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Why Handwritten Note-taking Leads to Better Results

Woman taking notes in a journal

As people return to the office after a year-plus of staring into their screens, we think note taking—on paper—is ready for a strong revival. And there's good data to indicate why effective note taking at work can make a big difference. Let's take a quick look (with a note taking tip to boot).

Research shows that when it comes to conceptual thinking (and recall), hand-written note taking is a clear winner. Part of the reason is the fact that when taking notes by hand, one is forced to synthesize and process what's being heard, so that key information can be written down before the speaker moves on to the next topic. This is the difference between effective note taking at work and "mindless transcription" when taking verbatim notes on a laptop.

“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.

There's another benefit to hand-writing notes at work that's even less obvious—it benefits your coworkers.

A separate study shows that when a device (computer, smartphone or tablet) is in front of you while engaging with others, it makes people feel like you are less invested in the conversation. You've probably experienced this before when, even if you're actively taking notes, the person speaking sometimes isn't sure if you're really listening or not. Chances are strong that neither party is getting the full value of the interaction.

Sold on the importance of taking hand-written notes at work? Well here's one of our favorite tips:

Review your notes ASAP, and fill in the blanks. We all have different styles of taking notes--some of us might use symbols and sketches, and some of us might be really good with abbreviations and shorthand. But there is one constant no matter what--reviewing your notes as quickly as possible after the meeting will go a long way toward better recall later. Plus, you have the chance to get those in-between thoughts down on paper before they disappear, or you walk into your next meeting.