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This was posted in HN, but I am curious how/if lobsters take notes.


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    My way of taking notes has been to take an A4 sheet, and fold it in half. This looks like two pages in a normal notebook or a diary. I take notes in class, rarely exceeding two A4 sheets for an hour. Then, after the class, I go back, look up any materials that the lecture was based on, and write a new note on a similar A4 sheet, combining what I learned, and any corrections on what I understood from the lecture. I also scanned these new notes so that I can tag and save them. It has helped me quite a bit to go back to my class notes from time to time especially when I am trying to understand a topic I studied in the university such as Statistics, Algorithms and Theory of Computation. I also use a pencil instead of a pen for the rough notes, and that some how helped me to make sure that it gets transcribed in pen.

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      Well, that must be very nice for students who are physically able to write longhand. I’m not disputing that it has memory benefits; that agrees with my understanding of how memory works, both for me and in general, and I truly wish I could follow this approach.

      It would be nice to see some acknowledgement of disability in this piece, given that pieces like it are frequently used to justify “no laptops” policies that place disabled students in the position of having to fight for their rights before they can participate at all.

      At work, I take notes in Google Docs. It has its accessibility failings, but it’s a nice clean UI which works well for me personally.

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        If you takes notes with a laptop, highlight and annotate your notes to regain those benefits. I take notes on paper and pc, but when I use software to take notes I make sure to highlight, write down questions about said notes etc. It helps add more hooks to the content.

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          Very true! A key element seems to be interacting with the material. We don’t retain that which we don’t actively use, and the mere act of typing alone doesn’t seem to count.

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            Good thought, definitely.

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          Why can’t you use a laptop and still write in your own words? Of course you miss the potential motoric benefits, but to me it sounds like no-one taught the students how to actually take notes.

          For starters, see these blog posts on notes and slide decks.

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            If you go on thinking for yourself like that you’re going to get in trouble ;).

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            This has always been my experience. All the abstractions between myself and the computer lead to the information being lost to immemorability. It’s negatively affecting my memory in general, I keep a bullet journal now to keep track of tasks and memories. Addicted to the screens.

            I use a Platinum “Preppy” extra fine fountain pen (a couple quid, best pen I have ever used) and grid paper for pretty much everything.

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              Background: current phd student

              As an undergrad in a small classroom: handwritten notes 100%. Getting disengaged from a small classroom means missing great conversation and analysis from profs and fellow students, and laptops distract both you and those around you, negatively affecting the class (anecdotally).

              As an undergrad in a large lecture hall: I prefer laptop. These classes (anecdotally again) tend to be graded less on synthesis and understanding and more on rote content. It also allows me to dive deeper on topics I’m interested in that come up without disrupting the class to ask a question.

              As a phd student (classes tend to be small): laptop, sparingly. Discussion is paramount but being able to save citations to my reading list on the fly is invaluable.

              As a lecturer: Similar to my feelings as an undergrad. I like when my students engage, but in a large classroom it can be too costly in terms of time when we need to push on through the next topic.

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                I took almost no notes in college but I brought paper to work things out if necessary, or write down a few bullet points at most. I found basically everything to go better when I stopped writing and just listened instead.

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                  same here, and when the lecture script is available then I actually do use a laptop to read it during the lecture. I often also read ahead of the prof, and I found that to be the time when I’m most productive. i tried taking notes multiple times and every time I realized I spend way too much time on the writing and too little on actually understanding the material. Whereas when all I do is listen/read I get to be constantly with the lecturer, which I find also more motivating to keep the focus.

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                  Everyone at work makes fun of me because I am never without my notebook and a mechanical pencil to take notes whenever I’m in a meeting but I can tell you I’ve been insanely more productive since I picked this habit up. This article really justifies a lot of why I like to write by hand so much.

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                    I wonder if anyone has tested not taking notes, versus taking notes on a laptop, versus taking notes on paper. And then, testing breaks and revision timing. And maybe add a category for graphics tablets and other input methods.

                    My point here is, taking notes full stop is probably makes more of a difference to information retention, than the medium you take it with.

                    If this information makes you try out paper notes, see if they work for you. If they don’t, do not be afraid to go back to your old method of note-keeping.

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                      There are a few experiments that have tested whether taking notes on a laptop impacts learning. Here is an overview of some of these studies.

                      It seems that the medium matters, both for the note takers and the people around them.

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                      I use my laptop generally, and I’m doing just fine. These studies are exhausting chiefly because of the reactions; e.g., any comment on HN that starts with “I believe …” and ends in an ideological or nostalgic ode to pen and paper. Or the use of statistical studies to justify office policies like “no laptops in the meeting room” that aren’t particularly inclusive.

                      If you want to use paper, go ahead. Just please keep the penship proselytism to yourself!

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                        yeah, and the worst thing is when these studies take a random sample of people and assign them a laptop or a notebook randomly instead of asking about their preference. A great example of statistics saying something completely irrelevant to what people quote it for in my opinion.

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                        Has anyone had success with say an ipad and apple pencil or surface book with stylus? I’ve been interested in how that would work as you should be getting the benefit of both there.

