I write about being your best self inside and outside of work, and the occasional trolls of millennial life.

When to Embrace the Pen

When to Embrace the Pen

Computers make creating, editing and sharing your written pieces a seamless experience. I don’t know what it is, but there is something calming about opening a blank document window and beginning to “write” by typing— preferably including coffee within reach, but safely out of the spill range of your keyboard. 

For the purpose of writing articles, stories, and novels, typing on a screen is generally accepted as the most efficient way to create your masterpiece. 

(Not to say there isn’t something idyllic about Dickens scribbling pages with quill and ink, with candlelight quietly flickering into the night. It is said that Louisa May Alcott was able to finish thirty handwritten manuscript pages a day…without a delete key!)

But for other writing occasions, is your laptop the best option?

Taking Notes 

During school, I took notes with a good old-fashioned notebook. Although I could barely read my own handwriting sometimes, I felt it was the best way for me to structure and retain information. It was simple, portable enough, and I could start writing down things quickly in most situations if I needed to.

But once I lost my beloved notebook one time, that’s all it took for me to convert to digital note-taking. I took this lesson with me into the work world as well, and have been testing out different note-taking apps ever since. 

The magic of digital note-taking is that you can search what you’ve written about and can sync across devices, which were my main reasons for converting. You can also easily share them with friends or co-workers. 

Still, some experts say that you lose something in the translation if your input choice is typing instead of writing things down by hand. 

Hybrid Solutions

There are loads of options for those that are on the fence about fully giving up their trusty pen. 

  • Moleskine makes Smart Notebooks that more easily uploads pages into Dropbox, merging the digital and physical worlds. But if you’re going to go to the trouble of constantly uploading page photos of written notes, wouldn’t you just use a digital note-taking service instead? This feels like a good solution for those who want to occasionally sketch out charts, graphs, and drawings, and migrate them to digital.

  • Goodnotes is a handwriting app for the iPad/Apple Pencil that also includes a search function. This is a good option for iPad users, but reviews indicate searching digital handwriting can have iffy results, and it’ll be $99 to replace your “pen” if you lose it. However, for people who need to draw out more complex charts with endless colors, this is likely a great solution. There are other similar solutions for iPad like Penultimate.

  • If you want to give up both writing and typing, Temi is a transcription program that will type everything out for you. For people who prefer to listen in the moment and then structure out their thoughts later, this could work well.

The Science

An experiment was run comparing pen and paper note-takers with laptop note-takers in a classroom setting. While both groups were able to successfully memorize concrete facts, the laptop users couldn’t form ideas from those facts.

The students using laptops were in fact more likely to take copious notes, which can be beneficial to learning, the Association for Psychological Science(APS) reported. But they were also more likely to take verbatim notes, and this “mindless transcription” appeared to cancel out the benefits.

Based on these findings, perhaps it isn’t necessarily the method of note-taking, but the structure and style of note-taking that matters. 

While handwriting, you’re automatically more selective about the content you write down, since you’re limited by your writing speed and space. The challenge is learning to format our digital notes in a logical way and choosing which points are the most important to highlight, even if you have endless “paper” to use. 

If we focus on that, then perhaps digital note-taking would be superior to pen and paper — no matter how aesthetically pleasing those minimalistic notebooks and sturdy ballpoint pens are. 

One thing we can all be sure of is that whatever method makes you feel the most creative and productive is the correct choice for you. 

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