Every student, professional, or lifelong learner knows the power of taking effective notes. But with the proliferation of new gadgets and the myriad of tech tools available today, is the old school habit of writing things down in notebooks still the best method? And, what are the most effective ways to ensure you’re making the most of your notetaking sessions? The art of taking good notes is an indispensable skill, but it’s one that many have forgotten.
Pen vs. pixel?
First things first – let’s start by establishing whether modern or classic wins out here. The simple, and science-backed answer is that old-school always wins! Studies from Princeton University and the University of California found that students who took handwritten bullet point notes, in a notebook, as opposed to those who typed, were better at understanding and recalling the information later.
Why is this? Well, let’s delve into cognitive science for an insight into why the act of handwriting has the edge over typing. When we write notes by hand, we engage in a process called “encoding”. This cognitive process involves the brain actively engaging with the information, interpreting it, and then storing it. It’s a more intensive mental exercise compared to the more passive act of typing, which involves merely transcribing verbatim.
It is also the tactile experience of holding a pen and forming letters and words on a page - be it a lined journal or a dotted notebook - that establishes a deeper connection between the material and our brains, fostering better memory retention. In short, the physical act of writing engages the brain differently.
So, whilst laptops and tablets have their place in the world of organised study and business note taking, there’s undeniable scientific evidence supporting the traditional pen and paper approach.
With all this in mind, here are seven game-changing strategies to transform your notebook scribbles to something more systematic, maximising retention and boosting productivity:
- Keep It Simple with Bullet Notes:
This is all about the power of brevity, because, as with most things in life, simplicity is key. Forget long sentences and paragraphs! Using bullet points enables one to streamline thoughts. The very act of writing down something in a concise, condensed manner helps you to retain pertinent information – i.e. the stuff that’s really important!
A grid notebook, or a dotted journal might just be your best friends here, as they allow for complete flexibility in your note structure. Use a simple A5 journal, or a bigger B5 journal to keep all your notes in one dedicated space and as streamlined as possible.
If time-frames and deadlines are vital for keeping track of things, then general planners or a weekly desk planner are useful when it comes to sequencing any important events and actions not to be forgotten.
- Use Your Own Voice:
Personalisation makes a real difference - there's something genuine about using your own voice when taking notes. It's akin to having a conversation with yourself.
But why is this effective? It’s because the more you can relate to the material written in your journal, the easier it'll be to understand and recall.
- Don't Fret about Spelling:
While it's essential to be legible AND comprehensible, don’t let the fear of misspelling halt your flow, especially when figuring out how to take notes fast.
The goal of taking good notes is to focus on content and capture the essence, not to win a spelling competition! It’s easy to lose track of essential details if you’re agonising about how to spell something instead. Just remember, you can correct spellings later…if absolutely needed.
- Use Abbreviations and Symbols:
When pondering how to take better notes, remember that time is of the essence. Anything that makes writing things down speedier and more efficient is a win in our book! This is why acronyms, symbols, and shorthand aren't just for court reporters. Using them allows you to summarise complex ideas fast and turn your notes into a quick reference guide. Check out these useful abbreviations for note taking.
We suggest adopting your own system in your notebook planner. These can be a real game-changer when it comes to swiftness and accuracy.
- Include Action Prompts:
This is the all-important call to action! All good notes contain these. Whether it's further reading, group discussions, or project tasks, your personalised notebooks should guide your next steps.
Including prompts in your planner pad helps you transition from passive learning to active application. To be more precise, it inspires you to get things done!
- Review After the Lecture/Class:
Of course, the real power of good notes and notebooks comes into play during the review process. In short, re-read and re-read!
A quick scan through using your favourite Mildliners to highlight the most essential points, Tombow pens to star vital actions and washi tape to tab important pages, makes all the difference when it comes to helping solidify knowledge.
Whichever tools you choose, revisiting and reflecting on your notes, is the best way to retain the information.
- Accessorising Your Notes:
Lastly, don’t forget to add a dash of fun to your summaries and reports. Make them your own - definitely our favourite thing to do.
Experiment with different washi tape designs, colour code with zebra mildliners, doodle with gelly roll pens, or practise calligraphy headings with a Fudenosuke brush pen. Just remember, the clearer and more engaging your notes, the more inclined you'll be to revisit them.
Effective note taking is a balance between art and science. These seven strategies, coupled with the right tools, can drastically improve the results of everyone who likes, or needs, to take a note or two! Whether you're a student, a professional, or someone on a quest for knowledge, transforming the way you jot down information can change the trajectory of your learning journey. Here’s to many hours of happy note-taking!