“I was at a lunch briefing today, and of about 10 people around the table—some Visa executives, some PR minders, most journalists—I was the only person taking notes in an app instead of on paper.”  – Former Washington Post tech columnist  Rob Pegoraro, in his blog on June 4.

evernoteThe TeleRead take: He goes on to recommend typing into Evernote or, if you prefer, alternatives such as OneNote or Google Keep or Apple Notes for OS X and iOS. I myself am usually interviewing by telephone or email, and when I’m on the phone, I may take notes with a simple text editor or even Gmail itself.

Yes, Gmail is my own database, given its powerful search capabilities and the fact that I’ve saved so many articles as research fodder. Fits in with info-retrieval system inside my brain.

The negative is that I have a loud, clicky keyboard and some people at the other end might find that a distraction. But if so, I could always use handwritten notes or, with the interviewee’s permission, a recorder.

So what is your own approach to note-taking and storage?

Update, 11:36 a.m., June 5: Great follow-up on the topic by Nate, who’s partial to paper. I myself can see a place for either paper or tech, depending on the situation and the way one’s brain is wired. Rob is a first-rate journalist who with enough discipline and judgment not to get caught up in individual quotes and neglect the big picture. Meanwhile, though, here is some scientific research favoring paper, in terms of students’ comprehension.


  1. Once upon a time, a very long time ago (2005?) I used MS PocketPC/WM5/6 and Transcriber to take my notes. Then Steve (blankety-blank) Jobs convinced people not to use stylii. Eventually, my WM device was obsolete and security systems rejected it for business use, so I switched to Android. Without a good stylus and a good handwriting recognizer, Android was useless for this, so I went back to paper.

    The latest version of Google Handwriting (or the latest Samsung version of their app) is now almost as good as Transcriber, so long as you have a large screen. The conductive mesh stylii are now almost as good as the old resistive screen stylii. I may go back.

    Jack Tingle

  2. Thanks for the note. FWIW, I’ve been surprised and more than a little puzzled by people who insist that paper is the only way to go. Again, I don’t get it; do you only take notes for stories you’re going to write in the next week or so? Do your notes have zero value for following up on people’s predictions or promises later on?

  3. Ha! I still take notes on paper. I attend many high tech press conferences and I find the younger journalists clicking away. But frankly my typing isn’t up to the speed.. Meanwhile, over the years I have developed my own short-hand that is really fast– and as an added benefit, who needs encryption? It also allows me to draw schematics and mark value-added notes quickly. Sometimes I’ll audio record but I’ll never try to type notes. Here’s why…

    Once I was speaking at a conference and I noticed a nemesis of mine in the audience. We disagreed on an important industry trend. He was covering my speech for his own publication and sitting in the back row typing away during my speech. From the pulpit, I made it a special point to refer to the disagreement and even his role in it as an industry editor (but without mentioning his name). I later saw on his website, he had reported my side of the argument without his usual contention– even castigating this “editor” who disagreed with me. I talked to him after and we laughed about this– and he quickly realized my joke when I pointed it out. Sometimes people who are typing notes are really too much like court reporters and don’t understand what they are supposedly “noting.” You have only to look at the numbness that comes from live reportage of high tech conferences to see how what’s captured is mostly not significant…
    If you can type real notes, this is a great skill (and I am sure Rob has it.). But for many of us, it’s not an option. And for some of us, maybe it shouldn’t be.

  4. Paper.
    Anything electronic is bound to end up as a distraction, even if used in offline/plane mode. I can see that everywhere, in conference, in meetings, people doing anything else but listening.
    It looks like a smart device whether it’s a computer, a tablet or a phone is too many temptations in one ubiquitous place.

  5. I wrote my first novels on paper until I got an Apple IIc in the early Eighties then would type a copy on my IBM Selectric once I had a polished final draft. I had no problem switching to composing on the computer screen, but I discovered that my notes and brainstorming, I’m an outliner, simply wouldn’t work on a computer screen.

    Part of it is visual. Paper with its open space and the ability to write in all directions with the space as I want without the distraction of having to format is much more three-dimensional creatively. And the sense of the relationships between the characters and plot is much clearer.

    It’s also about what part of the brain is involved with drawing and using a pen as opposed to typing onto a screen that makes it much easier to think outside of the box.

    I write short nonfiction, as well, and I prefer paper notes there, too, but it’s much easier to compose straight to the computer screen with the notes on the same screen. If I ever write book-length, I am certain I will use composition notes on paper instead of on screen.

    There’s also the matter of switching between screens as opposed to glancing down at a piece of paper. I find going from paper to screen is much easier and less distracting than going from screen image to screen image.

    Having my notes on the screen makes me tend to follow the note’s patterns and words rather than creating the optimal pattern for the article so that’s a plus too for paper.

  6. I’m often a critic of journalists, but I suspect they’re showing some good sense here.

    There are studies of students that show that good note taking by hand results in better comprehension than computer typed notes. The slower speed of handwriting forces students to understand what a professor is saying well enough to summarize it. Those typing at a keyboard are often doing little more than take dictation.

    You can see why journalists might have learned that, when they take notes on paper, they come away with a better general understand of what someone said than if they were busy typing away. That makes their reporting easier and better.

    There are also some systems for good note taking that I wish I’d know in college, including that of Cornell Notes:


    Some also suggest working those daily notes into more comprehensive notes, also handwritten to ready for tests.

    Were I a reporter, I’d take hand notes but also record a conference. In those notes, I’d note the time various places. If I needed an exact quote for an article, I’d use that time to get me to the point in the recording where I could get the quote exactly right.

    Hand notes plus a recording is probably the best of both worlds. Were I a student today, for some classes I record them and listen later like a podcasts. What’s hear twice is better remembered.

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