A psychologist says that we remember more when we handwrite because the brain has time to absorb the meaning.

Business professionals and students are increasingly using laptops to take notes in meetings and classes, because it’s faster and because everyone is accustomed to typing. Some studies in the past showed that in the context of remembering information, laptops were less effective than writing. But those studies looked at how much people on a laptop remembered when they were multitasking while taking notes. A more recent study found that even multitasking was not an issue and when the computer was used only for taking notes, typing on a keyboard still hindered learning.

People who take notes via laptop simply type the words verbatim, without listening to the meaning,

the author, University of California psychologist Danny Oppenheimer, said in an email. “Folks handwriting can’t write that quickly, so they have to listen to what is being said and summarize it in their own words. In doing so, they have to understand the concepts, which provides a scaffold for learning.”

He and Pam Mueller, a Princeton graduate student, conducted three studies and found that people who took notes by hand scored higher than those on laptops.

It’s because we need to grasp the meaning of what we are writing in order to remember it. As writers of English, we lay words down in a particular order (we call that syntax). Take the sentence, The manager approved the idea. An article such as the is usually followed by a noun (manager), and a verb often follows (approved). That’s the default structure of an English sentence. As we continue to lay down familiar words in the order of standard syntax, we begin to create meaning, and understanding that meaning makes it easier to remember the sentence.

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Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at Amazon.com.

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