RANDYGRAM – You Should Take Notes By Hand

When we are in a class or a meeting for work, school, church or a board we may sit on, our objective is always to understand.  To learn what and why and how the subject at hand has risen to prominence; to discern how it will, or may, develop, and perhaps to imagine what we see as options for the next step.  We seek to understand so that we may then integrate this new learning with our current view, or perhaps modify our perspective.

In other words, we are not just acquiring or collecting data.  Our objective is absorbing information that leads to insight and understanding.

It is for these reasons that I highly recommend that taking notes, by hand not by keyboard, is the right approach.  Simply listing facts, dates, and names in your laptop or reading from a handout may be very useful, but if you are gathering information to use in analysis, shape an opinion or to support a proclamation, you should take notes by hand.  You should not write down what is being said, but rather what you understand those words to mean.

Taking notes is different than transcribing what is being spoken.  You must listen, interpret, compare and then put down, in your own words what you assess to be the key thought, conclusion, or question.  Don’t be a transcriber, be an absorber and knowledge producer.

And that is the benefit.  Hearing, processing and writing down your thoughts will greatly enhance your comprehension, in a way that simply typing someone else’s words never will.  Cal Newport, a noted Computer Science professor, and productivity expert, recommends that you should avoid noting raw information as it can easily be retrieved from numerous sources.  Rather, he says:  “The only thing that should go into your notebook is processed information.”

Research done by Mueller & Oppenheimer (Psychological Science, 2014) has shown that those subjects who concentrate on context and inferences retain more than the control group who focused mainly on transcription and facts.

In the 1940’s Walter Pauk at Cornell University introduced the Cornell Notes method, which is still quite popular.  Today, my daily note-taking format is a hybrid of his system (After all, Cornell is my alma mater) and the Bullet Journal known as BuJo.  There are many and you should find or develop one that fits your style and needs.  Use it consistently, make modifications as needed and you will find your ability to capture, process and create a resource will give you an advantage over those who mistakenly believe that more notes are better notes.

Taking notes is not just about gathering information, but rather about gaining a full and comprehensive understanding of a given topic. Invest the time and effort to do it right and you will have an edge over most note takers.


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