I’m slightly late to the party, so you may have already seen the debate prompted by Craig Taylor’s recent blog post; if not, take a look.
Craig was shocked at a recent event when some people expressed discomfort at him taking notes on his iPad.
Perhaps surprisingly for someone in my kind of role, I’m a pen-and-paper girl at heart: I love my Kindle but buy my very favourite books in paperback; I take great joy in browsing the beautiful stationery in Paperchase; and, yes, 99% of the time I take notes the old-fashioned way.
I’ve been thinking about this recently – partly prompted by Craig’s post and partly because the early days of a new job, for me, involve taking copious notes – and I’m wondering whether this preference is connected to my tendency to reflection and my need for order.
I’m learning Greek at the moment and during class I take notes in a little reporter’s notebook with a black biro. But each week, as well as doing my (necessarily handwritten) homework, I also write up my class notes in my ‘best’ A4 notebook. Having the time and space (mental and physical) to reflect on the lesson allows me to make associations and get things straight and consolidated in my mind. I also use a range of coloured pens when writing the notes up, highlighting key things (like verb endings or new sounds). As a result, my ‘final’ notes are clear and accurate, and structured in a way that will make sense to me when I look back at them. I did the same thing when I was at university – I’d take fairly scrappy notes in lectures or supervisions, and I’d write them up later so I had something as useful as possible to refer to when it came to revision time.
At work I’m the same. I have my ‘rough’ notebook for phone messages, to-do reminders and notes from meetings. Then I have my ‘good’ notebook where I write the important stuff that I need to remember, refer back to or make sense of – consolidated minutes from meetings, key messages from webinars or presentations, and so on. By keeping the short-term or rough stuff separate, I keep my notebook and my mind as uncluttered as possible. There’s obviously a bit of time required to do this, but I think it’s time well spent as it’s part of my reflection process.
So I do think my need for clarity and order, coupled with my preference for time and space to think about things before committing them to permanent record, explains why I tend to produce ‘final’ versions of any important notes I take.
But that doesn’t address why I take the first round of notes on paper rather than on a mobile device like Craig and many others. For me, some of it is down to speed. I touch type, so can transcribe or paraphrase quickly via a keyboard, but what I can’t do quickly is correct things or jump around in a document. On paper, if someone says something that seems to link to something mentioned ten minutes earlier, I can draw an arrow or add an asterisk without slowing myself down. On a device, that would (for me) take longer, and I’d inevitably miss something useful or lose my train of thought.
A second reason is that when I take rough notes (when listening to a presentation, reading a document or brainstorming, for instance), I use my own shorthand. It’s not particularly consistent and it’s probably largely nonsensical to others, but it works for me. If I use the same abbreviations and symbols on a device, spellchecker jumps in and auto-corrects things, meaning I won’t be able to make sense of my own notes when I review them. (I know, I could turn spellchecker off, but then I’d forget to turn it back on and it wouldn’t be there when I needed it…)
So for me, paper-based notes are my preference, and I can’t see that changing any time soon. But in thinking about all of this, two important things have occurred to me.
Firstly, this is entirely a question of personal choice and I have absolutely no objection to people taking e-notes. Yes, I would prefer they try not to bash too loudly at the keyboard (just as I’d prefer others don’t click their pens incessantly or slurp their tea too dramatically). Yes, I think it’s nice if they can look away from the screen to make eye contact with the speaker from time to time (just as I think you should if you’re scribbling notes on paper). These things are just common courtesy, whatever equipment you’re using. Likewise, it’s common courtesy to respect other people’s choices and preferences – as I’ve said, I have no issue whatsoever with people taking notes on an iPad or laptop, and in return I’d like to think I can stick to my trusty pen and paper without being branded a behind-the-times luddite.
Secondly, there is also a question about sharing here, which Craig draws attention to by ending his post with a challenge to the people who took paper-based notes to share them like he has shared his online mindmap. I don’t think sharing is obligatory – certainly not widespread online sharing – and it’s definitely not always the primary purpose of taking notes. But personally I do want to be able to share what I learn and find interesting, largely because my community has shared so much with me and I want to reciprocate. So I am going to challenge myself to consider how to do this more consistently. I won’t be changing the first stage of my process – the rough handwritten notes – or the reflection time, which I need to ensure the stuff I share is useful and relevant and coherent. But I will look at ways to change how I approach the second stage. Instead of just re-writing my notes in a way that works for me, I’m going to explore other, e-enabled, options that will allow me to easily share my polished notes with my wider network: mindmaps, blog posts, Google docs and so on.
I can’t promise I won’t still print them out and keep them in my folder of useful things, though!