4 reasons to work with pen and paper

Erm, look. I don’t quite know how to put this but, well, er, sometimes – gosh this is so embarrassing! Well, the thing is, I know I’m supposed to be some sort of techno-geek but often I find that working on paper is better than working on a computer. For the initial outline anyway. There, I’ve said it. I feel much better now!

There are several reasons why working on – and with – paper is beneficial.

Research documents

Unless the sources I’m using are both relatively short and relatively few, I find that printing them out and splaying them all around me is much better than flicking between dozens of tabs in my internet browser, or through several documents. It’s much easier to annotate for a start, easier to organise (I usually end up with several piles according to topic, with some documents placed widthways so I can find them faster) and, frankly easier to read.

I’m not alone in that, incidentally. I think it will merit a separate post, but there is a body of research to suggest that people read differently on screen than on paper, and that the reading isn’t as deep – or at least long-term retention has been found to be lower.


The journalist Gay Talese apparently drafted his outlines (in some detail it has to be said) on paper before doing any typing. And if it was good enough for Gay Talese, it’s certainly good enough for me! (Find out more about him, and read his seminal ‘Frank Sinatra has a cold’ at Esquire.)

I find that if I outline an article on paper, even if only in a sketchy kind of way, it helps me organise my thoughts.

Here’s an example of a brief outline I wrote for an article while sitting in a café:

Outlining on paper can be very helpful in organising your thoughts -- more so than doing so on a computer, in fact.

(In case you’re interested, that became ICT and computing lessons should be organic.)


That’s another thing. I find it easier to and quicker to jot down some ideas in a paper notebook while sitting in a café or even waiting at a bus stop, than doing so on a machine. Having said that, I do sometimes email myself some notes for articles, but they’re not as detailed or ‘joined up’.


When I outline on paper, I often end up drawing arrows and lines from one part of my notes to another, creating small boxes of bullet points and doodling (which aids my concentration!). In other words, working on paper enables me to make connections, to join up different ideas, in a way which somehow is different from, and I would say better than, doing so on a screen.


I don’t outline every article on paper. In fact, I don’t do so for many articles. But I do find that with larger projects, such a s a book on Bring Your Own Device which I’m working on at the moment, working on paper in the first instance may seem slower (to be honest, I’m not convinced it is), but it yields better, ie richer and deeper, results.

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