The Cambridge Tester meetup last week was a workshop on note-taking for testers by Neil Younger and Karo Stoltzenburg. An initial presentation, which included brief introductions to techniques and tools that facilitate note-taking in various ways (Cornell, mind map, Rapid Reporter, SBTM), was followed by a testing exercise in which we were encouraged to try taking notes in a way we hadn’t used before. (I tried the Cornell method.)

What I particularly look for in meetups is information, inspiration, and the stimulation of ideas. And I wasn’t disappointed in this one. Here’s some assorted thoughts.

I wonder how much of my note-taking is me and how much is me in my context?

  • … and how much I would change were I to move somewhere else, or do a different job at Linguamatics
  • … given that I already know that I have evolved note-taking to suit particular tasks over time
  • … further, I already know that I use different note-taking approaches in different contexts. But why? Can I explore that more deeply?

Is this blog post notes?

  • what is a note?
  • … perhaps this is an article? It doesn’t feel like a formal report, although perhaps it could turn into one
  • … but it’s more than simple aides memoire
  • … but it’s not exactly full sentences 
  • … but it started as notes. Then I iterated on them and they become a draft, of sorts
  • … but how? Why? According to who?
  • … and when do notes turn into something else?
  • … and when should notes turn into something else?

By writing up my notes for this post I have remembered other things that aren’t in my notes

  • … and thought things that I didn’t think at the time
  • … and, a week later, after discussing the evening with Karo, I’ve had more thoughts (and taken notes of them)

I showed my notes from CEWT 3 to one of the other participants at the event

  • … and I realised that my written notes are very wordy compared to others’
  • … and that I layer on top of them with emphasis, connections, sub-thoughts, new ideas etc

What axes of comparison make sense when considering alternative note-taking techniques?

  • … what do they give over pen and paper? (which scores on ubiquity and familiarity and flexibility)
  • … what do they give over a simple use of words? (perhaps transcription of “everything” is a baseline?)
  • … what about shorthand? (is simple compression a form of note taking?)
  • … is voice a media for notes? Some people use voice recorders
  • sketchnoting is richer in some respects, but more time-consuming

What advantages might there be of constraining note-taking?

  • … Rapid Reporter appears to be a line-by-line tool, with no editing of earlier material
  • … the tooling around SBTM enforces a very strict syntax
  • … the concentration on structure over text of mind maps

How might contextual factors affect note-taking?

  • … writing on graph paper vs lined paper vs plain paper; coloured vs white
  • … one pen vs many different pens; different colour pens
  • … a blank page vs a divided page (e.g. Cornell)
  • … a blank page vs a page populated with e.g. Venn diagram, hierarchical structure, shapes, pie charts
  • … scrap paper vs a Moleskine
  • … pencil vs fountain pen pen vs crayon vs biro

Time allocation during note-taking

  • … what kinds of techniques/advice are there for deciding how to apportion time to note-taking vs listening/observing?
  • … are different kinds of notes appropriate when listening to a talk vs watching an event vs interacting with something (I do those differently)

What makes sense to put into notes?

  • … verbatim quotes?
  • … feelings?
  • … questions?
  • … suggestions?
  • … connections?
  • … emotions?
  • … notes about the notes?
  • … what doesn’t make sense, if anything? Could it ever make sense?

I am especially inspired to see whether I can distil any conventions from my own note-taking. I have particular contexts in which I make notes on paper – meetups are one – and those where I make notes straight onto the computer – 1-1 with my team, for instance, but also when testing. I make notes differently on the computer in those two scenarios.

I have written before about how I favour plain text for note-taking on the computer and I have established conventions that suit me for that. I wonder are any conventions present in multiple of the approaches that I use?

Good thought, I’ll just note that down.