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Paper advantage: how handwriting makes you smarter


At your next meeting, will you be scribbling in a notebook or typing on a keyboard? According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the method you choose can affect how you retain information.

A growing body of evidence reveals that note takers as a whole fare better than their laptop-equipped peers when it comes to learning.

One study from researchers at Princeton University and the University of California at Los Angeles found that the focus it takes to write with a pen seems to enable students to process information in a way that is different from typing on a keyboard.

Longhand writers demonstrated a much higher level of comprehension.

Researchers had students watch 15-minute TED Talks where half took notes on paper, while the other half used laptops. Immediately following the lecture, students were tested on their understanding and factual recall of the lecture information.

Both groups scored well on factual recall, but the laptop writers, despite having more notes, were handily outscored by the note takers who demonstrated a much higher level of comprehension and retention. Typing, it seems, is a mechanical skill that is performed with less deliberate thought than using a pen to draw lines that form a letter on paper. Furthermore, the longhand writers could easily capture simple images like tables and graphs.

One psychologist who studies note-taking remarked that “the very feature that makes laptop note-taking so appealing—the ability to take notes more quickly—was what undermined learning.”

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