Are handwritten notes better than digital notes?

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Fifty years ago, everyone would’ve thought there would be flying cars. There aren’t. However, we still have advancements in technology to improve the standard quality of life. And when it comes to school life, the importance of note taking cannot be stressed. A newly popularized method of note taking has emerged: digital notes. But is it really better than writing your notes by hand? We don’t think so. 

With digital notes, information can be written with a nib tipped pen on a screen to simulate the feeling of writing on paper while incorporating the endless possibilities of using a device. Organization is simple with file saving and labeling on modern note-taking apps. Being able to search for the date and title of your class notes is an extremely valuable and effortless way to benefit your learning process. Not having to flip through pages in your binder, blindly searching for last week’s notes, can save you a lot of time. 

“Typing is more efficient rather than worrying about if my pencil lead will run out or break,” said freshman Lanny Lin. “It’s less time consuming.”

“I think taking digital notes is a lot more effective because you don’t need as many writing materials in hand to take the notes. For handwritten notes, to make it not look like just words, you need different color highlighters, pens, etc. But with digital notes, if you are writing it, you just need one pen or if you’re typing it, you don’t even need a pen at all,” said junior Amanda Ip. 

There are also many tools and shortcuts available in digital note taking such as grouping and dragging notes, easy access to the internet, and endless colors for advanced note taking. An essential tool to utilize when taking notes is the undo button, the revered savior of mistakes and can easily multiply productivity. The latest technology is always best, right?

No. Sometimes it’s better to keep things simple. 

The feeling of gripping a pen or pencil and writing on authentic paper cannot be replicated. There are numerous one-of-a-kind physical cues such as the shapes of your letters, the location of your words on the page, and details like folded corners, ink color, and other marks on the physical paper. The mundane feeling of being able to make mistakes and to actively erase makes hand writing all the more vivid. Sure, you can’t undo or instantly switch colors with a single button, but you can definitely have the same quality of learning without spending big bucks on a complex setup.

In a study done by researchers at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, data taken from a sample size of 67 students showed that although both groups performed equally well on recall questions, the group of students who hand wrote their notes consistently scored better on questions relating to the application of the studied topic.

“It’s harder to get distracted when you have that sound to guide your strokes rather than a device that flashes you with notifications and apps that take you away from focusing on the work. Writing on paper also has its own advantages of a physical record of the work and notes you’ve done and taken that makes you feel accomplished,” said junior Yuxuan Lin. 

Also, in another study done in Japan, researchers from the University of Tokyo and the NTT Data Institute found that the cognitive processes of the people in the group who took notes by hand were “deeper and more solid.” Their results also indicated that the activation of the bilateral hippocampus, precuneus, visual cortices, and language-related frontal regions of people who hand wrote notes were significantly higher when compared to those who used their tablets to write their notes. 

“I prefer taking notes with pencil/pen because I find it more convenient and I don’t want to take notes on my phone as I like staying away from a screen throughout the day,” said sophomore Alejandro de la Torre. 

Perhaps sometime in the future we might see a combination of authentic feel and improvements to accessibility when it comes to taking notes. In the end, it ultimately boils down to one’s preference in terms of learning methods. Whether that may be through creative organization and technology or through the old fashioned pen and paper, there is no denying that it is scientifically proven that handwritten notes are much more beneficial to a person. If you like fancy, colorful notes, then to each their own.

Photo by Adam Sayah

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