Taking notes: Is it better to type or handwrite?

Career & Education

Taking notes: Is it better to type or handwrite?

Sunday, October 06, 2019

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Taking notes well helps us to be successful learners. But does it make a difference if we type those notes on a computer keyboard or write them out by hand?

Both skills are important, according to Ester Cole, a child psychologist in Toronto, Canada.

“Computer technology is a tool, and tools are complementary,” Cole reports. He notes that the difference centres on the skills involved in both forms of taking notes. Handwriting develops fine motor skills and typing develops digital skills.

A Case for Technology

For students who have not or who are unable to develop the fine motor skills to help them write clearly or quickly, taking notes on a computer is the better choice. Computers give students with physical disabilities such as paralysis, or the loss of fingers, hands, or arms another means of taking notes. Legibility of the notes you take is key, according to Kevin Bradbeer, who serves on the Toronto District School Board. He believes that if you can't write legibly or quickly, then using a computer can allow you to end up with better and more complete notes.

David Cameron, People for Education research director, predicts that in the future students will exchange their pencil and paper and laptop for an interactive digital tablet on which students can write and type.

A Case for an

Research done by Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, and published in Psychological Science in 2014, however, reported that students who jot down notes by hand performed better when tested on the material than those who used their laptops. Students who write notes by hand are unable to write down every single word their instructor says. Instead, the study showed, they summarised or paraphrased what was said, and remembered more. Even though students taking notes on a computer typed almost every word said, they did not test as well on the material taught. The researchers believe that the written notes give more memory cues to the student who wrote them during the original lecture.

The researchers also reported that students taking notes on a laptop in a college setting are doing something else 40 per cent of the class time. Their attention is not focused on what is being said in class, or even typing the words being said, but are distracted by e-mails, chat messages, or websites.

Mueller agrees with David Cameron that new stylus technology will allow students to take notes by hand electronically, and not just type without listening or processing the information being taught.


Regardless of the method used for note taking, students are advised to listen to what is being said and not try to write or type every word. Put down key words and phrases, important points, and use your own words to increase not only your understanding of the lecture, but to help you learn and remember it.

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