Categories
Books

Books in Brief: How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens

I wish I had read this as an undergraduate. It breaks apart why the method of note-taking seen in schools is terrible and only reinforces the departmentalized structure that philosophy of education seeks to recapitulate into its students. Basically: take literature notes while reading, translating what you read into your own words. Then take permanent notes on those notes, abstracting out those ideas from their context in the work while trying to connect one atomic idea with another. This network of notes becomes the building blocks of a career as a scholar, researcher, or writer, or whatever. He sells this process over and over and over. It feels repetitive, but that is the point. It references some hokey pop-sci books where I wish it would reference more articles, though there’s plenty of that. (Though

I haven’t heard of many of the folks he references; there’s a thread of German social science that didn’t make it to my learning sciences education, though there’s a lot of overlap of ideas.) Reading up more about the author, he uses Roam Research now, which I also use, and which makes sense. But the tools you use matter so much less than that cycle of taking literature notes in your own words, idea by idea, then writing notes about those notes, isolating atomic ideas (usually in the form of claims or statements), then connecting those atomic ideas to others. It’s that easy, that simple. But it takes practice. You’ll start to do what the book says with the book itself, and it seems specifically built for this. Even if you don’t have a totalizing system, if this book gets you to stop highlighting and underlining (though that’s fine, but not enough) and write down full sentences translating what you’re reading into your own words, you’ll be in a much better place than when you started, at the beginnings of a virtuous and productive cycle. He leans on the network effects of this method, the dynamics of it. I can imagine this book will infuriate some people, but that’s fine.