by scotslawstudent

I take notes in lectures using a ballpoint pen and seemingly endless pads of paper which all get collected together by subject into a big file in my bookcase at home, this year I managed to fill and a bit extra a lever arch file with handwritten lecture notes. There’s a lot of material covered in lectures.
I was warned that bringing too many notes into university leaves me at the risk of losing huge amounts of work in the case of my bag being snatched or misplaced, or perhaps just falling in water. (Glasgow has a couple of big rivers running through it and I’m comfortable admitting that if my bag fell into either I would just have to let it go.)

I’ve not seen the levels of crime that seem to affect students at other universities, we have the odd warning about opportunists in the library but nothing approaching a crime wave so I feel alright carrying relative valuables (not real valuables, I’m a student remember) and I could claim those back on my insurance if I really had to. But notes are awkward to replace – I’d have to hunt down a colleague and photocopy sheet after sheet to get back to where I was before. It’s a thought that I’m more concerned about my notes than my laptop.

I’ve tried typing notes during a lecture, but firstly I felt self conscious with my happy, noisy typing style. there’s a bit difference to writing down every word the lecturer says with a quiet pen and tapping it into a computer, so I was immediately put off the lecture. Secondly, remember to disable any alerts you have on your laptop, if Outlook is retrieving email at the same time as you’re typing it might not disrupt your typing but it will distract you. A lot of my problems stemmed from being distracted by the fact I was typing instead of writing. The other point is the speed of setting up a laptop is more than the same process with paper – pretty much uncap your pen and pull a pad out of your bag, so you spend a little more time at the start of the lecture getting into the right mindset. This does not even begin to consider if you get distracted and accidentally wander onto or at which point you can consider your participation in a lecture to be over.  It’s hard enough to catch up in a lecture that you’ve come late for never mind one which you have tuned out of and given a generally more interesting distraction.

The benefits of typed notes are clear though – they are searchable, always legible (although still with the same hazard of not necessarily making sense to you afterwards) and more compact. Other commentators who do take typed notes admit they are more likely to look back over typed notes than written notes, which means that as far as a revision aid goes the typed notes are better.

There’s a lot to be said to taking notes with a pen – firstly there’s a pragmatic issue of muscle memory, your brain is likely to associate writing with language from a much earlier age than typing on a keyboard so you’re more likely to retain the information, the information is also being reinforced in a form which is the same as how you want to be able to express it – with a pen during an exam making it a more efficient process. Clearly, if you go into an exam and your secret weapon to pass is the fact that you’ve written your lecture notes out you may be disappointed but the issue is there – your brain will have a delay interpreting your typing revision to be the same as the written essay answers because it’s a different motor skill.

Remembering that university is supposed to help you build skills for later life, remember that there’s an entirely different body language given off by someone writing notes and someone typing notes. In a professional legal situation, the fact your lawyer is scribbling notes and the fact your lawyer is typing those same notes into their computer mean exactly the same thing – your story is being listened to and the trained legal professional is taking a record of important details. They just look different – the person behind the counter at the bank also types into a computer as you give details but as a profession the law tries to get away from the image of themselves as the people behind a counter, the creative lawyer writing stories for you to get you out of a problem is a better look to go for. You may work as a person behind a counter for money as you study but no one endures the work load a law degree involves hoping to become the equivalent of the person behind the counter.

It’s a tiny difference but there’s a lot to be said about small differences in body language which significantly affect the overall experience. I also find that I write considerably faster than I type, and I can simply get more details onto paper in a lecture if it’s through a pen – in this your mileage may vary, I was actually using my sister’s computer for university before my primary school gave me chunky pencils but I can still write faster than I can type no matter what I try.

I would never, ever submit a handwritten document to a paying client, whether as a lawyer or as a plumber, (Actually, I might submit my hand written receipt as a plumber because the illegibility might hide what I charged for) because I feel the look of a handwritten document, particularly a messy one, would take away from the hoped for quality of the content. If my penmanship was infallible and looked professional I would reconsider this immediately. This is similar to taking notes, for your own use, by hand for the image that it lends. It’s a matter of appearance for a world where appearance is extremely important – sharp suits are as much an indicator of your economic success as they are a pleasure to wear and people may not like to see a lawyer in an expensive suit but nevertheless like to be represented by someone who appears successful, and therefore good at their job. It’s just as important to try to distinguish yourself as a lawyer from other professionals who someone might deal with, you’re not being paid to tell someone what they can’t do, you’re being paid to use your imagination to tell them how they could do it and acting in a way that implies your creativity is never a bad thing in that situation.