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I prefer writing on lined paper. I find it faster and neater and it helps with formatting. When I'm writing math some things don't fit neatly between the lines; for example the divider used in writing fractions should be in the middle of the line of writing and things like the integral sign extend several lines.

How do you format equations so that when symbols cross over lines in the paper things don't get messy? What kind of paper should be used?

I use math as an example but anything involving technical symbols or graphs has this problem.

Here is an example of the difficulty of writing math on lined paper. With LaTex it looks nice like: Used LaTex to format

But if you put it on line paper the lines obscure at least some of the symbols: enter image description here

The problem can be slightly mitigated with lined paper of a different colour, but it still is messy and requires extra thinking about the arrangement of symbols relative to the lines: enter image description here

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How about blank paper or paper with light grey dots (like With enough practice you can write straight enough and are not restricted on how to big your letters are. – 0x6d64 Jul 19 '14 at 8:54
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Paper choice

I've always been fine taking my math notes on squared-paper sheets. In my opinion, working with squares is way better than working with lines; also, working with plain paper would be the best way, but it is difficult to format notes properly without some guidelines. Instead, squared paper allows you to:

  • Draw diagrams, figures, graphs et similia very easily.
  • Set your own style: if you want to write fractions, you can choose to take two or three lines, and same goes for integrals and stuff.

I think that engineering paper wouldn't be the best choice for you; I can't say anything about dotted paper, because I've never tried it. I suggest using 0.4/0.5 cm wide squares (about 0.2 inches). What about the color of lines? Let's see an image made with the Notability app (which I strongly recommend, for note-taking with iPad):

A math integral, written in Notability. Note that lines are thinner than the pen trait, so the formula looks clear on the sheet.

Lines still cross with some symbols, but writing the formula with a thicker stroke results in a more pleasant view (it's actually written using my thumb in the screen, so the symbols proportion may be a little incorrect). Using a light color and thin lines can partially solve the problem of lines cutting symbols.

Math-formatting and aesthetics

I suggest you to look at the LaTeX math-formatting system. While not able being a human plotter, you can still learn how to write some beautiful math formulas. You are probably asking, "Why LaTeX?". LaTeX is still one of academics' best friend, thus being the main tool used for writing research paper, thesis and essays. And it is, because the math and the text are very well-formatted. So, why don't learning how to write math from LaTeX?

Plus: note-taking system

Maybe you are also trying to find a better note-taking system. I'm just giving a couple of suggestions:

  • Transcribe your notes with LaTeX. They will be then available anytime, anywhere and you can easily share them with everybody.
  • Start using the Cornell system to take your notes. It is well-designed, and helps you in finding topics and things.
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I like engineering graph paper whenever I need to take notes that include figures, formulae, and diagrams. In particular, 1/10" engineering graph paper, with a heavy line every inch, and a light line ever 1/10 inch. There's enough of a line visible to guide text, and to use when aligning figures and diagrams vertically.

A bad habit I had to get over was trying to cram too much into a small space. Use more pages and leave blank space to get more usable notes. I eventually learned to start in the middle of the page, and a new page for each new concept.

Search the web for "engineering graph paper". There are numerous sites that will let you generate a PDF on demand that you print as needed.

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+1 for the importance of blank space in notes. – vanden Mar 21 at 3:07

I've found that works best for me is to carry a pad of lined paper, but write on blank paper that is on top of the lined paper. If the lines are dark enough you can write roughly on the lines when you are able, but can easily ignore the lines whenever you need to write something that doesn't fit.

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