I’ve also always felt like I have thoughts that I never really know how to express. I’m amazed when other people are able to say the things that I am thinking more clearly than the way I’ve been thinking them. I see that people who’ve studied at good universities, or are generally smarter than me are just able to do this. When I discovered this book — How to take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens — I didn’t expect it would have anything to do with this, but it ended up giving me an insight into the learning and writing process of academics.
The book describes an external system for reading, thinking, and writing. It argues that moving things into an external system enables learning and frees up our brains. By putting things in an external system, we give our brains permission to forget and focus instead on thinking.
The gist of the system is:
- While reading, make notes using your own words. Only when we’ve actually understood the material can we express it in our own words
- Link these notes with other notes that could be related — this helps uncover patterns. Forming these connections also helps our memory, and recall becomes easier in the correct context
Scrivener is a writing tool that brings together your notes and research.
- Allows composing text in small chunks that can be reordered later
- Outlining tools for planning and restructuring
- Create collections of documents in the project based on metadata and completion
- A corkboard to see and move around sections of your writing, or to look at your research.
Workflowy is a list that contains infinite lists.
- Organizes information as a fractal document
- Each bullet point can be a document of its own that has bullet points inside it ad infinitum
- Navigate between bullet points and focus on one small part at a time.
Are.na: Puts all your ideas in context.
- Blocks are used to collect pieces of information
- Channels are used to organize and contextualize them
- Channels can be shared with multiple members
TiddlyWiki: A non-linear personal web notebook.
- Index cards that are linked to each other using
[]this creates a relationship
- Tags can be added to index cards and offer easy navigation to other cards with the same tag
- Transclusion lets you copy an index card’s content into another’s
- Lists can be created with queries
Roam Research: A note taking tool for networked thought.
- Documents can be created on the fly by
[]linking to them.
- Documents have an indented list structure
- Tagging and linking creates relationships, the documents are classified by being linked to other documents.
- Templates for todos, date pickers and other things
- Daily notes that are created automatically.
- Graph overview of all the documents and their relationships
Are.na organizes information in Blocks (of content, kind of like articles, notes or bookmarks) and Channels (kind of like tags). They’ve made it easy move around, play, and explore content within their system. This encourages empathy towards other perspectives and the ability to recognize contextual patterns. By doing so they want to create a version of the Internet where…
We have (most of) the world’s information at our fingertips, so what do we want to do with all that? How do we make that information our own? How can we start to break all these facts down and re-shape them into something new?