5418402840_22d101e887It’s a digital world, and I’m a digital girl. Well, sometimes. I use my Google calendar to remind me of every single event crammed into my days, my Dropbox account has all of my data and writing backed up so I can access it at any moment, I read off a Kindle before I go to sleep, and my phone pretty much runs my life from the moment the alarm goes off to the minute that I put it on silent for bedtime. Despite the fact that I tote my laptop with me everywhere and have thousands of PDFs and word documents for all my courses and research, I really like paper.

I’ve always thought that when I take notes on paper and then type them up later I will remember the content better. The events that I put into my paper agenda seem to stick better in my head than the ones in my phone calendar. I will remember directions perfectly if they’re on a post-it note stuck to my windshield, but will immediately forget them after my phone’s gps gets me to the desired location.

This semester I am working on a 150 source annotated bibliography that has required an immense amount of reading and notes. I’ve completely filled one giant notebook of college lined paper and am working on filling up another one. Would it be easier to put my notes directly into the word document that I will hand in? Yes, probably. But would I remember the content as well? Probably not.

Turns out, there is actually some scientific research that shows you do learn better if you write rather than type. Mangen and Velay (2011) tested the “theory that the physical action of forming letters while writing by hand is important in helping the brain to remember the letters that are written“. The differences between typing and writing cause activity in different parts of the brain. Handwriting causes more brain activity, and the physical act of writing out the letter is part of kinesthetic learning.  A study done of memory showed that when children traced shaped with their finger they were able to better remember them later.

LifeHacker also advocated for writing because it stimulates the reticular activating system (RAS), a group of cells at the base of your brain. “The RAS acts as a filter for everything your brain needs to process, giving more importance to the stuff that you’re actively focusing on at the moment—something that the physical act of writing brings to the forefront”. This means that you are better able to focus and remember the details of something you write down versus type.

Another benefit I see is that writing gives your brain and eyes a rest. We go from phone to TV to computer. We need to let our brains and eyes take a break from all of the stimulation. Reading a paper books and writing out your notes is a great way to keep working while relieving some of that ‘screen fatigue’ pressure.

Admittedly, there are many benefits to typing. For most it is faster, you automatically get your spelling and grammar checked, and it’s already in the format that most documents nowadays need to be in. So maybe I’ll end with the same suggestion as LifeHacker- try using a stylus or digital writing pad. You can get the learning and technological benefits of both methods!

What’s your vote? Writing or typing?

[Image via Flickr user photosteve101 and used under creative commons license]

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13 Responses to Advocating for Analog: Why I Still Use Paper

  1. Masaki says:

    I love using my pen and Moleskine notebooks, but my handwriting is so bad that I usually end up typing to take notes.

    I’m not sure if we can really learn “better” by handwriting… Many people likely remember more of what we write than what we type. As we spend less time taking notes by typing, we can spend more time thinking!

    In the 2000s, I thought we’d have digital paper and pens that could replace traditional paper and pens by now, but such a reality hasn’t arrived yet. The combination of a stylus and a tablet doesn’t provide us with the same tactile and cognitive activities of writing on paper. Or, any other alternatives seem to involve redundant steps to have the final form of notes. All I want is a simple and productive way to take notes digitally!

  2. Enoch says:

    I was very glad to read that there are still some who love writing by hand. I’ve found that I too prefer to write it out if I have the option, even if typing conserves page space, time spent, and effort to decipher what I wrote previously. However, I’ve found a happy medium between analogue and digital in iPad apps like Penultimate and Notability that allow me to physically write on my tablet. It’s very difficult to make this efficient without a stylus, but I bought a nice one from Adonit and I love it.

  3. sheepeeh says:

    I used to do both.. my notes of most varieties lived in liberally post-it flagged Moleskines, which I would sometimes retype in OneNote. But I recently got the Galaxy Note 10.1 with its lovely Wacom-built screen, and I haven’t opened my Moleskine since. So I handwrite my notes, but digitally. I do miss the very satisfying feeling of a .9mm mechanical pencil on paper, but I’ve used a regular graphics tablet long enough that it’s a very slight adjustment. I’ll never run out of paper or lead again!

