When I was a student, I’ve always wondered whether it was better to handwrite notes or to type them out. Both options seemed to achieve the same goal of turning the knowledge acquired in class into pages filled with words – either on paper or on screen. These notes would eventually come in handy as students started to prepare for their examinations.
At that time, laptops were heavy and cumbersome to carry around. Computers weren’t as fast as they are today – opening a document took more than just a fraction of a second. As we got faster at typing, the rattling of the keyboard became more distracting to other students seated nearby. Despite these inconveniences, some students have found it more productive to type out their classroom notes.
However, it was far more common to see students jotting down their notes on paper at that time. Many teachers preferred writing on the chalkboard at a leisurely pace. Every teacher had their own teaching style, but there was one thing in common.
The teachers did not write everything that they said. Instead, they were selective of the words they wrote on the board. Perhaps it was due to the limited real estate available on the chalkboard. But that also meant that students had to listen intently and catch their teachers’ verbal hints for an upcoming test.
Writing is a more thoughtful activity than typing
When you type your notes on a computer, it is easy to end up storing a lot of digital clutter. Since it is so effortless to locate keywords using the search feature, creating concise content can easily become an afterthought. On the other hand, writing makes you put in more thought into the words you put on paper.
Just like the limited space teachers have on the classroom board, you’ve got to be selective when it comes to writing notes on paper. Not every single piece of information that you see or hear deserve to be recorded in writing. Make it a point to actively filter out any unnecessary details the next time you are writing notes by hand.
In a way, you can easily buy more notebooks and writing paper when you are running out of space. But we find that it is better to distil the information and have all of it presented on a single sheet. That way, you wouldn’t need to flip through stacks of paper during revision and scan for keywords amidst unnecessary details. You also reduce the need to connect ideas across different pages – or separate notebooks.
Writing enables you to focus on the right things
While computers and tablets are said to help you increase your productivity, it can get distracting at times. A good example is a notification that suddenly pops up on the screen. And that can cause you to lose focus. Students can end up checking their emails, replying to instant messaging, or even looking at social media updates. When you handwrite notes, you’re somewhat safer from all these forms of distraction.
When you write notes by hand, you can avoid making typos (as it’s not possible to do so). If you do make a mistake on paper, you can simply scratch it out by drawing a straight line through the text. That can be done in a single stroke action. Eventually, this trains your mind to process the information more carefully to reduce the number of mistakes.
But if you mistype something, you would have to hit some combination of the backspace and arrow keys. When typing, the regular letterforms of the words on the page makes you crave for perfection. If you make a mistake, an unforgiving jagged red line appears beneath the text, asking you to fix it immediately. You may even find yourself cleaning up text alignment issues instead of focusing on the task at hand.
Writing helps you to retain and comprehend information better
Typing makes it more likely for you to copy everything that’s shown on screen, word for word. Or when the teacher starts speaking, every word will just be transcribed verbatim without any processing of information. There isn’t too much thought put in to understand the content at a deeper level. In the words of Mueller and Oppenheimer, there is not much cognitive activity when a person is typing.
Most people these days are not able to write as quickly as they can type. The limited amount of information people can capture when writing forces them to only include the most important things. While it may be tempting to record everything that your teacher says, there’s little to no benefit in doing so. Taking more notes doesn’t mean that you will be learning more. It could be the other way round. You would end up with more things to go through before the examinations.
Numerous research and studies have shown that students who write down notes can have a better understanding of what they learnt. You listen to what the teacher has to say, process the content, and summarise the information before writing down the information in your own words. You internalise ideas for the long term because of the additional mental effort you’ve spent on reframing the information.
Use your handwritten notes as a quick reference when you are doing your homework and assignments. When you read your own handwriting over and over again, you start to memorise the strokes and letterforms of individual letters and words. This makes it easier for you to reproduce them during the examinations.
Writing makes it easier to link concepts and understand relationships
Every letter looks exactly the same as it appears multiple times on a screen. In a sense, there is little room for creativity when you are typing out your notes in class. But when you handwrite notes, you can express your ideas and thoughts more freely on that piece of paper.
Writing notes by hand means that you can use diagrams to represent the information you acquire in class. These visual tools can enhance your learning and help you to determine contextual relationships. You can see how ideas are connected to one another.
For instance, linking two concepts together can be as straightforward as drawing an arrow that points from one word to another. You can sketch graphs that do not need to be too perfect in a matter of seconds. You can even use fancy visualisation techniques such as Venn diagrams, concept maps and flowcharts. If doodling helps you internalise certain key facts, why not?
