Handwritten v typed; remembering your notes

Are you someone who writes down every action point in meetings? Do you jot down the details of the PowerPoint presentation as it happens? If so, you’re on the right track to becoming more successful and productive in your job, according to research.

When it comes to the good habit of taking notes in meetings, it’s something everyone should practice for numerous reasons. It keeps you alert, forcing you to pay attention. It also helps you to focus and stops your mind wandering. Most importantly, it helps you to take in the information more effectively.

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Studies have revealed that actively engaging with the topic in hand by summarising what you hear helps you to remember and understand it better after the meeting.

Keeping a record of the points raised is of the utmost importance. Just because you were physically present at a meeting doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll remember everything that happened. Notes are a record of what you discussed and the action points you need to review later.

Check your notes regularly during your working day to get the most from them. Transfer noteworthy dates to a diary or calendar and forward details of any action points to your team if necessary.

Making notes is a skill that will come in useful time and time again. Learning the art of accurate notetaking gives you the best chance to successfully complete projects later using the information you have logged.

Billionaire entrepreneur favours note-taking

Business magnate Richard Branson, whose net worth is estimated to be £3.7 billion, is a firm believer in the value of taking notes.

In fact, he observed that if he hadn’t taken notes during meetings and at networking events, many of Virgin’s companies and projects would never have come to fruition.

He says no matter how simple, complex, big or small an idea; always get something in writing. However, he stresses never to take notes just for the sake of it. Instead, read through them thoroughly later, pick out the good ideas and turn them into actionable and measurable goals.

Famously, he was quoted as saying: “If you don’t write your ideas down, they could leave your head before you even leave the room.”

Should notes be handwritten or typed?

There is no definitive right answer over whether notes should be handwritten or typed. In general terms, research suggests writing notes by hand often enables people to remember the material better than if they have typed it. This has been the subject of a number of studies.

For example, an experiment into word recall and recognition revealed participants remembered lists of words better when they wrote them by hand.

A study of students’ notetaking methods in the classroom showed that those who took lecture notes by hand tended to perform better in tests than counterparts who typed notes directly onto a computer.

However, the situation is more complex than this. In fact, there are circumstances when typing notes can be more useful than writing them by hand.

What should be taken into account?

The main issue with typing notes in meetings is that it makes attendees more likely to take notes verbatim: they will type whatever the speaker says, which involves a relatively shallow cognitive process.

Writing material by hand involves a deeper processing of the information. Attendees usually give more consideration to which pieces of information they should write down.

While typing, the problem is the degree of difficulty in summarising and rephrasing the material, rather than just typing it word-for-word as quickly as possible. People find it challenging to rephrase the notes as they type. This is a skill that can improve over time.

However, in most cases, people find it easier to simply handwrite notes and be more selective about what they write. Taking notes by hand requires a deeper processing of the subject matter. On the minus side, handwritten notes can be messy, especially if you’ve been writing at speed. You don’t have the option of altering the notes digitally afterwards if they need polishing up.

If you know shorthand, this is a definite advantage. You can keep up with the speaker and then either write the notes up in longhand later, or type them up on your computer. Otherwise, it’s a case of writing as fast as you can, which can be untidy.

Working on a laptop

If you choose to type your notes, using a laptop gives you access to plenty of tools. However, this can be detrimental, as well as beneficial, to your experience.

The advantage of having a laptop and the relevant tools means you can look things up during the meeting if needs be – such as when you don’t understand something and you need to clarify it. You can also highlight, or write in bold, to remind yourself of the important points in your notes.

However, the temptation to multitask on your laptop during the meeting may be too great. This can cause you to lose focus on the meeting.

The other challenge can be keeping up with the speaker. This is why using a laptop often means typing verbatim. All your efforts are focused on typing what the speaker is saying. You may not necessarily think about the actual meaning of the words.

Typing notes does, however, afford you the ability to digitally alter them after the meeting – you can amend spelling and typographical errors. You can easily smarten up your notes to pass them electronically to your team members if necessary. It’s also easier to edit text when required.

You need to be self-aware when deciding which notetaking platform to go with. Make sure you choose the option that maximises your ability to understand what the speakers are saying. Rather than simply being a hindrance that distracts you during the meeting, notetaking should be useful to your day-to-day job.

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