Note-Taking: Digital vs Analog

  • Michael Denmon
  • Charm
Note-Taking: Digital vs Analog

I never wrote things down to remember; I always wrote things down so I could forget.” - Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights

Sadly, most of us are not Matthew McConaughey.

We take notes to remember facts, events, feelings, and lists so that we can recall them when needed most. Those notes are only as good as what we use them for though. To use them, we must commit them to a format that is easy for us to use and deploy when needed. That is what makes notes most valuable. 

What format to use is the question most up for debate. 

Should we use a weathered, leather-bound journal with an ebony fountain pen, to serve as an homage to our literary or scholarly heroes of the past? 

Or, should we use our phone and an app to prepare our notes for anytime access on any device?

Here is a look at how both formats are advantageous and worth consideration.


If you spend most of your days indoors and following a routine, then ease of access to your notes will be most important. Digital formats are flexible in how and where they are used and provide seamless integration between multiple hardware applications. That includes cloud services which also provide a means of information backup that can never be overlooked. Someone committed to taking note of their daily lives and projects will want to make sure they aren’t inadvertently left behind and lost forever.

On the other hand, some of us want to get away from technology and get into the real world to explore and be exposed to all that life has to offer. For those explorers, having a method of notetaking that is more forgiving in damp environments or locations off the beaten path is a definite advantage. No need for power adaptors or waterproof cases, A simple notebook and a good pen allow you to capture the moments after they have happened, for recollection and further consideration when the adventure has ended.


One concern for taking notes is making sure that nothing gets missed that you may need to reference in the future. When in a learning environment where someone is speaking, it can be difficult to keep up with what the teacher is saying if you have to hand-write everything. Typing on a laptop is quicker and removes a step if you plan to make your notes digital copies at any point.

On the other hand, the act of using hand-to-mind coordination to take down the notes, actually helps you remember the information much more readily. Hand-writing notes also improve their overall quality as you are pressured to abridge and translate what you are hearing into shorter descriptions and summaries. This truncation process promotes learning while taking notes, whereas typing out the verbatim of a speaker’s discussion just means that you have a word-for-word account of what was said. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you understand what was said.


An area where digital notes shine the brightest is when it comes to matching your learning style to the notes that you take. With analog methods, you can write down your notes and thoughts on those notes, and maybe even sketch illustrations to better communicate the purpose of the notes taken. But if those notes become out of order, and you have to draw lines from one paragraph to the next to make them make sense, they can become pretty discombobulated and untidy quickly. With digital notes, you can sort and re-shuffle your entries and better tell the story of the lesson learned without the additional mess. Simply copy and paste your sections of interest to provide a more intelligent timeline and order. Adding links to videos or charts and graphs can also provide a full picture of the topic at hand and be beneficial to those who learn better from multiple source material types.

But digital notes are somewhat bland, even with the addition of multimedia. Note-taking with a pen and journal is a craft. Typing on a keyboard in a packed cafe is not the same vibe as a romantic picture of a well-traveled man who has a scarred journal full of elegant prose and illustrations that are there to solve the world’s problems, or maybe just his own.

Writing your notes down on a page is the classic approach. Typing your notes into an app or software is the more advantageous method of note-taking. While tactics like keeping a commonplace book can help you search through your lessons to find applicable notes on a topic of interest, nothing compares to the rapid-fire collation and searchability of digital notes. 

What really matters is finding the option that best suits your personality and lifestyle. There are options available that provide the advantages of both methods in one application, but only you will know if it will meet your own needs.

The real purpose of taking notes is to note what is worth taking away from a topic or discussion. How you do it will either add or detract from the outcome. 

Choose wisely.

Photo by William Fortunato.