But on a computer, you would need to put in considerably more effort to produce similar visuals. Inserting a simple text box involves several clicks. Likewise, it may take you multiple attempts to draw a freeform curve. You may need special software to create concept maps and flowcharts. Even if you have a drawing tablet or stylus, creating these visuals are much easier using pen and paper.
Eventually, these hand-drawn diagrams can serve as a memory aid during revision. It helps you to quickly recall what you have learnt previously. You can even use coloured pens and markers to inject more life into your handwritten notes.
Writing improves your creativity
According to neuroscientists, writing by hand helps in coming up with new ideas. When we write, the brain knows that it has to plan and perform an action to produce a concrete result in the form of freeform letters and words. Conversely, typing on a keyboard gives a predictable result – hitting a key causes a definite letter to appear on the screen.
In one of the studies, researchers observed an increase in brain activity in three specific regions when children are writing. They include the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus, as well as the posterior parietal cortex. These are the same regions that become active when adults are reading or writing. The researchers also highlighted that children who typed or traced letters had minimal activity in these regions of the brain.
In another study, children who write a composition by hand produced more words than those who typed out their composition. The children who wrote by hand also generated more original ideas than those who typed things out. Similarly, it is easier to come up with questions for your teacher when you handwrite your notes in class.
From these, we can see that writing instead of typing can help to improve your creativity. And creativity is in turn associated with problem solving and critical thinking – two of the most important skills which students must equip themselves with. You also get better at expressing yourself in your own words.
Reading off paper is better than reading on screen
Reading words on paper helps you to pay attention to the finest details. At homework.sg, we ask our editors to work with a printed copy of the manuscript. Our editors identify and mark out errors using a red pen, instead of making changes on a digital copy. The end result is a thoroughly edited manuscript with many changes and recommendations made. Similarly, reading off paper can help you to pick out details that you may potentially miss when reading on screen.
When revising for your examinations, handwritten notes are also more accessible compared to their typewritten counterparts. You can place your handwritten notes on a shelf next to your study table. To make it easier to find what you need, organise your notes according to subject and topic. Place each set of notes in a separate file so that you’ll know where to find them next time.
Unless you’ve been printing out your typewritten documents regularly, taking a quick glance at your notes can take up time. You will need to turn on your computer, open the file and wait for it to load. If you do this once or twice per day, it is not too much of a problem. But if you find yourself referring to your notes over and over again, consider writing your notes by hand instead.
Some of you may argue that digital notes are better when you need to search for a specific keyword. However, you wouldn’t want to be too reliant on the feature to locate information. There is no search feature for handwritten notes, unless you’ve been indexing your notes. This trains you to be more organised so that you know where to find the information you need. Furthermore, you cannot “search” for information during an examination.
You’ll still need to write during examinations
Here is the most practical reason (and probably the most compelling reason) for you to write notes by hand. Despite the prevalence of digital technology in the classroom these days, assessments are still largely done on paper. Students are still required to write their answers using a pen or a pencil when they sit for their examinations.
Writing involves a lot of muscle memory. At the examinations, you will need to have enough stamina to continue writing for a long period of time. Sometimes, writing fast allows you to have more time to check your answers. Your hand will definitely need some form of training in order to write faster without getting tired too quickly.
Taking notes by hand gives you the writing practice you need to prepare yourself for the examinations. If you stop writing for some time, you may find yourself making more mistakes when writing. Therefore, keep writing throughout the year so that you can maintain or increase your writing speed, accuracy and stamina.
Benefits of Writing Notes by Hand
There are many benefits of writing notes by hand instead of typing them out. Writing helps you to think through things carefully before you commit to them. It also plays a role in building creativity and instilling self-discipline. Let us recap the reasons why it is better to write notes by hand:
- Writing is a more thoughtful activity than typing
- Writing enables you to focus on the right things
- Writing helps you to retain and comprehend information better
- Writing makes it easier to link concepts and understand relationships
- Writing improves your creativity
- Reading off paper is better than reading on screen
- You’ll still need to write during examinations
Writing notes by hand requires constant practice. It can take quite a bit of patience, so continue working on it all the time. Just like building a habit or a routine, you’ll need to commit effort and time before you see results. If you want to get better at writing notes in class, you will need to keep practising.
When you are writing notes by hand, you will also learn to pick up new techniques along the way. In the next article, we’ll let you know how you can take notes more effectively in class. For example, you can start by grouping ideas into a list of points, or use a table to compare things. Continue building your finger and hand strength by squeezing a stress ball when you are not writing.