advantage to taking notes is that you must process the information to physically write the words. This means that the information being gathered must be processed by the brain before it can be recorded.
Instead of simply letting your fingers do the walking across the keyboard, taking notes with a pen and paper requires you to listen to and digest the material so you can break it down into the key points you want to write.
There are two major drawbacks to handwritten notes. The first is the fact that the process is slower and may lead to missed information. The other is legibility — if you rush to get notes down on paper, you may find that you cannot decipher what you have written.
A recent study by researchers at Princeton and UCLA found that there are definite links between handwriting notes and committing them to memory. The act of writing requires the brain to be an active participant in the note-taking process. Typing does not. This makes a huge difference when it comes to retaining information.
Rereading your handwritten notes triggers memories of the information having been processed before. Rereading typed notes is more akin to seeing the information for the first time as far as the processing areas of your brain are concerned.
We live in a world where speed and convenience are often equated to quality. But when it comes to typing versus handwriting notes, it turns out that the traditional way of doing things — although slower and, arguably, less convenient — is the better option. Handwriting notes improves your retention of the material, which boosts your ability to learn with less need for review and study. This is ultimately a more efficient process, even if the process of note-taking itself is more time-consuming.