• 04.25.14

The Best Way To Remember Something? Take Notes By Hand

People who write notes by hand remember the content of meetings and lectures better than those who use laptops, new research shows.

The Best Way To Remember Something? Take Notes By Hand
[Image: Notetaking via Flickr user Wrote]

Headed into an important meeting? Grab a pen. Taking notes longhand will help you remember information better than typing them out, according to new research from a pair of psychologists from Princeton University and UCLA.


The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, compared how well more than 300 students retained information after taking notes on 15-minute TED Talks either by hand or with a laptop. Across three different experiments, the researchers found that taking notes with a laptop can be detrimental to learning. Both groups performed about the same when recalling facts from the lectures half an hour later, but longhand note-takers were much better at recalling concepts.

Handwritten note via Shutterstock

These results of only a few hundred students paid to watch lectures in the lab might not exactly translate in the real world, but they do suggest laptops might not be great for retaining information. The researchers postulate that the effect might stem from the fact that while typing, it’s easy to write down verbatim what the speaker is saying, without really thinking about it. Taking notes by hand requires listening to the information being said, processing it and then summarizing it in your own words. The students who took notes on laptops tended to write more words than those who wrote by hand, but when given the chance to study their notes afterward, all that extra content didn’t help much–students who wrote their notes longhand performed better on a test a week later, both on questions of conceptual understanding and the factual content.

“It may be that longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently,” the researchers write.

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.