Handwriting notes with Apple Pencil


That’s cool. It’s hard to reproduce systems that work. Just like those crazy highlighters lol.


For me writing with (good) pen and (good) paper is unsurpassed.
That said, handwriting with Apple Pencil (1st gen) is quite better than any other stylus/talbet experience I tried (never tried reMarkable though)


Good points. Notability (and other apps, too) allow sound recording while you are handwriting notes, with the recordings linked to the notes. A useful strategy is to handwrite snippets or summaries during a presentation, then go over the recordings and your notes shortly afterward to make updates and additions to the notes. This serves the dual purpose of “completing” your notes and reinforcing the content.

I was skeptical about this before I tried it, but it really works. Remember that the sound recordings don’t need to be high quality - in most cases, they won’t be. But they are good enough for you to understand and update your notes. The recordings can then be discarded and you are left with excellent handwritten notes.

Edited to add: I have no relationship with the Notability developer; just a satisfied user.


This has become a “thing” among medical students. Here is an example:
Photos of notes on Imgur website
Scroll down for the additional pages. This student apparently used the Notability app.

and the original post: https://www.reddit.com/r/apple/comments/3te8iw/a_med_students_review_of_the_apple_pencil/


I often find that people misinterpret the study on typing vs hand writing notes. Some things to consider before claiming that handriwiting has been “proven” to do x better than typing.

  1. The argument relies on the fact that the participants who wrote their notes abbreviated and picked what to write. The students on laptops mostly transcribed their notes.

  2. The difference in information retention was attributed to level of processing. If you have to write your notes your forced to listen for main points and process the info in a way that makes sense to you to write it short hand. The transcribers did not do this since they could type every word they heard.

  3. So, based on this logic, it’s the level of processing not the tool used. If you type in a mindful way and avoid transcribing, it’s reasonable to expect that you would see equal benefits to handwriting.

  4. Maybe you don’t retain as much from one lecture when typing, but are there some missed benefits to transcription? A sleepy student may be better off transcribing their 8am class and reviewing their notes and processing that info at a deeper level later.

  5. This study was done with students. Undergrads. In the USA. They have little experience in their field and likely no experience outside of their class. I’m not convinced these findings generalize to real work environments. I’d like to see replications of this study with larger samples.


I got the Pencil during my couple last years of school, as I was wrapping up my dissertation, so it was great for reading and annotating PDFs.

My only wish is that I’d had it as an undergrad. Oh the number of trees that could’ve been saved!


You young people have all the advantages :grinning:

There was nothing even close to this for my undergraduate years starting in 1966 and professional school in 1971. :grinning: Best electronic device we could come up with was maybe a Texas Instruments calculator. We thought that was pretty awesome at the time.

Come to think of it … we did have some more high-tech “trickeration”. Our medical school class worked together to record most of our lectures on our version of “high-tech” - a portable cassette recorder. We hired a group of students’ spouses to transcribe the lecture recordings, then distributed the transcribed typed notes to the med students. It was going over those transcribed notes, correlated with our own handwritten notes, that helped the learning process for me. That’s why I like the Notablity app (with its sound recording capability) mentioned in my post above.

Even old guys like me can make good use of the Pencil for taking notes, though. Highly recommended.


I want text to behave like character strings, rather than images.

So I type. If I could reliably write and have it turned into character strings I might do it. Instead I’m more inclined to speak and have that turned into character strings.


I ran across this YouTube video on tips and features of the Apple Notes app. I am passing this along because I suspect that there are some who may not be aware of these tips that make using the Apple Notes apps better.


Nice video - I learned a lot in 8 minutes! Apple’s Notes app has really improved recently.

At least two apps do handwriting recognition:
Notability Link to 20-second video
GoodNotes Link to 54-second video


I’ve been teaching note taking at postgraduate level for over 20 years, and taking notes on a laptop has been proven to be ineffective in dozens if not more studies. The study above is just one example. I’ve read many academic journal articles that prove this with statistically significant studies. There have been many studies based on office environments and the result is the same.

