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I was sitting in a requirements gathering meeting for a new project today and found myself taking notes, but those notes were jotted haphazardly all over my notepad.

Are there any useful note-taking techniques for programmers?

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Note to self - come back and evaluate answers. This is a good question; I'll see if some things I know of have been left out. –  Mark C Nov 25 '10 at 18:59
    
Please follow this proposal for that kind of question: Organization aspects –  bigown Dec 10 '10 at 20:32
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closed as too broad by gnat, Martijn Pieters, GlenH7, MichaelT, Yannis Rizos Dec 15 '13 at 20:10

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

12 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

A paper notebook.

Title / context at the top along with the date, then a list of attendees (not too fussy, initials, where I don't know full names (e.g. on a conference call) then I'll just put "Steve, company X").

Then everything gets marked down as a bullet point, actions get a ! in the margin in front of them along with the initials of who the action is on, questions and queries that need further clarification get a ? (both highlighted this way so they can be easily identified later).

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this is smart and repeatable. I am surprised not more upvotes on this. –  jellyfishtree Nov 24 '10 at 18:02
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I tend to jot a lot of rubbish as well in meetings but normally as soon as the meeting is over and I go back to my desk I go through the notes and expand upon them in point form. It is impossible to write everything down although you could record it, but I have never seen anyone do that.

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Usually I put points in bullets. If there are action items, I use separate pages for each person. If it is requirements, each requirement goes in its own line. Usually at the end of the meeting, I use the same notes to summarize.

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This is exactly what I am looking for. Nice! Maybe I can divide up the paper into sections or columns for each person and divvy up the bullets that way. –  jellyfishtree Nov 24 '10 at 17:58
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I use iPad and iAWriter (http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/ia-writer/id392502056?mt=8) for keywords / bullet points. Nice feature is that it syncs automatically to dropbox. Then at my desk I just process saved file.

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I used to take my iPad too with mindmapping software, but I stopped because I always had comments like "wow you have an iPad, you must be rich" or "you must get all the girls you want". While the last remark is true :), the first is not really appropriate when you meet customers. –  user2567 Nov 24 '10 at 8:46
    
@Pierre 303 - for real? –  jellyfishtree Nov 24 '10 at 18:00
    
You mean bad comments? Yes. –  user2567 Nov 24 '10 at 18:49
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voice recorder + furious typing on laptop

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Sorry but nothing is better than plan old pen and paper instead of the typing on a laptop. I find the typing during a meeting to be disruptive and distracting. ANd, too many times, I see people get so tied up in the laptop, usually because of an issue with the notes, that they stop paying attention to the meeting. –  Jeff Siver Nov 24 '10 at 5:25
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@Jeff my keyboard is quiet, and I touch-type waaaaaay faster than i can write (plus my penmanship is horrible!). To each his own! –  Steven A. Lowe Nov 24 '10 at 8:23
    
+1 I take minutes directly to the laptop (without voice recorder though). I find my wpm fast enough to keep up, and it means when the meeting is done, the minutes are too, and I don't have to go and type/write them up. Instead I can get on with whatever's been actioned to me in the meeting! Also, it helps me focus on what's been saying. I HAVE to listen, because it's my duty to record it. –  fearoffours Nov 24 '10 at 8:53
    
@fearoffours: i used the voice recorder as a backup; especially valuable for larger meetings. It's also useful for when I am talking, because I can't type very fast when I'm talking! –  Steven A. Lowe Nov 24 '10 at 8:59
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I use two options, depending on the type of meeting.

When there is an agenda, I take a stack of index cards and a pencil w/ eraser. It's like a wide screen sticky note.

When it's a brain storming meeting, I use my iPad and some mind mapping software. I use MindNode, but that's a personal preference. It's great, as you can move ideas around as the meeting progresses, then email yourself/team the ideas in outline form.

