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Writing Notes Vs Typing

· Education

Writing Notes Vs Typing

Over 95% of college students take notes while listening and attending a lecture, reviewing these notes while preparing for class quizzes and exams (Peverly and Wolf 2019; Blasiman et al. 2017). This fact emphasizes the significance of note-taking in a college setting and raises questions on what note-taking methods promote learning and to what degree does the note-taking methods allow college students to better learn their target material. This research paper specifically focuses on two note-taking methods (handwritten v.s. typing) and their efficiency on encoding and storage information of the target material. 

When comparing notes that are typed and notes that are handwritten, there is a clear qualitative difference between them. Participants in this study who took handwritten notes wrote significantly fewer words than the participants who typed their notes. 

However, the typed notes had a significant verbatim overlap with the lecture. While participants with longer notes usually tend to perform better, participants that have higher verbatim overlap with the lecture tend to perform worse. Mueller and Oppenheimer experimented by having 2 groups (typing and handwritten notes), testing the performance of each group. The results of this experiment provided evidence that typing notes on a laptop hurts academic performance as it leads students to mindlessly type out the transcriptions of the lecture, counteracting the advantage of increased notes on the target material (Mueller and Oppenheimer, 2014). 

Oppenheimer and Mueller further experimented by telling the participants to not transcribe the lecture while typing notes on a laptop. However, this intervention failed to decrease the percentage of repeated verbatim from the lecture notes on the typed notes, thus leading to a negative performance overall. While handwritten notes have shorter notes, when compared to other note-taking methods such as typing, it has superior encoding and superior external storage functions. Due to its superior encoding functions, participants that study their handwritten notes can retrieve the information much easier and faster compared to that of participants that typed their notes (Mueller and Oppenheimer, 2014). 

When college students receive an input of information, the brain translates it to a specialized code, leading to more complex mnemonic representations. An average college student listens to a lecture and translates that input through phonological processing. Phonological processing is the ability to use phonemes and morphemes to process spoken and written language (Wagner & Torgesen, 1987). If the student is handwriting notes, another translation is performed through orthographic processing. Orthographic processing is the ability to understand writing syntax and semantics. 

However, while typing leads to a higher amount of notes, it doesn’t lead to increased quality of information collected. When notes are written, the target material is processed deeply and organized significantly within the participant. 

Handwritten notes also encourage more complex memory links, increasing memory processing and encouraging long term learning (Mendizábal et al., 2016). 

While handwritten notes have superior encoding function, the Oppenheimer and Mueller study showed that performance on both factual-recall and conceptual application questions were slightly better for participants that typed their notes and didn’t review those notes compared to the participants that hand wrote their notes and didn’t review those notes. However, Oppenheimer and Mueller state that this difference in test score between typing and handwritten participants is due to the fact that these participants took the test a week after taking notes and due to the difficult nature of the test as well. However, when participants were allowed to study, participants that took handwritten notes had a higher test score average. This is due to the superior encoding of information of the handwritten notes, and studying before the test allowed the brain to retrieve the information easier compared to that of participants that typed their notes (Mueller and Oppenheimer, 2014). 

One downfall of Mueller and Oppenheimer’s study is that it only considers note-taking as written communication. For example, participants tend to include more images in their notes when they hand write their notes instead of typing it. This helps grow the semantic network as this process utilizes visual encoding as well elaborative encoding as these images can relate to the notes being taken simultaneously. So if the target information is dependent on known illustrations, students who take handwritten notes will benefit from more complete notes and retain more information from studying them (Morehead et al., 2019). 

There are limitations to generalizing that handwriting notes are superior to typing notes on a computer. Conclusions from the studies mentioned above can be largely influenced by the difference in laboratory research versus classroom research. Students decide how many notes to take for a specific topic they might be struggling in. In a classroom, students that tend to do well usually perform multiple actions to properly understand the target material, which may include flashcards, study guides, and homework. These aiding devices would decrease the importance of note-taking itself (Morehead et al., 2019).

Another limitation to generalizations is self-control of an individual. A critical disadvantage of typing notes on a computer is distractions a laptop might offer. While students take in information, distractions can severely hinder the process of encoding the target material to the brain. When comparing the two note-taking methods of handwritten v.s. typing on a laptop, they cannot be considered as solely note taking devices. Performance output decreases as laptops offer more distractions, encouraging note-takers to deviate from focusing on learning the target content (Mueller and Oppenheimer, 2014). 

Many studies support the conclusion on there being a slight advantage to handwritten notes over typing notes. However an exemplar study for this reasoning is the Mueller and Oppenheimer study “The pen is mightier than the keyboard: advantages of longhand over laptop note taking”. While this study was thorough, many other researchers were unable to replicate the results of this experiment. For the Mueller and Oppenheimer study, the data for the superiority of handwritten notes was statistically significant; however, other studies’ data doesn’t support these conclusions as strongly (Morehead et al., 2019). 

While there are some instances where typing notes are more effective for learning the target material, hand written notes have been proven to be more effective at retrieval of the target material due to its superior encoding and external storage functions. Writing notes has proven to have more levels of processing frameworks, leading to longer term learning as well as quicker information retrieval.


Aragón Mendizábal, Estíbaliz & Delgado Casas, Candida & Navarro, Jose & Menachojimenez, Inmaculada & Romero-Oliva, Manuel-F. (2016). A Comparative Study of Handwriting and Computer Typing in Note-taking by University Students. Comunicar. 24. 10.3916/C48-2016-10. 

Blasiman, R., Dunlosky, J., & Rawson, K. A. (2017). The what, how much, and when of study strategies: comparing intended versus actual study behavior. Memory, 25, 784–792. 

Morehead, K., Dunlosky, J. & Rawson, K.A. How Much Mightier Is the Pen than the Keyboard for Note-Taking? A Replication and Extension of Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014). Educ Psychol Rev 31, 753–780 (2019). 

Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25, 1159–1168. 

Peverly, S. T., & Wolf, A. D. (2019). Note-taking. To appear in J. Dunlosky & K. A. Rawson (Eds.), Cambridge handbook of cognition and education(pp. 320–355). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Smoker, T. J., Murphy, C. E. & Rockwell, A. K. (2009). Comparing Memory for Handwriting versus Typing. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, 53, 1744-1747. doi: 10.1177/154193120905302218 Wagner, R. K., & Torgesen, J. K. (1987). The nature of phonological processing and its causal role in the acquisition of reading skills. Psychological Bulletin, 101(2), 192–212.


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