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The Best Way To Take Notes: Laptop vs. Notebook

In today’s tech-savvy world, taking notes doesn’t just mean using a pen and paper. In fact, the next time you look around a classroom, you’ll probably notice the majority of students typing their notes on laptops.

But what’s better — paper or digital?

Since both options offer a variety of benefits, it can be difficult to know exactly which technique will suit your note-taking needs best. That’s why I’m here to walk you through the pros and cons of each.

Paper Note-Taking

Pros

1. It helps you focus.

While taking notes by hand might sometimes seem like “‘the old fashioned way,” there can be a lot of benefits to doing so. For one, taking notes by hand forces you to really focus on the lecture. Since handwriting is usually less efficient than typing, you can only write so much down. This limitation forces you to hang on to your professor’s every word, while being consciously selective of the information you’re jotting down.

2. It helps you retain more information.

According to a study published by the Sage Journal Psychological Science, taking notes by hand actually helps you retain information better. This is partly because handwriting requires you to stay alert. It’s a lot easier to space out while typing than it is while handwriting, and that extra effort has been a proven benefit when it comes to remembering the material.  

3. It’s a nice change of pace from electronics.

Personally, I think taking notes by hand just feels good. Since the majority of my assignments are writing-intensive, I already spend a lot of time outside of class typing papers on my laptop. Taking notes by hand is a great way to change it up from the monotonous routine of punching keyboards. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but there’s something about an old school pen and paper that just seems natural.

Cons

1. It’s a waste of paper.

Taking notes by hand obviously requires two key components: paper and a writing utensil. Unfortunately, neither of those things are free. If you’re an avid note-taker, you might be going through multiple notebooks in a semester. Not only is this more expensive than just using your laptop, but, in the spirit of environmental conservation, it’s more wasteful. So before you buy a stack of notebooks, you might want to ask yourself … “Do I really need this?”

2. It can be difficult to read.

If you’re anything like me, you know that taking notes by hand can sometimes get messy, especially if your professor begins covering a lot of material in a short amount of time. To keep up, you might start rapidly scribbling notes, and if you’re not careful, you could end up with pages of illegible handwriting. The last thing you want is to return to your notes before an exam and have trouble reading anything you put down.

3. It yields less information.

As mentioned before, writing notes is usually less efficient than typing them. While that has some potential benefits, it can also result in taking down a lot less information, which, depending on how you study, could be a really negative side effect. If you’re someone who likes to have the entire lecture outlined, then handwriting notes is probably not the most effective method for you.

Digital Note-Taking

Pros

1. It’s faster.

Our technological generation seems to have really mastered fast typing — it’s almost second nature to us. In this regard, typing notes can be a really efficient way to document a class. With this benefit, you could potentially rewrite the entire lecture, leaving yourself a very thorough set of notes. If you prefer having a lot to look over before an exam, then typing notes is pretty much a guaranteed better way to go.

2. There’s less to bring to class.

If you take notes on your laptop, then you really only have one thing to remember to bring with you to class. On the other hand, if you write your notes, you might be stuck with a different notebook for each class. This can make your backpack both heavy and disorganized. Taking notes on a laptop keeps things simple, and all in one place.

3. It keeps you well-organized.

Taking notes on a laptop is a great way to ensure organization. Writing can sometimes get sloppy and sporadic. Taking notes on a laptop, however, can allow you to easily organize using bullet points, lists, charts and graphs. Using visual tools like this are much quicker and easier to do on a laptop than by hand, and they can result in a clean and focused set of notes.

Cons

1. It’s distracting.

By far, the number one con to taking notes on a laptop is the potential to get distracted. With Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and email just one click away, how can you possibly stay focused on the lecture? Too often I see people shopping online, reading the news, or scrolling through their social feeds in class. Laptops are just a natural hub for curiosity, and it can be really difficult to suppress the impulse to surf the web.

2. Technology can fail you.

Have you ever been in the middle of writing a paper when your laptop decides to randomly shut down? And did you just so happen to forget to save what you were working on?

I have. And I lost everything. Twice.

While it can be convenient to store all of your notes on one device, it can also be a potential disaster. Twice now I’ve run into situations where my laptop hasn’t been reliable, leaving me without a trace of the hard work I put into taking notes or writing papers. But you know what doesn’t fail you? That’s right — your trusted pen and paper.

3. Your notes may turn out to be not very good.

Have you ever been typing and realized you just completely spaced out for the past several minutes? If typing has become natural and easy to you, chances are, you can do it while you daydream. If that’s the case, then you’re probably taking some pretty ineffective notes.

Conclusion

Since paper and digital note-taking each come with a variety of pros and cons, at the end of the day, choosing one is really just a matter of personal preference. But before you do, perhaps the most beneficial thing would be to simply try both. That way, you can get a feel for the kind of note-taking pace, organization and style that will bring you the most success.

Natalie Colarossi is a journalism major and global studies minor working toward her bachelor’s degree at Ohio University. She is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has covered a number of topics including art, culture, politics, music, and travel. Her greatest passion and priority is to travel, and she hopes to experience as many places and cultures as possible.