Note-Taking vs. Summary Writing: Which One Is Right for You?

 

Anyone who has ever ordered a transcript will tell you that there is a large difference between Written English and Spoken English. They both share the same sentence structure and grammatical rules, but where Written English flows from topic to topic in a readable fashion, Spoken English is subject to the whims of the speaker, and the less prepared the speaker, the more confusing the transcript. If someone is speaking off-the-cuff, they might stutter, they might have long pauses where they um and ah and stall to think of their next sentence, and they may start a sentence only to break it halfway through and switch to a different topic entirely. These breaks in the conversational flow are called disfluencies, and if there are multiple speakers in the recording, you can expect them to be an even bigger part of the transcript.

For this reason, many people will instead choose to purchase a written summary of their event, rather than a verbatim transcript. A written summary will abridge and abstract what might be multiple hours of presentations, Q&A, or general discussion into a short and easy-to-read report with the most salient topics highlighted and the irrelevant material omitted. This type of added-value document is a great way to preserve the information of a meeting or event in a readable and publishable format, and a good transcription company will work with you to find the level of summary that works best for your needs, and determine beforehand which portions of the event require the most focus.

Sounds terrific, right? Unfortunately, many people aren’t sure what exactly they’re ordering when they request a summary of their event. Are you hiring a note-taker to attend your event or are you hiring a writer to listen to recordings and craft a summary for you? The answer depends on asking yourself a few questions:

 

When is a Note-Taker the Right Choice?

Note-Taking vs. Summary Writing

Click to enlarge image.

If you want information gathered from your event in real time, then you want a note-taker: a professional who attends your event and takes down pertinent information, either electronically or with pen and paper. They may be noting particular topics of interest, specialized terms or proper names, or quickly summarizing the various sides of an impromptu discussion. These notes might be submitted directly to you for your reference, or they may be used in conjunction with an audio recording to produce a written summary of your event (as explained below). In fact, your note-taker might also be employed as your summary writer once the event is over. Either way, the notes taken at the event are not written for a general audience; they are written as reference material only. If an event is particularly well-organized and moderated, and if copious documentation was generated (i.e., a detailed agenda, participant bios, presentation scripts, etc.), then a note-taker may not be necessary. But if a professional recording isn’t being done or if there are no prepared speakers or an agenda, then a note-taker may be the only realistic way to gather information from the event.

 

Where Does a Summary Writer Come In?

Once the event is over, and all audio recordings and other materials have been compiled, then the summary writer takes over. The writer will listen to the event in full and, with the help of the event documentation and the note-taker’s notes (which the writer himself may have taken), they will begin the process of crafting a document which includes only the information relevant to the topics at hand. An event might be four hours and 200 pages long when typed verbatim, but once the welcome is omitted, along with all of the sidebar conversations, the redundant introductions, the corralling people in and out of lunch breaks, etc., one might find that the on-topic discussion only accounts for 50% or less of the event’s running time. The writer can abridge an event as much or as little as you would like, and the more information they are given, the better the document they can produce. As noted earlier, if documentation isn’t available for the event or if the audio recording is spotty (or worse, unavailable), then the writer will rely heavily on the note-taker’s notes.

To summarize, if you are trying to decide on the right product for your needs, you should ask yourself the following questions to get the best record of your event:

1. Do I need a verbatim transcript or a summary? What kind of document will suit me best? If I don’t know what information I am looking for, then I should order a verbatim transcript and have everything that was spoken included in the final record. But if the topic is defined clearly beforehand and the event record needs to be quickly read and understood by multiple parties afterward, then perhaps a summary is the right choice.

2. How good is my audio recording? Is my event being recorded professionally? Will any skilled transcriptionist or writer be able to listen and clearly make out all of the speakers at the event? If not, then a note-taker might be a wise investment to ensure that crucial points are not missed.

This is true for both verbatim and summary documents, but especially so with summaries, which rely heavily on context for coherence. (P.S.: If your event is highly confidential, with no audio recording allowed at all, engaging the services of a note-taker/writer will still allow you to obtain a summary of your event afterward, produced entirely from the hand-taken notes.)

3. How good is my documentation? Does my event come with an agenda? Are all of my speakers giving prepared presentations, and do I have access to those presentations?

If the answer is “no” and the participants have no better idea than you as to what they’ll be saying or discussing during the event, then, again, note-taking might be a valuable service for you, whether you’re purchasing a verbatim transcript or a written summary.

Hopefully this has given you some insight into a few of the ways in which note-takers and summary writers, used both separately and together, can help you to create the best possible text record of your event. We’ve only scratched the surface of your possibilities, which might vary according to the type of event you’re hosting (e.g., public hearing, financial meeting, focus group, etc.) and how it will be organized, so please feel free to email us or comment below with your experiences and suggestions on this topic. Good luck!

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45 Response Comments

  • AnonymousJanuary 21, 2016 at 2:36 PM

    This post has resolved my problem, thank you very much and hope you writing more good articles.

    Reply
    • Andy ZiatsJanuary 29, 2016 at 6:45 PM

      You’re very welcome! I’m glad that you got some good use out of the article. Please write back with your experiences in the writing field. We’d love to hear more!

      Reply
  • 09876March 27, 2016 at 12:27 PM

    Break down the text into small groups of paragraphs. Read each group one-by-one, taking notes between groups. Breaking up the text into smaller, bite-sized pieces will help you process the information.

    Reply
    • Ubiqus USAMay 12, 2016 at 12:24 PM

      Thank you for sharing additional tips for effectively carrying out the tasks of summary writing and note-taking. Keep them coming!