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                          My notes seem the most effective when written. Ideally I would then rewrite the notes in an app somewhere so it can be searchable and finally converted to Anki cards to solidify information into long term memory.

                          Unfortunately, my note taking process usually breaks down after the first step.

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                            This is absolutely true for most people. But there are as always exceptions.

                            I have fine and gross motor impairment and difficulty crossing the mid line. I can totally write, but it’s not pretty and is a sincere effort to make even remotely legible.

                            I really enjoyed doing a written daily journal, but creating an entry was taking so much time I couldn’t afford it.

                            So, yeah, great advice anyway. There’s definitely something about the act of writing that commits things to memory for most folks.

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                              I use Deft, but I do find that having the laptop open during e.g. 1-1s is distracting. So I also use a basic notepad and a pen. I do find that stuff I write twice, whether that’s into org-mode and then into an email, or via pen on paper and then into org-mode, tends to stick better.

                              I need to get better at this, for sure.

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                                I almost always carry two things with me: the first is my laptoo, and the second is an A4 refill pack. I don’t need a full notebook, and in fact I prefer not to use one, because I find both hardback books and spiralbound books frustrating, which really limits my choices.

                                I take my notes by hand (I use the laptop purely to show off org mode tables to anyone who cares to listen). I tend to use one page of per section, which, depending on the professor, may be easy to decide, or I may have to decide myself, but usually I use 3-4 pages during each lecture.

                                Keeping up with whoever’s speaking isn’t difficult, primarily due to the fact I write in a messy Teeline-type shorthand. Handwriting also has the advantage of making it easier to draw diagrams tham messing around in Inkscape, with Tikz, or even (gasp) with autoshapes. Despite using shorthand, I still summarise, rather than writing word for word. I like having time not holding a pen now and then.

                                Afer the lecture, I transcribe my notes onto my laptop, using a custom markup format (yeah, I only use org mode to show off the tables). I used to have a html and latex compiler for it, but at some point I lost it, so I’m currently working on a better engineered replacement, but that’s very early stages, so really the notes are just plain text (which suits me fine).

                                My digital notes fit into my folder hierarchy at $HOME/doc/sch/$SUBJECT/$SECTION/$TOPIC, so normally the contents of a single lecture is only one file, and sometimes might contain stuff from other lectures as well. The main reason why I transcribe notes is for neatness, so that I can send excerpts to other people, and so that I can run a search of them all.

                                In my experience, I’ve found that I work better taking notes on paper, but it’s also nice to have some of the advantages of using a computer. The transcription process is beneficial to me as it requires me to actively remember what was going on at the time I took the notes. Disadvantages are that it takes longer and uses a lot more paper, but in most other aspects I’m very environmentally conscious, so I’m willing to let this slide for now at the benefit of my education.

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                                  Two things to say on this. First off, exactly what is the best way to learn and consume lecture content varies tremendously between individuals and on the specific type and content of the lecture. I don’t agree at all with trying to dictate to people how they should take notes based on a scientific study that tries to generalize all things and all people to get publishable results. I may not know the subject being spoken about, but I know more than anybody how I learn and retain information, so kindly get off my back and let me do it my way. And I trust everybody else to know their own best way to do things.

                                  Second, I do agree with the idea that you should spend like 80% of your mental effort in any lecture on listening and trying to understand what’s being said. Trying to write down every word said, or even the gist of the speech, is a terrible idea IMO. Any time I’ve tried that, I find I end up with a pile of incomprehensible notes, and no idea what was actually said. Laptops can be particularly bad at this, since they encourage you to use fancy graphics and formatting and have plenty of ways to distract yourself looking for more info on something. Again IMO, if you use one, commit yourself to writing plain text, no formatting or graphics or anything like that, and don’t try to get everything down. Understand, and note a few critical points instead.

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                                    I don’t have to take a lot of notes in my current role thanks to the better tooling that tends to come with distributed companies, but what I’ve wanted as a notetaking tool has been the same for about 20 years:

                                    • physically, basically an iPad pro w/pencil, but having a finer tip to better match a real pen
                                    • write with the pen, pan with your fingers
                                    • infinitely scrollable, in one direction (chooseable per doc) only
                                    • the ability to inject or remove space at any part of the document, using something like what Adobe calls “content-aware-scaling” but with far less overhead because you’re only choosing the divide line, rather than having to resample with AI
                                    • some basic ability to cut and paste with a temporary “shelf” concept
                                    • a secondary “metadata” mode that you use after a note-taking session, where you can hightlight parts of the document for TODOs or add hyperlinks
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                                      In my current role, I would also add the ability to record what is being said along with the notes. Some thing like a button I can associate with the current line being written. Too often, there is confusion as to what was said exactly.

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                                      It’s interesting that the new research is behind a paywall here - the research might be useful but it looks to be qualitative rather than quantitative. Which is one of my bugbears with educational research - it looks at small groups rather than whole cohorts…

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                                        I wrote a notes-on-notes document a few months back.

                                        tl;dr: vimwiki and Moleskine-style paper notebooks (usually Leuchtturm these days), mostly.