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Why So Many Still Take Notes on Paper

447305129_38096cdc62_bThis morning’s news about Instapaper’s new note-taking feature happens to arrive right at the same time that one journalist is asking why so many in our profession still take notes with pen on paper.

David Rothman of Teleread tipped me to a recent blog post by Rob Pegoraro, a tech columnist. He recounted a recent scene at a press conference on his personal blog:

I was at a lunch briefing today, and of about 10 people around the table–some Visa executives, some PR minders, most journalists–I was the only person taking notes in an app instead of on paper.

That’s a typical situation. And I don’t get it. …

I’ve seen the same (even among the tech savvy), but it never surprised me. I can’t speak for the people at the conference but I can tell you why I still take paper notes.

The reason you’ll see me with a notepad in my hand is that it just works better when I am on the go, and when I’m not on the go my computer is a better note-taking tool then any app on a mobile device. Also, a paper notepad is less of a distraction than a mobile device.

When I’m at my computer, I generally type my notes. Like David, I archive content in Gmail, but I also have notes peppered across Wordpad and the draft section of this blog.

Because I spend so much time at my computer, I’ve never developed the knack to take notes on a mobile device. Sure, I’ll fave a tweet, bookmark a webpage, or forward an email to myself, but when it comes to recording a chunk of text when someone is speaking I generally whip out a notepad.

Pen on paper is faster for me than pen on screen (I’ve never mastered two-fingered smartphone typing). The paper notepad is also more sharable, flexible, and durable than any mobile device, and it weighs less.

I can tear a sheet out and hand it to someone, I can shove the entire notepad in my back pocket without worry, I don’t have to worry about dropping it, or it being stolen.

And best of all, that paper notepad has the added upside of not having any distracting apps or games.

I have a rule against having electronics out during important meetings (I frequently break this rule but it does exist). I keep them in my bag (or sometimes leave them behind in my hotel room) because I realized a long time ago that I will be distracted by the gadget. I could miss something important, so I remove the distractions.

How about you? Do you still use paper notepads?

images by Dr Stephen DannPitel



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Reader June 5, 2015 um 11:26 am

My database work involves occasional phone conversations when I am right at the computer. If the conversations are short- a minute or less- and non-technical, where <10 words will suffice for the result, I will usually type the results of the phone call directly into the computer. However, if the conversation is technical and somewhat involved, I will write it on paper, and later transcribe the notes to computer. From college lectures, I am well accustomed to writing down notes.

I am the secretary for my HOA, and as such take notes for our meetings. I take them on paper, and transcribe later.

For me, writing notes by hand feels more direct.

Michael Anderson June 5, 2015 um 11:33 am

Right with you Nate … I had an iPad with keyboard case for a long time, but at this point I mostly use my LiveScribe 3 with the notebook … always have my iPhone 6+, but even with that monster I am just better off scribbling stuff 🙂

fjtorres June 5, 2015 um 11:45 am

I used to take notes on PocketPC. Don’t need to of late but still favor pen-driven TabletPC. In both cases most of my input stays as ink.

I have a friend who has for years *lived* in OneNote on Tablet PCs.

I think the general weakness of Ink as a datatype in iOS and Android and its near total absence on Macs is why journos still rely on paper for note taking.

Medium Punch June 5, 2015 um 1:57 pm

I could always write (even in longhand) faster than I can type. And in legible cursive!

I write notes like a circus act. Jumping about the page, backtracking and forward skipping, notes within notes, chutes and ladders, diagrams and scribbles, commentary in the margins, strikethroughs and underlines! And you understand it when I hand you it.

Just trying to type notes, with the way I use my mind, is maddening. Never really tried digital handwriting because I’m to lazy too put in the few hundred dollars for a tablet, pen, tablet case, program/subscription to buy in on taking digital notes. Or even bother buying just a pen for my phone.

Nate Hoffelder June 5, 2015 um 2:26 pm

I write notes like a circus act.

My notes aren’t that colorful but I do write notes 4th dimensionally. I write notes in every cardinal direction and orientation (on the same page), inside other notes, and across other notes. just about the only thing I haven’t done is a spiral.

Medium Punch June 5, 2015 um 3:21 pm

Reminds of pictures I’ve seen of old letters as far back as the post-US Civil War era. Some people would save on cost by writing horizontally across the page like normal, then vertically over that. Criss-crossing the text with varying degrees of readability (to me).

Kit June 5, 2015 um 2:03 pm

I take most of my notes for work on my iPad, using Evernote, for pretty much the same reasons Rob Pegoraro does. Also my handwriting is dreadful, so taking notes digitally works much better for me. As far as my co-workers go, it’s a mix. Sometimes I’ll be in a meeting and everyone will have some device (lots of MacBook Airs) and sometimes I’ll be the only one who’s not using paper.

Juli Monroe June 5, 2015 um 7:15 pm

I always take notes electronically. When I interview people by phone, I’ve got Evernote open, and I type into it. When I’m face to face, I use my tablet. I’ve gotten good enough at typing on a soft keyboard, that it’s not a problem. Plus, at least on my phone, Swiftkey is so good at predicting me that sometimes I don’t even have to type. Guess I’m predictable. 🙂

William D. O’Neil June 5, 2015 um 10:53 pm

I never developed much facility at taking notes via the keyboard, even though I certainly type faster than I can write (atrocious as my typing is). My notes tend to be nonlinear, with insertions and corrections, and often with diagrams. I’ve tried various handwriting-on-screen schemes but they never worked well for me; the feel did not promote fast or clear writing and because the computer recognition was so poor there was little benefit.

Sharon Reamer June 6, 2015 um 7:32 am

I love notes on paper. I have different spiral-bound notebooks scattered all over the house so I can jot things down – sometimes scenes or ideas or whatever. I have dedicated notebooks for things like workshops and promotional type work. I also have a smaller spiral-block for writing scenes in that I always take with me on the train or in the car where it’s much easier to write on paper than to try and type on a device.

It’s good for the brain to use a pen every now and then and not be fully reliant on electronics. Even though I started using a PC in the 80’s and that marks me as a dinosaur, too many years of grad school has convinced my brain that it retains things better that way.

Castiron June 8, 2015 um 1:17 pm

I’m slow enough with screen tapping that if I’m getting someone’s phone number, it’s faster for me to grab scrap paper and pen, write it down, and enter it into the laptop later than it is to open up Contacts and enter it directly into my iPod. I certainly wouldn’t use my iPod to take any long or significant notes on a lecture; I’d use my laptop if I had it and paper if I didn’t. (If I had a portable keyboard for the iPod, that’d be another story. Ah, late and lamented Handspring Visor and your foldable keyboard that I took class notes on for a semester.)

Nate Hoffelder June 8, 2015 um 1:37 pm

I’m the same way. I just never got enough practice at typing on the screen to get good at it.

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