Should You Take Meeting Notes by Hand or by Computer?

A friend recently complained to me that a young woman at her workplace made fun of her for taking meeting notes by hand. The young woman acted as though my friend–let's call her Marge–were incompetent: "WHY do you take notes by hand? Using a keyboard is much more efficient." 

To Marge, this comment felt like an attack on her age, with the young, savvy woman regarding her as an old fogey. 

Marge asked my opinion: Doesn't it make sense to take meeting notes by hand? Aren't there advantages to doing it that way? 

What do you think? When it's your turn to take meeting notes or minutes, do you take them by hand or electronically? Why? Which way is more efficient? Think about your experiences before reading the ideas below.Take Notes by Hand or By Computer

Consider these advantages and disadvantages of each approach:

 

Taking Notes by Hand–Advantages

  • You can pay attention to what's happening in the meeting rather than focusing on typing. 
  • You can easily draw arrows, cross out words, and underline information without having to look for the right key. You can use your own method of notation or shorthand. 
  • It's faster to write if you are a slow typist. 
  • You can easily write notes on the meeting handouts. 
  • There's less temptation to record every word. 
  • There's no worry about what might go wrong with the computer.  
  • It's quieter and less distracting to other people in the room. 

 

Taking Notes on a Computer–Advantages 

  • It's faster because you don't have to transcribe your notes later–they are already typed.  
  • It's faster if you are a good typist.
  • The notes are legible.
  • It's easier and faster to check spelling.
  • It's easy to edit as you go.
  • You can efficiently fill in a template that includes the agenda items.
  • You can display your notes on a screen if the group wants to see them.

 

Taking Notes by Hand–Disadvantages

  • You may not be able to read your handwriting. 
  • You may not be able to keep up if you write slowly. 
  • Your writing hand can get tired if it's a long meeting.
  • It's a longer two-step process of writing, then typing. 
  • You may misplace your written notes and lose everything. 

 

Taking Notes on a Computer–Disadvantages

  • You may record too much information because you can.
  • You may focus too much on your screen rather than on the meeting. 
  • Your computer battery may die if you don't have a power cord. 
  • You may accidentally not save the file or may delete it. 
  • Your typing may distract others in the room or make them self-conscious about what you are recording. 

 

Do those pros and cons match your experiences? If you have others to add, please share them in a comment. 

I reassured Marge. It IS efficient to take notes by hand–if that method works better for her. But I also encouraged her to take notes on her laptop to learn whether she likes it. She might find that it's more efficient in some situations. 

When I take meeting notes, I often use both methods. I fill in a template on my laptop as the meeting progresses. And I have paper copies of the handouts so I can make notes on them as necessary. However, when I need to participate actively in a meeting, I always take notes by hand. Typing would distract me. 

To learn how to take meeting notes and minutes the easy way, take my online self-study course Meeting Notes Made Easy

What kind of note-taking is efficient for you?

Lynn
Syntax Training

13 COMMENTS

  1. Lynn – thanks for sharing the good and bad of both written and digital notes. I prefer to take written notes about 90% of the time. I digest the information better by physically writing it down, and I definitely pay attention to the meeting or lecture more than I would if I typed the notes. It’s more efficient for me because I can quickly write down follow-up questions, and keep my notebook for reference later in related meetings.

    I agree, typing gets the job done quicker and creates a nice little archive to search. But typing is loud and distracting, and what if a notification pops up on the computer, even if internet is turned off? I think digital notes are more distracting during the meeting, and might be a nice second step – if needed – to type out the written notes later that day.

    I still write out my grocery list on paper. I find that when I type it out, I forget a few items as I’m typing, or I even leave my phone in the car sometimes (I know, who does that in this day and age?), and then I have to go by memory. The information is just floating around at that point, digitally. When I write it down, I can check it off and I get those thoughts out of my head.

    Thanks for listing the pros and cons of each! It’s definitely something to think about.

  2. Kelly, nice to hear from you about meeting notes.

    And then there’s the grocery list. I write mine on a whiteboard in the kitchen as I recognize what we need (as do other members of my family). Then I take a photo of the list with my phone. Of course, as you said, if I leave the phone in the car, that photo doesn’t do me much good.

    The paper list probably makes more sense except for the waste of paper. (But we can use scrap paper, right?) As you said, we can check off each item as we add it to the cart.

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

    Lynn

  3. Lynn, I also appreciate the article, thoughts, and pros and cons.

    First, following up on what Kelly said, in our trainings on meetings, one of the key points we emphasize is that everyone should turn off their computers during the meeting. The only exception is the scribe–if she/he so chooses to take notes on their laptop. The issue is that, even if people are taking notes on the meeting on their computers, there is still the “danger” or “temptation” to multitask during the meeting. Having laptops open during a meeting is distracting.

    On the topic of typing notes on your computer, the only time I do this is if I’m in a tactical meeting where there is a specific structure (we start with a lightning round to gather topics and then work through them). There is a very specific template for taking notes and tracking the action points of the meeting.

    Something I discovered by accident several years ago is that, even though I can type much faster than I can write, I process information better when I write by hand. I talked to a neurologist friend of mine about this, to which he replied that writing by hand engages many more neurons than typing. So in addition to finding myself more focused when I write my notes by hand, I also find myself more creative and thoughtful when I take notes by hand.

    Having said that, using a template that requires filling out the topic, action point, person responsible and deadline helps create an action plan that can be followed up and managed. This I always do on my laptop–assuming I’m the scribe of the meeting.

    So I guess, like you, Lynn, I either write things down or use my computer–depending on the need of the moment.

  4. Hi John,

    Thank you for this detailed comment. Obviously you have spent time thinking about how to take meeting notes most efficiently.

    I especially appreciate the information that “writing by hand engages many more neurons than typing.” I had read about that and should have brought that into the discussion. Thanks for providing it!

    Lynn

  5. Great question, Lynn! I prefer taking notes by hand so that I can focus on listening to people and observing them while they are speaking. However, I will consider taking my laptop to a meeting to see whether it provides greater benefits than writing by hand.

  6. As an HR professional, my first thoughts were not on the debate over taking notes by hand or by computer, but that the young lady by whom Marge felt attacked needs mentoring, coaching, and/or soft skills training — like how to be tactful, how to interact intergenerationally, and how to be courteous and respectful. The young lady in question may be technically savvy, but she is definitely lacking interpersonal skills.

  7. Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks for your great point. When I heard about the interaction, I felt the same way you do. The young woman has a lot to learn about business relationships. Marge would have had much to teach her, but now she wants little or nothing to do with her.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Lynn

  8. Thank you! I prefer handwritten in most cases. Another benefit for me is that when I type up my notes it’s a review for me. I remember (almost) all of the original context. It also frequently makes me think of clarifications or more notes to add.

  9. Ellen, thanks for these good points. The only one I would caution you about is “more notes to add.” Frequently additional content is not what notes need. They need the essentials: decisions, action items, key points.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Lynn

  10. I’m in my late 40s and have taken meeting minutes for about 10 years. I reluctantly switched from handwritten to typed a year ago.

    There was a short transition period where I had to retrain my brain… but now I prefer typing. It saves a lot of time if you’re going to have to type them up anyway. I usually still handwrite the attendee names, because it’s too hard to update those and take notes at the same time.

    However in the type of meetings where people jump around the agenda instead of going through it methodically, I still find it’s better to handwrite so you can draw arrows, etc. Every person and meeting is different… criticizing how someone takes notes is pretty immature. 🙂

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