Should You Take Handwritten Notes?

By Samuel Sprague
Public Policy major, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

A student taking notes on a paper pad

The rise of the keyboard in the lecture hall has changed the way that students take notes. Most students prefer to use a laptop when given the chance, because it is easier to transcribe the lecture verbatim.

This process, called non-generative or passive note taking, has problems because students make no effort to paraphrase or digest the material. While handwritten notes can also be passive, writing requires students to slow down and refine the information.

Most students prefer to use a laptop when given the chance, because it is easier in the moment to transcribe the lecture word for word than to take down handwritten notes. Writing notes by hand might seem outdated because students have to summarize, paraphrase and sometimes boil down entire paragraphs into a few words. Before abandoning pen and paper, consider the differences between handwritten and typed notes.


Taking down notes by hand is slower and harder than typing, mostly because the muscles in the hand take longer to write letters than to type. Students who are used to writing with a keyboard may think that this means the keyboard wins with its higher efficiency, but students have better comprehension from boiling down important information.


Taking down less notes at a slower pace means that you will be processing the material before copying it down. You will have a deeper understanding from reducing major ideas that you won’t get from transcribing lectures exactly as you hear them. With handwritten notes, you have the benefit of understanding exactly what you wrote down without needing to read the entire lesson twice.

Second-Hand Learning

Studying off a friend’s handwritten notes can be difficult. Typed notes offer word-for-word material and reading through these notes is similar to experiencing the lecture first-hand. However, typed notes are rushed, and keeping them organized and clear can be difficult.

Organized handwritten notes can be more effective. Students who take handwritten notes are in a better position to explain concepts and ideas, since they already had to process the material.

Handwritten Notes

Comparing the two, handwritten notes are the harder but better way to take notes. Typed notes allow students to copy down more material, but copying down every word causes students to lose focus on what they’re actually writing. Students who take hand-written notes process the material more during a lecture, so they don’t need to revisit the lecture verbatim.

Students who take handwritten notes are also in a better place to explain their notes to their classmates, whereas students who take typed notes usually don’t pay much attention to the material they wrote down until they have a chance to read it closely.

How to Take Good Notes

It might be easier to use a keyboard, but handwritten notes have some clear advantages. The next step is learning how to take good handwritten notes. The most important thing to do is decide on a format for your notes. You can design your own system or look online for different formats.

The cornel method of note-taking involves separating the page into three sections (twenty-five percent on the left for main ideas, seventy-five percent on the right for notes and a section at the bottom for a summary). This is a good way to organize your notes.

You should also avoid spending time highlighting, color-coding or rewriting notes during the lecture. Beautifying notes will help in the short-term, but it distracts students during and even after the lecture.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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