Write that down

Do you take notes on paper or an electronic device? I’m a longtime advocate for the paper approach. In a post five years ago I pushed back at suggestions that apps like Evernote mean reporters can leave their notebooks at home.

A pad and pen are still the most convenient way I’ve found to take notes on assignment. They’re super portable, reliable in all kinds of conditions and never need recharging.

Electronic notes do have some advantages. You can’t type a key word into your paper notebook and find all the references to it in seconds. But when you take notes on paper there’s an additional benefit: You remember better. Don’t just take my word for it.

Carol Holstead, who teaches journalism at the University of Kansas, banned laptops in her classroom last year. Guess what? Her students’ test scores went up. Research at three other schools backs her up. Students who took notes by hand did better on conceptual questions at the end of class and a week later they did better on both conceptual and factual questions. Why?

The researchers found that students who used laptops were inclined to try to take notes verbatim—even when they were told not to. The longhand note takers took selective, organized notes because they couldn’t write fast enough to get everything down. As a result, they processed lectures more deeply, which allowed them to retain more information and even understand it better.

I’d say that’s a great argument in favor of taking notes on paper whether you’re a student or a working journalist. If you have to go live immediately after a news conference or an interview, what kind of notes do you think will help you do a better job? I rest my case.