Tips for Note-taking with Electronic Devices
Save notes from each lecture as a separate document labelled with course name, lecture number and date. Organise all documents and other course materials into a folder labelled with the course code.
- Choose the notebook layout for your note documents.
- Try a note-taking app like Evernote, Microsoft OneNote or Google Keep.
- Become familiar with keyboard shortcuts so that you can easily add formatting and ‘save’ while you take notes.
Combine handwritten notes with electronic note-taking
Interacting with your notes is the best way to process information, which is after all the goal of note-taking.
- If your lecturer provides lecture outlines, slides, or summaries of upcoming lectures, don’t just print them and skip note-taking in class—use these materials as frameworks to help structure your notes.
- Save lecture slides as PDF files and annotate them. There are various applications that allow annotation of PDFs, such as Notability, iAnnotate, PDF Pen, Evernote or Adobe Acrobat Pro.
- If notes or summaries are in Word, use the ‘track changes’ function to add annotations and comments.
- If you use a laptop, make sure other programs are closed. Don’t try to ‘multitask’ whilst trying to note take—focus on one task and do it with maximum efficiency.
- Consider getting a website or app blocker such as Self Control that can block distractions such as email or social media for a selected time period.
Typing vs writing notes: which is better?
While many students prefer typing notes to hand-writing them, research indicates that taking ‘pen and paper’ notes increases your focus and improves your comprehension and retention of lecture materials, more so than typing. On the other hand, note-taking on a laptop or device can make notes easier to format, save, edit, share, and re-read (with no worries about messy handwriting).
It can be easy to fall into transcription mode on a laptop, and simply record everything that is said, instead of actively deciding what is most important to write down. Transcribing can seem like a good strategy, but the memory and cognition benefits of note-taking are lost unless you review and re-engage with your notes several times (see the section on what to do after the lecture). If you type your notes, be sure to review them at least once within 24 hours after the lecture.