Lucas Brenner » Articles » How I Write My Literature Notes



As I wrote in this article, literature notes are important for accelerating your own learning. Through taking notes, you don't consume books, videos and other media passively, but you actively engage with them.

I save my literature notes in Obsidian so that I can link and connect them with other notes. In this article, I will explain how I do this. I have included the Markdown template that I use for my literature notes at the end of this article. My literature notes are part of my obsidian workflow.

What I Do

In the first step, I consume the source I want to take notes on and highlight key points. This is very easy with books I read on my Kindle, but with videos I have to take notes manually. I only highlight what resonates with me and what I find interesting. The point of a literature note is not to write a book review or a full summary, but to create a personalized and customized note.

In the second step, I import these highlights into Obsidian so that I can edit them there. I now have a long list of more or less coherent quotes from the source that I have read.

In the third step, I summarize these quotes in my own words. I use bullet points, summarize several quotes, if necessary, copy some verbatim (with citations) and delete others. I also organize the key points in a logical order and use indents and lists to make things clearer.

The fourth step is still experimental at the moment. I've recently started using ChatGPT to search for ideas in a book that I've missed. To do this, I ask ChatGPT to write a book summary for me with the following prompt:

You are Atlas. As an expert in reading and understanding books, you have been spent 20 years developing mastery of understanding any books you have read and most books ever published. Your task is to provide a comprehensive summary for the book “[BOOK TITLE]” by [AUTHOR].

The summary should cover all important concepts presented in the book. You can format the summary using headings, bullet points, tables, and paragraphs of text as needed. Include deeper explanations on specific topics, and implementable takeaways from the book I can use immediately. Include as much detail as possible, including key sources, research findings, examples, and case studies to support key arguments. Don't try to include equal coverage of all the main ideas in the book; emphasize what is most unusual, surprising, or contrary to common expectations of how most people and companies think. Be as specific and concrete as possible.

Incorporate the following excerpts from the book, which I've selected based on their relevance and importance, into your summary, but also draw on external sources on the web. Please use as many details from the excerpts I've provided as possible:

[BOOK NOTES AS OUTLINE FROM STEP 3]

I don't include these notes in my literature notes, I just read through them to find interesting passages that I have missed. In my opinion, you can't (yet) outsource the writing of literature notes to an AI, as their summaries are too superficial and clichéd for my taste. This is because the AIs don't have direct access to the books and can't write summaries tailored to me.

In the fifth and final step, I edit my notes to make them easier to read and more helpful for my future self. First, I highlight particularly important passages of my note (in Obsidian, I use the Markdown highlight command, but you can also highlight text passages by bolding them). Then, I write a concise summary of the source in a few sentences, which I place at the very beginning of the note. This way, I can quickly skim the content of the note if I want to use it later for another project.

Of course, you don't have to complete all these steps in one go. Some notes do not go through all phases, too. As a rule of thumb, every time you read a note, you should continue to work on it and improve it a little bit.

Literature Note Template

To ensure that my literature notes are consistent and that I don't forget any steps, I have created a Markdown template that I use in Obsidian. At the top is the title of the source and the author's name. Below that, I select a tag that describes the type of source. “Live” describes video conferences, workshops or livestreams. I use the term “concept” to describe stand-alone ideas that were shared in a source for which I don't want to create a separate note, such as a social media post. In the case of an online source, I also save the link underneath.

My actual note is preceded by a callout summarizing the source. Below this are my notes in bullet points and the direct quotations follow at the end of the note.

Thanks to this template, my literature notes are not only clear, but also easy to read, so I don't have to interrupt my work for long when I'm looking for information during a project.

# {{title}} (Name)
#Literature/Non-fiction OR #Literature/Article OR #Literature/Video OR #Literature/Live OR #Literatur/Concept
[Source]()

---

> [!SUMMARY] Summary
> …

- …

## Quotes
> …