Lucas Brenner » Articles » Writing Good Literature Notes

An important part of a Second Brain are the so-called literature notes. This is where you summarize the most important points of a literature source so that you don't forget them and can use them later for your own projects or for learning. Books, articles, podcasts and all other sources of information count as literature. Creating literature notes is an important part of my Obsidian workflow. I describe how I create my literatur notes in this article.

However, in order to be able to use your findings later, literature notes must meet some requirements, which I will present in this article.

Make Concise Notes

It is best to make literature notes while you are reading, so that the content is still as fresh in your mind as possible. Either take notes as you read, or mark important passages to turn into notes later.

Whichever way you choose, you should never take information verbatim. The value of notes lies in your own wording and paraphrasing. This is the only way to ensure that you can still understand your notes years after you've read the book.

Write the notes in your own words and use quotations only in addition, for example, if you find a particularly well-worded passage in the text.

Summarize Notes Progressively

Tiago Forte has “invented” a technique to summarize notes step by step. He calls it “Progressive Summarization.”

After you have written a literature note, you go through it again at a later time and bold all the important parts. Again, later you read through only those passages marked in bold and highlight its most important passages in yellow (or any other color). In the last step, you only read through the passages marked in yellow and write a summary in a few sentences.

It is up to you how long the intervals between these steps are. Frequently used notes are summarized relatively quickly, while you avoid investing too much time in marginal notes. For particularly large notes, you can of course stretch the individual steps over several days.

The advantage of this technique is that no information is lost by summarizing. When you want to sift through a note quickly, you read through the summary. Then you can decide if you want to move on to another note or go deeper into the topic. The context of the highlighted passages is always present and you don't have to search to find it.

Outsource Key Messages

The best ideas come from linking different insights together. However, this is not easily possible with literature notes, as they usually contain many different ideas. That's why you have to outsource the core statements of a literature source into new notes in order to be able to link them together.

So, after you have summarized your literature notes, you create a separate note for each stand-alone idea, strategy, or lesson that you link to related ideas or other sources. You can also add to existing notes if a literature source provides more information.

Over time, this creates a large, highly connected web of ideas and strategies that you can dip into to develop new ideas.

Literature notes have great potential, but you can only use them if you write and edit them properly. You should write short notes in your own words, summarize them progressively, and outsource the key messages into stand-alone notes so that they can be linked together and so that you don't have to read the book multiple times.

With the resulting network of links, new ideas can be created after a short time.