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The value of handwritten notes in academic research

I have no shame in admitting that I’m completely old-school. I take handwritten notes. Despite my inherent interest in, and continued use of, technology tools (particularly online ones, like Mendeley, Evernote and Dropbox) I write my To-Do lists by hand. Not only that, but also when I am editing a paper (or writing a first draft), or conceptualizing research ideas, I always do them by hand.

I find that unless I write by hand, my thinking always drifts away. There is something to the physical component of jotting down my ideas. I also edit journal articles, manuscripts and grants by hand. And obviously, I grade by hand. When I was doing my PhD I used to write down all my notes in handwriting, and then typing my notes, and saving them as Word documents.

Someone recommended (and I actually agree with this idea) to write down by hand your notes, but then to type them and save them on Evernote, which allows you to index them properly. Some of my students (a vast majority) type notes in computer, but I find that when I do this, my notes aren’t as solid.

Besides, I also like to write on my whiteboard and map out how I am thinking about a particular research problem.

I also find that when I work from home, handwritten notes actually flow much more easily than when I have my big whiteboard available (I have a small one with a little corkboard at my home office, but I only note my To-Do list there). I tend to map out research ideas in a whiteboard when at my campus office.

All the tables that I usually create to accompany my journal articles or to help me think through my ideas are usually written by hand, then typed, then printed and THEN edited on paper (usually with red or purple ink). I know, old school, but incredibly effective.


Do YOU write your research notes by hand? (excluding, of course, fieldwork notes, which I suppose EVERYONE writes by hand!)

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