Friday, January 22, 2016

Note-taking or Note-making?

I recently read this: "We distinguish between note-taking and note-making. Note taking is a passive process which is done at lectures whereas note-making is more active and focused activity where you assimilate all information and make sense of it for yourself."[1] I dislike the distinction for several reasons. It appears to me that there is no process which is, qua process, passive. There may be active and passive participants, but "taking" or "taking note" is active. Furthermore, grammatically speaking, there is an "active" voice and a "passive voice," not a "more active voice." It simply means that "in a sentence using active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action expressed in the verb." In the case of "note taking," a person "takes" notes. While the same person or the agent may be more active at one point than at another, this doe not make a process passive. A "more active ... activity" is even stranger--at least to me. It's the one who engages in the activity who is active, not the activity. You might say that this is nitpicking, but it is a site published by a university, after all.

What they really mean is that you should not stop after you have taken down the notes, but should instead continue the note-taking process until you have made as much sense of the information as you need to. But making "sense of it for yourself" is not sufficient either. In making "some" sense of the information you have taken down, you could very well be wrong. You may just have made it up. The point is to understand it correctly. And that is not "up for grabs." In the context of a university, you will find out during exam time at the latest. In life, it may be even more painful.

As I said before, I dislike the notion of "note making." There is nothing wrong with "note-taking," properly understood. Once you have taken the notes, you can, of course, use them to make your own arguments, theories, or whatever. But making up the notes themselves does not seem to me a good idea.[2]

1. See Wits. This is just one site of many that subscribe to similar view.
2. No matter what hermeneuticists and other skeptics have to say about the limits of our ability to understand what others might mean. It is important, but it should make us try harder.


Michael Leddy said...

Certainly the language in that page is slack. But so many students think of taking notes as something akin to taking dictation, writing down a word-for-word transcript. (In PowerPoint-centric classes, that is indeed what they are often required to do.) The idea of notes as a matter of listening, selecting, linking, adding emphasis as you go is often a foreign one. So I think there’s a point to the verb to make , though that page doesn’t offer a good explanation of what it might be.

MK said...

I don't disagree, but I still prefer the course of making the true meaning of note-taking clearer. Listening, selecting, linking, adding emphasis, as well as contrasting and summarizing are certainly part of it.

Stephen Zeoli said...

Where I expected the distinction between note taking and note making to go was this: Note taking is the process of recording information from external sources; whereas note making is collecting your own thoughts and ideas... So, for example, I might make notes about my new mystery novel (if only I were actually writing any novel) -- about the characters, the scenes, the plot, the locations. But I would take notes when researching locations, or forensics, or various poisons that the murderer may use. This is perhaps a meaningless distinction, except that it might have implications for the software you might use.

MK said...

Stephen, if you define the distinction in the way you do, I have no problem with it. As I said before, I don't really have serious objections, if the distinction is made clearer in the way Michael makes it.

But consider the title of the blog :)