  4. tsherry says:

    I prefer paper. I have a big sketchbook that I write down all my ideas, notes, ect. for my thesis. However, because I prefer reading articles on paper instead of on a computer screen I have accumulated *ahem* binders full of papers. I’ve been contemplating switching to a tablet. Best of all you can still take notes directly on pdfs! I can’t resist writing snarky comments on other people’s science.

    Anyone have experience with a tablet?

  5. Nicole says:

    While studying for comps, I had a really easy time referring back to the reading and class notes I had written by hand while taking classes. The typed notes I took on the new books I read in preparation for exams did not seem to “stick” the same way the written notes did. I had a better physical memory re where to find the information I needed. In regard to grading one semester, per the professor’s preference, my students submitted essays electronically. I also commented on and graded essays from my laptop. I found it much more difficult to sift through the essays I had already graded in the case that I wanted to double-check for grading consistency. So overall, electronics certainly shape how I do a lot of work, but writing the old fashioned way most definitely has value! (not to mention the fact that electronic files are, arguably, more “ephemeral” than paper files)

  6. Jantina says:

    I have always found that I process things better by writing rather than typing; however, upon entering grad school, I wanted a much more comprehensive system to organise my research and so began typing all of my notes into evernote. I’ve found the perfect compromise between these two needs in my recent purchase of the Samsung Galaxy Note II. It’s small enough that I can take it anywhere and because it’s also my phone it doesn’t require that I keep track of yet another device (read: tablet). More importantly, it efficiently processes my blend of print and cursive into text so I can hand write out my research notes. Now I write my notes directly into evernote, satisfying my need to write things down while not losing the search capabilities of a digital file.

  7. […] document one at a time for the elements I needed. There is something to analog note-taking, as a recent Gradhacker post points out, that is powerful and important. There is nothing like learning the archive folio by folio, finding […]

  8. As I read this post and comments, I wondered if anyone else had the same problem I do when I type notes – I write too much. As a historian, I love the juicy details and find that as I type, too many of them end up in my notes rather than the main point of the article or book chapter. When I hand write notes, especially if I confine the space I write in (small notebook or post-it notes), I focus on the most important arguments and information, and I tend to remember it better than if I had typed them.

  9. Virginia Conde says:

    Sometimes, before writing something up in my laptop (either a section for an article, a proposal, my thesis) I need to organize the content first by hand on paper. It really helps me visualize the information better, when I can write, draw and schematize within the same medium (pen and paper). I have indeed tried a tablet and, although I find it highly useful, it doesn’t have the same feel to it – the handwriting needs to be larger and I can fit less content in the same sheet than I’d do in paper. Also, I much rather read papers when printed (yes, I also have tons of them archived…) and, even when reading a paper digitally, I tend to write the important information down in paper.

  10. Sam Grace says:

    That is exactly why I just started using Note Taker HD – write up notes by hand on my iPad (including on articles and syllabi) and have them save as PDFs that get synced with my main computer where I tag them and so I can find them later. Not only do I get the benefit of writing them down by hand, I can do a lot more with organization, size of font, drawing arrows, highlighting, etc. The downside is that it isn’t really a rest on my eyes, but it’s still the best of both world imho … I actually wrote a post on this last week (Note Taker HD in School and the Field) , but only started catching up on my blog reading today …

  11. Natalie says:

    Have you looked into the Livescribe pens? You get the best of both worlds, and if you’re used to buying Moleskin notebooks, the Livescribe paper is comparable price-wise. I’m like you… I like using paper. But I also want to be able to access my notes digitally. I just bought one of those pens rather inexpensively and I’m going to test it out.

  12. […] article from Katy Meyers about the importance of keep writing with a pen, instead of typing, only. (here) “The differences between typing and writing cause activity in different parts of the brain. […]

  13. Casey Naiduk says:

    Hey Katy!
    I just wrote a similar blog post pushing paper and, you know, I never considered Remembering the information better…but the truth is I do. In type-written notes, everything ends up looking the same, lacking identity and failing to cause my brain to identify the letters, words, sentences, as anything unique, crafted individually and joined together to create a larger meaning.
    I’d love it if you checked mine out to see if we’re on the same page (get it?).

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