      Reply
  • furtdsolinopvMay 9, 2016 at 10:25 PM

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    Reply
    • Ubiqus USAMay 27, 2016 at 3:29 PM

      Hello! We’re glad to know that you found this article interesting!

      Reply
  • modeloMay 14, 2016 at 12:42 AM

    You actually make it seem so easy. I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

    Reply
    • Andy ZiatsMay 27, 2016 at 3:16 PM

      There’s a big difference between “simple” and “easy,” but I’m glad I was able to elucidate the choices for you! Good luck!

      Reply
  • csgoMay 17, 2016 at 7:52 AM

    This is really helpful. Keep it up

    Reply
    • Andy ZiatsMay 27, 2016 at 3:17 PM

      Thanks, I will!

      Reply
  • calvinMay 18, 2016 at 6:05 PM

    Very well written post.

    Reply
    • Andy ZiatsMay 27, 2016 at 3:15 PM

      Thank you very much! It’s an interesting subject, and deserves further exploration. Please write back any time with your experiences!

      Reply
  • ckMay 27, 2016 at 10:51 AM

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    Reply
    • Andy ZiatsMay 27, 2016 at 3:34 PM

      You’re very welcome! This is a fascinating topic, so I’m glad you’re able to follow my thoughts on it. Please come back for more posts soon, and be sure to reply with your own experiences in the field. Thanks!

      Reply
  • maxMay 28, 2016 at 3:50 PM

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    Reply
    • Andy ZiatsJune 23, 2016 at 2:40 PM

      Thanks for reading! Definitely check back soon, and be sure to comment again with your own experiences in the field. This is really just scratching the surface on this topic!

      Reply
  • Isabel MMay 31, 2016 at 2:24 PM

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    Reply
    • Andy ZiatsJune 23, 2016 at 2:41 PM

      You’re very welcome, Isabel. I’m glad I could be of service! Please write back soon and let us know how your presentation went!

      Reply
  • salomonJune 1, 2016 at 4:01 PM

    Fantastic, man.

    Reply
    • Andy ZiatsJune 23, 2016 at 2:41 PM

      Thanks! Please keep reading, and I’ll keep writing!

      Reply
  • VeranoJune 4, 2016 at 1:58 AM

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    Reply
    • Andy ZiatsJune 23, 2016 at 2:41 PM

      You’re welcome! Be sure to write back and let us know your experiences as well!

      Reply
  • csbJune 17, 2016 at 3:28 AM

    Not sure where you’re getting your info, but great topic. I need to spend some time learning more. Thanks for the information.

    Reply
    • Andy ZiatsJune 23, 2016 at 2:42 PM

      No problem! And the info for this article was gathered the old-fashioned way: by organizing lots of live events and finding out what clients want in each situation. It’s not always an easy process, but we’ve gotten very good at working with people and finding out what they look to accomplish with their event. We’re very interested in hearing other people’s experiences in this field as well, so please write back with yours!

      Reply
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    I really like your writing!

    Reply
    • Andy ZiatsJune 23, 2016 at 2:42 PM

      I like yours too! I’m a sucker for a good compliment! Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  • MaxineJune 28, 2016 at 12:49 PM

    Just shared this post with a colleague.

    Reply
    • Ubiqus USAAugust 19, 2016 at 12:54 PM

      Hi, Maxine – We hope your colleague has found the article useful. Thank you for passing it along!

      Reply
  • SkorSeptember 30, 2016 at 2:22 AM

    Very nicely written article. Keep up the good work. I look forward to more posts.

    Reply
    • Andy ZiatsDecember 21, 2016 at 11:10 AM

      Thank you very much! It’s great to learn that my posts are proving useful to readers. I’ll do my best to keep it up!

      Reply
  • PROOctober 1, 2016 at 8:12 AM

    Great writeup.

    Reply
    • Andy ZiatsDecember 21, 2016 at 11:11 AM

      Thanks!

      Reply
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    Not even sure how I ended up here, but this is a good post 😉

    Reply
    • Andy ZiatsDecember 21, 2016 at 11:11 AM

      Well, however you got here, we’re glad you did. Thanks for reading, and come back soon for more articles!

      Reply
  • CBDecember 14, 2016 at 1:31 PM

    Always looking for helpful posts. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Andy ZiatsDecember 21, 2016 at 11:12 AM

      We’re in the business of being helpful, CB. Glad to know it’s working!

      Reply
  • EdmondDecember 28, 2016 at 10:59 PM

    This is an outstanding post.

    Reply
    • Ubiqus USAFebruary 21, 2017 at 7:09 PM

      Hi, Edmond – Thank you very much.

      Reply
  • UKMarch 27, 2018 at 7:18 AM

    I have been looking all over for this! Thx

    Reply
    • Ubiqus USAMarch 27, 2018 at 12:19 PM

      Hi, UK – We’re glad that you found our article! Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  • Marc OOctober 6, 2018 at 9:03 AM

    Really good tip … Thank you for sharing this

    Reply
    • Ubiqus USAOctober 12, 2018 at 12:07 PM

      Hi, Marc O – We’re glad that you think so! Thank you for reading!

      Reply
  • TexasOctober 6, 2018 at 10:46 PM

    Where can I find out more?

    Reply
    • Ubiqus USAOctober 12, 2018 at 12:05 PM

      Hi, Texas – Thanks for reading. For further questions about this topic, feel free to email us at infousa@ubiqus.com and we’ll be happy to advise. Thank you!

      Reply

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