The erudition of our readers (and my fellow bloggers) often astounds me. Some people may simply have good memories, but I don’t. I rely on my notes. So I’m curious: how do you take notes?
Over the years I’ve come up with my own system of taking reading notes which works for me, but it is very labor intensive: When reading a book I use small removable stickies to mark sections of text I think are important, then, after I’m done reading, I go back and type the relevant sections into my computer. Sometimes I copy verbatim, other times I just write the page number and make parenthetical comments, and sometimes I do a mix of the two.
This system works because I’m a fast typer, although when writing my dissertation at the New York Public Library I noticed a man who used the same system using the hunt-and-peck method of typing, one finger at a time …
But the real secret to this system is putting all my notes inside software that lets me do full-text search of my own notes. Some people use very structured data, and prefer software that lets them code each note with keywords, etc. but, personally, I’ve found that full-text is better, allowing me to make connections I might not otherwise have noticed.
Since I started teaching, however, my system has been hard to keep up. For one thing, I simply don’t have the time to review my readings so carefully and type them up. Also, I am trying hard to read more Chinese language texts, but the difficulty I face in taking notes often prevents me from getting very far. So I just ordered the IRISPen scanner with Chinese OCR support. It hasn’t come yet, but I hope that when it does it will help me overcome both problems, and return to using the note-taking system I’m comfortable with. I’ve long ago learned that new gadgets rarely live up to the hype, but as I prepare my lecture notes for class tomorrow I find myself wishing I’d ordered it much earlier!
(NOTE: IRIS offers an IRISPen Express with Chinese OCR support via their online store, even though their web page only lists the much more expensive “Executive” version as offering Chinese OCR support. Since I haven’t used the product yet, I can’t vouch for it, although I’ve heard good things from other users.)
UPDATE: Fifty ways to take notes online.
UPDATE: My IRISPen came. I posted my initial reactions here.