Vlad's Roam Garden

Powered by 🌱Roam Garden

How to Take Smart Notes

This is an "Orphan" page. Its core content has not been shared: what you see below is a loose collection of pages and page snippets that mention this page, as well as snippets of this page that were quoted elsewhere.

He did not just copy ideas or quotes from the texts he read, but made a transition from one context to another. It was very much like a translation where you use different words that fit a different context, but strive to keep the original meaning as truthfully as possible. Writing that an author struggles in one chapter to justify his method can be a much more adequate description of this chapter’s content than any quote from the text itself (this would call for an explanation, of course).

As it is not possible to foresee the development of the slip-box, the fate of the notes is nothing to worry about. In contrast to the fleeting notes, every permanent note for the slip-box is elaborated enough to have the potential to become part of or inspire a final written piece, but that can not be decided on up front as their relevance depends on future thinking and developments. The notes are no longer reminders of thoughts or ideas, but contain the actual thought or idea in written form. This is a crucial difference.

As we are the authors of all the notes, we learn in lockstep with the slip-box. This is another big difference from using an encyclopaedia like Wikipedia. We use the same mental models, theories and terms to organise our thoughts in our brains as in our slip-box. That the slip-box generates an excess of possibilities enables it to surprise and inspire us to generate new ideas and develop our theories further. It is not the slip-box or our brains alone, but the dynamic between them that makes working with it so productive.

All this enables us to later pick up a task exactly where we stopped without the need to “keep in mind” that there still was something to do. That is one of the main advantages of thinking in writing – everything is externalised anyway.

The step from the slip-box to the final text is pretty straightforward. The content is already meaningful, thought through and in many parts already put into well-connected sequences. The notes only need to be put into a linear order. While the notes themselves are formulated so that they can be understood on their own, they are at the same time embedded in one or more contexts that enrich their meaning. Drawing from the slip-box to develop a draft is more like a dialogue with it than a mechanical act. Therefore, the outcome is never a copy of previous work, but always comes with surprises. There will always be something you couldn’t have anticipated. Obviously, the same applies to every single step before. The outcome of reading with a pen in the hand is not possible to anticipate either, and here, too, the idea is not to copy, but to have a meaningful dialogue with the texts we read.

When we extract ideas from the specific context of a text, we deal with ideas that serve a specific purpose in a particular context, support a specific argument, are part of a theory that isn’t ours or written in a language we wouldn’t use. This is why we have to translate them into our own language to prepare them to be embedded into new contexts of our own thinking, the different context(s) within the slip-box. Translating means to give the truest possible account of the original work, using different words – it does not mean the freedom to make something fit. As well, the mere copying of quotes almost always changes their meaning by stripping them out of context, even though the words aren’t changed. This is a common beginner mistake, which can only lead to a patchwork of ideas, but never a coherent thought.

There is no secret to it and the explanation is pretty simple: Handwriting is slower and can’t be corrected as quickly as electronic notes. Because students can’t write fast enough to keep up with everything that is said in a lecture, they are forced to focus on the gist of what is being said, not the details. But to be able to note down the gist of a lecture, you have to understand it in the first place. So if you are writing by hand, you are forced to think about what you hear (or read) – otherwise you wouldn’t be able to grasp the underlying principle, the idea, the structure of an argument. Handwriting makes pure copying impossible, but instead facilitates the translation of what is said (or written) into one’s own words. The students who typed into their laptops were much quicker, which enabled them to copy the lecture more closely but circumvented actual understanding. They focused on completeness. Verbatim notes can be taken with almost no thinking, as if the words are taking a short cut from the ear to the hand, bypassing the brain.

When we try to answer a question before we know how to, we will later remember the answer better, even if our attempt failed (Arnold and McDermott 2013). If we put effort into the attempt of retrieving information, we are much more likely to remember it in the long run, even if we fail to retrieve it without help in the end (Roediger and Karpicke 2006). Even without any feedback, we will be better off if we try to remember something ourselves (Jang et al. 2012). The empirical data is pretty unambiguous, but these learning strategies do not necessarily feel right. Intuitively, most students resort to cramming, which is just another term for reading something again and again in a failed attempt to learn it (Dunlosky et al. 2013). And as much as rereading doesn’t help with learning, it certainly doesn’t help with understanding. Admittedly, cramming does get information into your head for a short while – usually long enough to stay in there to pass a test. But cramming won’t help you learn. As Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek put it: “If learning is your goal, cramming is an irrational act” (Doyle and Zakrajsek 2013).

This needs further thinking on my part. I think I'm subject to this problem.

Or a similar problem anyway - I don't think the daily notes are harmful, but what I don't do much is actually developing the permanent notes.

Is probably a better fit