Katy Meyers is an Anthropology PhD Student at Michigan State University and a founding editor of GradHacker. You can follow her on twitter at @bonesdonotlie.
It's a digital world, and I'm a digital girl. Well, sometimes. I use my Google calendar to remind me of every single event crammed into my days, my Dropbox account has all of my data and writing backed up so I can access it at any moment, I read off a Kindle before I go to sleep, and my phone pretty much runs my life from the moment the alarm goes off to the minute that I put it on silent for bedtime. Despite the fact that I tote my laptop with me everywhere and have thousands of PDFs and word documents for all my courses and research, I really like paper.
I've always thought that when I take notes on paper and then type them up later I will remember the content better. The events that I put into my paper agenda seem to stick better in my head than the ones in my phone calendar. I will remember directions perfectly if they're on a post-it note stuck to my windshield, but will immediately forget them after my phone's gps gets me to the desired location.
This semester I am working on a 150 source annotated bibliography that has required an immense amount of reading and notes. I've completely filled one giant notebook of college lined paper and am working on filling up another one. Would it be easier to put my notes directly into the word document that I will hand in? Yes, probably. But would I remember the content as well? Probably not.
Turns out, there is actually some scientific research that shows you do learn better if you write rather than type. Mangen and Velay (2011) tested the "theory that the physical action of forming letters while writing by hand is important in helping the brain to remember the letters that are written". The differences between typing and writing cause activity in different parts of the brain. Handwriting causes more brain activity, and the physical act of writing out the letter is part of kinesthetic learning. A study done of memory showed that when children traced shaped with their finger they were able to better remember them later.
LifeHacker also advocated for writing because it stimulates the reticular activating system (RAS), a group of cells at the base of your brain. "The RAS acts as a filter for everything your brain needs to process, giving more importance to the stuff that you're actively focusing on at the moment—something that the physical act of writing brings to the forefront". This means that you are better able to focus and remember the details of something you write down versus type.
Another benefit I see is that writing gives your brain and eyes a rest. We go from phone to TV to computer. We need to let our brains and eyes take a break from all of the stimulation. Reading a paper books and writing out your notes is a great way to keep working while relieving some of that 'screen fatigue' pressure.
Admittedly, there are many benefits to typing. For most it is faster, you automatically get your spelling and grammar checked, and it's already in the format that most documents nowadays need to be in. So maybe I'll end with the same suggestion as LifeHacker- try using a stylus or digital writing pad. You can get the learning and technological benefits of both methods!
What's your vote? Writing or typing?
[Image via Flickr user photosteve101 and used under creative commons license]