The Thistle - An E-Newsletter of Scotch College, Perth, Western Australia

Note-taking: Handwriting versus Typing 

Evidence demonstrates effective note-taking methods such as Cornell (used by Scotch College) increases student comprehension and retention of information, by some estimates up to 80% (UTA, 1999). What is less understood is whether the typing or handwriting of notes influences the level of comprehension and retention. The critical stages of  note-taking  include recording and summarising material; but is typing or handwriting more effective than the other?


Students who type faster than they can write, can produce notes verbatim with little critical thinking and analysis. Research has shown that students who type their notes don't really use their brain to process what is being taught during the lesson. A compounding negative is users may face technical difficulties and distractions. Once complete they can copy and paste their notes in a neat and organised manner.

Recording notes through handwriting is slower and requires interpretation and summarising to produce a succinct version. This can result in increased understanding as students are more selective with the notes they take. Students can illustrate their thoughts using visual thinking techniques. However, handwriting is slower and can be messy.


When typed notes are a straight transcript it is more difficult for the students to know how to summarise their information effectively. The lack of critical engagement at the time of recording results in limited comprehension, and difficulty identifying the main points and keywords. Consequently, memory retention can be low.

On the other hand, students who write their notes can't catch every word. It forces them to focus on listening, digesting and then summarising into their own words. This process engages critical thinking reducing the information into key words and phrases fostering comprehension and retention of the material.

Handwriting has been shown to be more effective for comprehension and retention, however typing has been shown to be faster and more organised. For the student who finds handwriting too slow or overwhelming, a mixture of the two approaches will result in the best overall outcome. The students can type their notes in class and then later handwrite them at home. This combination will ensure the material is captured, understood and remembered.

For more note-taking tips refer to the following website:

Mrs Adelle Wilkes
ILT Integration Specialist