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Ask HN: Do you prefer paper or computer for note taking?

I'm asking mainly in the context of learning new stuff. I'm studying machine learning/data science-y type stuff right now, and although Jupyter notebooks are amazing for this, I also can't beat the convenience of sketching out a graph, diagram or equation in a notebook.

I usually prefer to centralise my notes rather than have them in two places, so it's something I've been thinking about recently.

How do you organise your note taking life?

15 pointscameronbrown posted 3 months ago13 Comments
ziddoap said 3 months ago:

I have repeatedly tried to convert over to pure digital note taking, but have not been able to. This is in the context of active learning (classroom, live video lecture, etc. where I cannot pause).

As you said, there is nothing like the convenience of sketching out a graph, quick comments on the margins, drawing arrows to point at stuff, etc.

I know there are digital solutions to everything I mentioned, but none of them have felt as natural or productive as old-fashioned note taking, especially when at the mercy of however fast the teacher is teaching.

So, I usually hand-write notes as I'm learning. As a part of my studying method I digitize the notes as I'm studying them. I find re-writing out the notes verbatim helps me solidify what was learned and clarify any areas I'm not 100% with.

cameronbrown said 3 months ago:

Active learning is definitely a weak area for digital note taking. When I use a computer in this context, I tend to 'take notes' with extreme shorthand and polish it up later - however at that point I've struggled/failed to remember to include some key insight or diagram.

alidcastano said 3 months ago:

This is actually an area I'm working on.

As @ziddoap mentioned, the main drawback to digital note-taking and learning is that it is not as natural to engage with your notes (drawing, making comments, etc).

But there are other aspects of digital notes that make them superior to hand-written ones when it comes to learning. It's just that, imo, it hasn't been optimized for yet.

Specifically, take spaced-repetition. One of the most proven ways to improve memory. It'd be easy to integrate such a system inside a note-taking app - and that would help ensure note-takers self-test themselves and periodically review their notes. But no note-taking app is doing that, at least not built-in.

So that's why I've started working on this myself. The app is called Studbits (http://studbits.com), and the idea is simple: we let you create flashcards alongside your notes and then remind you to review them with a spaced-repetition system.

avichalp said 3 months ago:

A middle ground between paper and computer will be perfect for me. I would like to take notes and sketch diagrams on paper. But I want to sync them to Notion for accessing later. Remarkable [0] looks like an interesting project. Keeping an eye on it its development.

[0] https://remarkable.com/

ColinWright said 3 months ago:

You should always review your notes, possibly more than once (consider spaced repetition). As such there is space to have a system in which you:

* Take notes by hand;

* Review the notes, converting to digital form;

* Review the notes, inserting into a Spaced Repetition system;

* Keep the information fresh via Spaced Repetition.

Notes for learning are not a write-once-read-never system.

runjake said 3 months ago:

Both, depending on what/where/when I'm taking notes.

Resist trying to find the perfect system. Forgive yourself, and do what comes naturally.

I mostly use digital notes. Except when I use paper. I then use the Scanbot iPhone app to store paper notes digitally in my notes app of choice (Apple Notes for personal, Bear Notes for work, in my case).

jamieadams said 3 months ago:

I prefer paper - but I've often tried transitioning to a digital only system. For me there is too much friction with digital note taking, despite the benefits that it offers in terms of searchability and organisation.

I do scan my notes periodically - but if I'm honest I very rarely find that I need to go over them again.

newyorker10011 said 3 months ago:

I think a combination is best. Use paper for taking notes at meetings, discussions, seminars, etc. Use digital notes for maintaining references, adding multimedia, and notes that need future edits. I think the key for me is periodically manually transitioning key parts of my paper notes to large digital notebooks

ne01 said 3 months ago:

I use paper to take notes that I never come back to read -- usually use them to think/imagine/create. I used to finish one 60 pages scratch book per month -- these days I don't think that much.

And I use WorkFlowy to archive what I probably need to refer to in the future.

was_boring said 3 months ago:

Paper. I tend to remember better if I physically write something down then if I type it out.

muzani said 3 months ago:

Computer, by far. I can type as fast as I think, but not write that fast.

Touchscreens help with sketches.

For equations, normally I write down the "long, English version" of them, like how the variables fit together. So speed helps more there.

quickthrower2 said 3 months ago:

Computers always. I lose paper too easily. I type faster than I can write. I like using markdown and having backups and being able to copy and paste stuff in.

Sevii said 3 months ago:

I use digital notes. If I need a sketch or graph, I draw it on paper then take a picture on my phone.

This way my notes are synced across devices and search-able.