The Nerd’s Word: The Great Notetaking Debate

Good, comprehensive notes are the lifeblood of a student’s performance in any given course.  Remember, when deciding the best way to take effective class notes, the important thing to do is figure out what works best for you. To some students, the sense of organization that a laptop can provide is a lifesaver. For other students, the old-school pen and paper is a much better option. Or perhaps a combination of the two — paper in some classes and lectures, and computer in others — is your best strategy.  The Nerd is here to break down the advantages of taking your notes with a laptop or a standard paper notebook.

Advantages of Taking Class Notes on a Laptop

One of the biggest advantages to taking notes on a computer is that your finished product will be so much neater, especially if your handwriting is less than fabulous. Yes, you may wind up with a document full of typos and grammatical errors but that’s very easy to fix with spell check and some proofreading. But even if your document doesn’t read perfectly, it will look a whole lot better than chicken scratch in a notebook.

Another advantage to taking notes on a laptop is it’s so much easier to organize your notes. If a professor’s lecture is a bit disorganized, you can organize bits and pieces of the lecture until it makes more sense. And when it comes time to study for exams, you can cut and paste material to simplify the process.

Having notes on a laptop also eliminates the need to carry around lots of bulky notebooks. When it comes time to study for finals, all you need to do is open your files.

Finally, a laptop is great for taking notes because it makes it much harder to lose notes — as long as make sure you save your work and always back it up.  And if you want to share notes with a friend, all you have to do is email a file.

Advantages of Taking Class Notes with a Pen and Paper

One potential problem with taking notes with a laptop is that you must be a fairly quick and efficient typist. If you can’t keep up with a lecturer, a traditional paper and pen might be a better alternative for you. Speed is probably more important than efficiency, as you can always clean up typos later – but if your documents are so full of typos that you can’t read them, laptop notes may not be your best alternative.

Another problem with laptop notes is that for some students, writing things down with pen and paper helps them retain the information much better. Before relying in laptop notes, see if this is true for you.

In addition, laptop note taking opens you up to technological glitches. Your computer can crash, or run out of batteries, or malfunction. With paper notes, not much can go wrong, provided you don’t actually lose your notes. If your pen runs dry, just use another one. And, of course, laptops can get stolen.

Also, keep in mind ergonomic issues. Laptops simply aren’t that great for your hands or your back. In addition, they’re a whole lot heavier to carry around than a paper notebook.

One problem that some students run into with laptops is that the opportunity for distraction. If the lecture’s boring, it’s hard to resist IM, or Facebook, or solitaire, or surfing the Internet – and you’re teacher will never know. Of course, you might say this is also an advantage of taking notes of a laptop, but in terms of getting good grades, it probably doesn’t help.

Finally, of course, laptops are a whole lot more expensive than paper and pens.

Remember, it’s important to take the time to figure out what works best for you. If you have a laptop, try taking notes for a few weeks – but also try taking notes with pen and paper, to see if that actually works better. Everyone retains information differently, so get to what strategies work best for taking down information and recalling it.  Next Thursday, the Nerd’s Word focuses on how to avoid the pitfalls of plagiarism.

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