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iPad Question - how easy is it to jot quick notes onto the iPad? Do you find entering text to be slow? –  jellyfishtree Nov 24 '10 at 18:04
    
Couple solutions. As stated, I use mind mapping software for the iPad. I got used to typing on the iPad, but you can use a wireless keyboard. It takes some getting used to. YMMV. –  DevSolo Nov 24 '10 at 21:18
    
thanks @DevSolo –  jellyfishtree Nov 25 '10 at 2:51
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I'd hope that the meeting is being recorded, and someone will be e-mailing all participants meeting minutes shortly after it has concluded. This helps people pay more attention to the actual meeting and helps to ensure everyone walked away with the same understanding of whatever was discussed.

I carry around a spiral notebook with me, everywhere that I go. I'm obsessive about writing down most of what goes on during any given day. You never know when you need to refer back, or perhaps justify something.

So, I use plain old paper with a 'fast' pen that writes easily and doesn't smudge. It's important to test the pen in the store.. even the super expensive gel pens run easily. You pay a little more initially, but a good Cross roller ball will never let you down.

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I like using these Mead/Cambridge spiral pads with pages that are lined on one side and grid on the back. I use the grid side for sketching diagrams and the lined side for notes. I tend to use a Japanese fountain pen (a Namiki "Vanishing Point") because I write really small and it tends to look like a big smear if I use a regular 0.5mm RB or even a standard fine FP nib. –  TMN Nov 24 '10 at 15:39
    
@TMN Those sound cool (ruled on front / graph on back)! I've yet to see them in my area. –  Tim Post Nov 24 '10 at 16:21
    
I don't know how effective recording the meeting is. I've tried this several times, but similar to recording classes in university, its often too tedious to go over an hour long recording for something you missed. I guess Im looking for techniques on how you organize the notes that you take. @Tim Post –  jellyfishtree Nov 24 '10 at 17:55
    
@TMN those do sound pretty cool. –  jellyfishtree Nov 24 '10 at 17:56
    
@TMN, I wasn't able to find that on Mead's website. Do you know where I can buy one? –  Seth P. Feb 13 '11 at 4:01
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I normally take a Spiral notebook to the meeting. We hold lots of phone conference as well as face to face meeting.

My bad experience is, I hardly use the notes I take down. Maybe it's due to nature of work I do or its just me.

My experience says, it's not really worth taking notes during such meetings. As you are noting down points, you may miss out on something important. At least this happens to me. Usually, we have meeting minutes mailed out after the meeting and that serves the purpose of note taking.

If you need to note down something elaborate, it's best to have those items available on requirements doc, which is done in most cases anyway. At best, you would be noting down few small points and the organization of those would hardly matter.

If the talks in the meeting are the only source of communication, then it's best to have the whole conversation recorded.

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I use index cards, especially for requirements gathering meetings. One idea/requirement per card. This allows me to organize the notes however I need to, and sometimes the index cards will go directly onto my task board.

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While we're putting forward how we do things, the worst I've seen.

One client I've worked with records the meetings so the meetings can be typed up by a secretary.

This secretary isn't technical, has limited domain knowledge and wasn't in the meeting her so understanding of what was discussed and decided isn't exactly ideal and she doesn't know most of the people so who is talking is best guess based on the voices (fortunately we're in Scotland and they're in England so there are at least some distinct accents).

From time to time the host of the meeting stops the whole thing while he tries to paraphrase what's been said in the previous few minutes for her benefit (having 6 people sit around for a couple of minutes doing nothing while he does so - do that five times and that's a man hour gone) at which point everyone has to try and remember where they were.

To be fair to the secretary she does a fair job given the constraints but the whole process is a staggeringly inefficient way of getting notes of somewhat limited accuracy.

Needless to say I do not recommend it.

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You should sell us tickets to assist at that show. –  user2567 Nov 24 '10 at 14:27
    
not gonna do this. lol. –  jellyfishtree Nov 24 '10 at 18:01
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I Like Office OneNote.

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Rhodia makes a nice meeting notepad. I have one that I use for non-technical meetings, as it has defined sections for attendees, action items and such. I tend to sketch out diagrams (schematics, sequence diagrams, etc) in technical meetings, so I take something with a grid instead of the Rhodia pad to those. The Rhodia's made with Clairefontaine paper, so if you enjoy the physical act of writing, you'll really like it. The paper also works well with gel or rollerball pens, as it doesn't let the ink "bleed" and spread out.

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