The Power of Written Word

I am a part-time instructor at a local technical college. In my communications class this week, we’re talking about technology as a barrier to effective listening. I think we can all agree that we can be (and often are) easily distracted by technology–be it our phone, tablet, TV, or something else.

The class discussion specifically talks about the use of technology for note taking. The idea proposed is that students will be far more distracted if they’re taking notes on say a laptop or tablet than if they’re writing them down with paper and pen. It’s likely that device is giving them constant notifications–new email, social updates, text messages, etc. It’s also simple when holding a device to quickly jump online to read something. Suddenly, ten minutes have passed, and you’re no longer sure what’s happening around you.

All of this brought me back to the idea of how we learn best. Studies have shown that writing something down increases our likelihood to remember it. That simple fact is one of the big reasons I allow my students to use notes on exams. Assuming they take the time to actually jot down handwritten notes, they’re far more likely to retain what they’re writing. Now, when they get into the exam, they might not even need the notes because that info will already be at the top of their mind.

On the flip side, many folks suggest that taking notes that are overly detailed is actually detrimental and shows a lack of listening. Let’s think about that. If we’re trying too hard to get every detail down, how much are we absorbing? At some point does it just become mindless writing? I think that’s a fair assumption.

So how do we ensure that our own written word is powerful? It’s important to focus on the main points. Write down those big things–the overall themes, the primary concepts. And perhaps most importantly, write it in your own words; don’t simply rewrite word-for-word what’s being said or what’s written somewhere else.

The written word is indeed powerful…when it’s written well and with thoughtful consideration.

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