“I probably won’t be using that.”
It wasn’t a derisory or demeaning disclaimer. Just a calm statement: this is not for me.
I never was much of a software salesman anyway. I had livened up a not-so-interesting training session by describing an upcoming software feature. It may or may not be in the next future possible major release! Geekspeak for I don’t know what the developers are doing).
Simply stated, instead of scanning in notes, they could be typed through an electronic form.
As my trainee wasn’t rude or abrupt, I nodded in agreement, at first. Only later did I realise how much of what she said really applied to me.
The conversation continued as she expanded upon her point. Besides the training session had ended and time was not of the essence.
She said that people say more when you take handwritten notes. She restated her point as people say less when you type notes on a computer.
Blue Pen on Paper
Instantly I thought of my last doctor’s appointment. As soon as he finished talking to me, he swivelled in his chair, he began typing. Automatically I stopped talking. I waited until he had entered his notes and printed the prescription. I only realised later that had I anything important to say, it would have been lost. Admittedly, medical personnel don’t have as much time as me.
But it was exactly as my trainee was saying to me. But it went deeper than that. It applied to me more than I knew.
As a desktop support operative, people used to make fun of what I carried around with me. It was rather ancient and certainly non-technical. People thought that it was funny that I carried around a pen and two (paper) notebooks. One was a diary and the other was a scratchpad. So many people remembered that when I left, I received an electronic diary as a farewell present.
But those two notebooks had a strange effect on myself and my workmates. Firstly, it was quite odd how well I remembered what I didn’t write down. For as I recalled my notes, other details would be revealed. And secondly, in the presence of a (real) notebook, my workmates would reveal more detail about their problems than if I turned up empty handed. Often I found I solved more than one problem at once. Thirdly, I also was able to record my successes and failures. Which was useful for future reference and self-defence.
And this conversation, threw light on my weaknesses and strengths as a technical writer and trainer. Upon reflection, I found I recalled more from handwritten notes than typed ones. And certainly more from handwritten lecture notes too. And again,in the presence of the pen and notepad, subject matter experts revealed more detail than when the keyboard was listening. Which meant that I found out what people needed to know not what was nice to know. In other words, by picking up a pen and paper, I (unknowingly) did my job better.
And now as a writer (there I’ve said it now : there’s no turning back), I find the pen and paper are often better tools for me to express myself and record than a keyboard. I handwrite first and then type into the computer. Although that doesn’t work for everyone, just me.
Besides, that was the role of my trainee : to find out as much as possible about people’s problems before making her diagnosis.