Laptop Note Taking: Lost in Translation?

As I long suspected, using a laptop or tablet for note taking is not what it’s cracked up to be:

Mueller and Oppenheimer conducted three different studies, each addressing the question: Is laptop note taking detrimental to overall conceptual understanding and retention of new information?

The students’ scores differed immensely between longhand and laptop note takers. While participants using laptops were found to take lengthier “transcription-like” notes during the film, results showed that longhand note takers still scored significantly higher on conceptually-based questions. Mueller and Oppenheimer predicted that the decrease in retention appeared to be due to “verbatim transcription.”

But, they predicted that the detriments of laptop note taking went beyond the fact that those with computers were trying to get every word down. In their second study, Mueller and Oppenheimer instructed a new group of laptop note takers to write without transcribing the lecture verbatim. They told the subjects: “Take notes in your own words and don’t just write down word-for-word what the speaker is saying.

They found that their request for non-verbatim note taking was “completely ineffective,” and the laptop users continued to take notes in a “transcription like” manner rather than in their own words. “The overall relationship between verbatim content and negative performance [still] held,” said the researchers.”  What You Miss When You Take Notes on Your Laptop.  

The takeaway: if you want to transcribe, use technology. If you want to understand, use paper and pen.  Need more incentive to stick with your legal pad?  Using your laptop or tablet during client meetings can be off-putting.  

Everyone looks down when taking notes. But keyboarders – especially those who use touch screens – barely look up.  Clients need to know you are present in the conversation – listening, absorbing, and understanding their story.  When you fail to make eye contact, you fail to engage.  I witness this each time I speak to law students, all of whom bow their heads to “transcribe” (but not understand) my words. 

This is also reminiscent of the results that suggest working paperlessly may not be the most optimal way to read, comprehend, and understand client file materials. 

The original article appears at the Harvard Business Review online. You can read the full post here

1 thought on “Laptop Note Taking: Lost in Translation?

  1. Pingback: Digital Distraction: A Thief of Client Relationships? | Oregon Law Practice Management

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