The whole truth and nothing but the truth – on taking notes

I was in a briefing meeting yesterday and couldn't lay my hands on my notebook to write things down. I'm not sure why I take notes in meetings. Its a habit I fell into because if you just sit there and someone else is taking notes then it looks as if they are paying more attention than you are.  My handwriting let's say could be better (so it isn't always that easy to read the notest afterwards and certainly nobody else could make sense of them. So what is the point of them? Well they do allow me to reconstruct the memory of key moments in the meeting. So that's good. And notionally they represent the conclusions:  action points and who does what by when. Which is a good reason for taking notes if you do it accurately and clearly.  But perhaps I should only start writing when there is something to capture about what happens next.   Its actually hard to get right – and almost certainly needs to be redrafted if you want to share it with others. That's the nothing but the truth.

And then there's the whole truth – the notes I take when listening to research recordings. When I capture as much of what is said using the actual words. The reason why I do so is that the actual words used convey a lot more than my summarise notes of what I think the person said. And I have noticed that when I forget what the person said that I summarise by default – and lose a lot of the information when I do so. Sometimes I have to rewind the recording to get the phrasing right – because its easy to go into summarising mode.  The way people say things tells you what they think – the summaries don't. And they are usually where the clue to an entire project comes from.  Some researchers would go into even more detail and would annotate the transcription with pauses and with notes for inflections.  Once you have trained yourself to listen to what people say to this level of detail it always stays with you. Its like a current flowing just beneath the surface of consciousness, a channel you can always switch on which tells you how people are thinking and feeling and what they trying to block. Its not infallible – but you can always pause and give them more space and if they think they haven't made themselves clear they will expand – which usually clarifies a lot. Alternatively you can repeat the last phrase they said and put it as a question and once again off they will go. Human beings leak – they can't stop this level of communication coming out as long as they speak.

I value the whole truth much more than nothing but the truth. But it takes longer to capture. And its why I take a lot of notes. But the summaries, the annotations they bother me. Has anyone got a suggestion for how I could do those better?




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