Another recent article:

“Mueller and Oppenheimer instructed a new group of laptop note takers to write without transcribing the lecture verbatim. They told the subjects: “Take notes in your own words and don’t just write down word-for-word what the speaker is saying.”

These participants also watched a lecture film, took their respective notes, and then took a test.

They found that their request for non-verbatim note taking was “completely ineffective,” and the laptop users continued to take notes in a “transcription like” manner rather than in their own words. “The overall relationship between verbatim content and negative performance [still] held,” said the researchers.”

It is down to the way we work as humans, it also also relates to our short term memory having a lot of limitations. Writing acts like a natural “expansion” to our limited short term memory (to use a computer science metaphor!)


Thanks for sharing! Guess I had only come across that same single each time people talked about this.


You hit on something I was thinking when I read previous posts. Every time I tried to type notes more like I would handwriting (summary, etc.), I would inevitably fall back into the habit of transcribing.

Also, I’ve found the ability to write/draw on a page helps keep the mind from automatically going into basically an outline format while taking notes. I found my notes when typed often were less dynamic and informative (drawing linkages, etc.) than my handwritten ones.

I definitely appreciate the idea of software doing some OCR on my handwritten notes OR me post-processing them to make them searchable.


This 8-minute video demonstrates a student making amazing notes on an iPad Pro. She is using the GoodNotes app.

(screenshot from video linked above)

Almost makes you want to go back to school.

… OK, I got a little carried away. But those notes are awesome.


Interesting article, thanks for the referral @Rob_Polding

There are many proponents of the sketchnote approach to note taking popularized by designer Mike Rohde. Sketchnotes can look a bit complicated, but the idea of using words and graphics for in notes is easy to adopt and personalize.


Another point to be made there is that often students don’t go back and rework their notes in the ways you discussed. Personally, in class I wrote down as much as possible (or when I used my laptop, I would type as much as possible) verbatim. BUT THE KEY was to come back to my notes and make them into digestible chunks that were in my own words (with lots of diagrams and pictures thrown in for good measure). The only thing that really helped me “install” the concepts into my brain was constantly re-processing my notes (note that I didn’t say ‘rewrite’). It was tiring for sure, but it worked to great effect with most classes (despite my learning disabilities) and put control of learning in my own hands.


Transcribing verbatim to me is a crazy waste of time and a distraction. You can just get the lecturer’s notes and slides IMO. The whole benefit to having your own notes is the engagement of additional areas of the brain which MANY studies have shown is beneficial to memory. This includes handwriting which we’ve done as a species for a much longer period than typing. We also learn to hand write while we’re very young as opposed to typing which typically comes later and we know that language influences the way we think and how our brains develop physically.

So basically, verbatim transcription to me is pointless, and wont help with assimilation. Converting that information to another form (sketchnotes in theory are great for this) is a much better tool for retention.


When I teach psychology I use note taking guides that have blanks to fill in for key words or ideas. Sometimes there are questions they have to answer where I don’t give them a verbatim answer. Most students handwrite their notes on the paper handout, but some download the Word copy and use that on a laptop or tablet. Since I started with note taking guides about 5 years ago I have seen a positive change in attentiveness and test grades.


Insane waste of enery and time. So, from the course you have the textbook and PPTs. Instead, she writes her own textbook. In the notes then marking&making more notes. And then copying the same stuff again to cards.
This is the technological equivalent of medieval monky copying bibles by hand. Nice to look at, horribly inefficient.


To some degree, yes.

I wouldn’t say “instead”. She adds to textbook pages (highlighting, adding notes). In other instances she re-processes the textbook or lecture, reorganizing with diagrams, adding pictures, flowcharts and mind maps in a manner that clarifies and helps her to remember. A good example is at time stamp 4:07 where she demonstrates diagrams to reorganize her thoughts.

Others have pointed out above how this reprocessing and reorganizing helps the learning process. Perhaps this student goes way beyond that and makes it pretty. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing even though it’s not for everyone.