# Effective Notetaking by Fiona McPherson

edited March 16

I am currently reading Effective Notetaking by Fiona McPherson. It is by far the best book I ever read on this topic. It is basically a book on how to process text into note.

In my opinion, it is best to be read as a comprehensive "how to pre-process a text before you incorporate your notes into your Zettelkasten" (if you are a Zettler).

Post edited by sfast on

I am a Zettler

• Edited the picture for more clarification.

I am a Zettler

• edited March 16

Glad you liked it, as it is on my read soon list. While I haven't read any of the other ones, she has a whole set of books on knowledge work more broadly, aimed I believe at students.

For me I think the biggest roadblock is the "promising sections/paragraphs", as in knowing what information is most important to take notes on. Especially when you are reading material that is outside your domain of expertise, where you don't have a mental model of the topic. You see this commonly in learning. Here is an excerpt from Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

People who as a matter of habit extract underlying principles or rules from new experiences are more successful learners than those who take their experiences at face value, failing to infer lessons that can be applied later in similar situations. Likewise, people who single out salient concepts from the less important information they encounter in new material and who link these key ideas into a mental structure are more successful learners than those who cannot separate wheat from chaff and understand how the wheat is made into flour (Brown et al., 2014).

• I too am currently reading Effective Notetaking by Fiona McPherson. I have high hopes for this book. So far it is a motherlode of insight.

I took a chainsaw to your flowchart. I think you are too restrictive on what you consider to be your zettelkasten and too vague on the most important aspect of capturing the promising ideas.

People new to the ZKM want to know how to determine "Promising Sources" and "Promising Sections/Paragraphs." New people want to know how to translate what they capture into an atomic note that will be relevant. They want reassurance that this process with lead to greater memory and recall. The studies in Fiona's book, point to strategies that work to increase learning.

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• I'm halfway through it. It's fantastic so far.

Scott P. Scheper

• They want reassurance that this process with lead to greater memory and recall. The studies in Fiona's book, point to strategies that work to increase learning.

@Will I'm not sure that a zettelkasten system should be for learning but instead a way of storing information that one wants easy access to without having to memorize it. You want your zettelkasten to surprise you with insights, which doesn't happen if the notes are full of redundant information (information you've learned/memorized).

• @Will I deliberataly separate the Zettelkasten Method from the Zettelkasten itself.

I marked what is in the Zettelkasten (though, you can have you exerpts in your Zettelkasten if you like) and what the surrounding aspects of the method are.

This diagram cannot tell you neither how vague nor how specific I am on any aspect.

I am a Zettler

• @Will drafted a blogpost to expand on it.

Title: "2022-03-23 Field Report #5 How I Prepare Reading and Processing Effective Notetaking by Fiona McPherson"

I am a Zettler

• I finished reading Effective Notetaking by Fiona McPherson and was pleasantly surprised to find two items of immediate benefit to my creation of Zettel notes. First, I am not a fan of "concept mapping," which seems to be the general thrust of the book; however, Chapter 5 on "Creating summaries," especially creating "Topic Sentences," will forever solve my frustration of trying to generate a title for a note. The second insight is found in Chapter 7, "Understanding connection." Connections probably shouldn't come as a surprise because understanding connections between notes is the crucial feature of the Zettelkasten methodology. McPherson discusses "anchor points" as "Facts that you already know very well and have no trouble remembering" and utilizes these anchor points to create meaning when trying to learn new information. I found this to be of immediate benefit by creating a UID similar to a Zettel note while the title contains the fact. Creating a separate "fact" allows for an easy insert into the body of Zettels I am attempting to construct. The backlink feature of my software (TheBrain) will enable me to view all notes to which the UID is linked.

• @sfast said:
@Will drafted a blogpost to expand on it.

Title: "2022-03-23 Field Report #5 How I Prepare Reading and Processing Effective Notetaking by Fiona McPherson"

Will be published tuesday.

I am a Zettler

• @Steve625 said:
...McPherson discusses "anchor points" as "Facts that you already know very well and have no trouble remembering" and utilizes these anchor points to create meaning when trying to learn new information...

This reminded me of a note that I have. In the book "How to Solve it", George Polya talks about how combining facts into a single structure makes each one easier to remember.

# 202012221600 Combine facts to improve memory
#proof

Linking facts together into one coherent structure can improve the recall of the facts. In [218][#polya2004solve], it is mentioned as one of the benefits of mathematical proofs. By combining multiple statements or facts to prove another, makes the entire set easier to recall and understand.

A simple example provided is the proof that the angles in a triangle sum to 180 degrees. Consider this geometric proof taken from https://www.mathsisfun.com/proof180deg.html : ![](media/triangle180_proof.png)

It ties together the fact that the inner angles of a triangle sum to 180 degrees and that alternate angles are equal. Remembering this proof makes each one easier to remember by their connection.

[#polya2004solve]: George Polya (2004):  _How to solve it: A new aspect of mathematical method_, Princeton university press.

• I will start reading this today! Thanks for sharing it.

• @Will said:
I, too, am currently reading Effective Notetaking by Fiona McPherson. I have high hopes for this book. So far, it is a motherlode of insight.

Below I show stats for the example of onboard this book. Some books produce fewer zettel, take much less time, and contain fewer ideas. While some take quite a bit more time to digest with an unbounded adornment of ideas. This book lands somewhere in the middle.

Mar 7th to May 20th reading and factoring into ZK. Almost 2.5 months.
Today I released this #book zettel out of the corral and into the pasture, mingling with other more mature zettel. It is now suitable enough to be in my iteration and review cycle.

I recommend this book to you if you want to get ideas for different reading strategies.

Stats

• One #book note with 562 words
• 17 new linked zettel with 4374 words (93% my own)
• Total Links in the 18 new notes: 221 (In 103 - Out 118)

B-Effective Notetaking 202203171941 - Total Links: 44 : (In 17 - Out 27)
Personality Factor in Learning Styles 202205141503 - Total Links: 19 : (In 6 - Out 13)
Note Size-Atomicity 202011271445 - Total Links: 16 : (In 10 - Out 6)
Highlighting as a strategy in notetaking 202204251523 - Total Links: 15 : (In 9 - Out 6)
Headings as Organizational Signals 202204272058 - Total Links: 13 : (In 7 - Out 6)
Understanding is important for remembering 202205021932 - Total Links: 12 : (In 7 - Out 5)
Notetaking rephrasing effectiveness 202205061616 - Total Links: 11 : (In 6 - Out 5)
Working memory capacity 202204272037 - Total Links: 10 : (In 6 - Out 4)
Focusing attention has an outsized impact 202205092052 - Total Links: 10 : (In 4 - Out 6)
Executive Control 202205072052 - Total Links: 10 : (In 4 - Out 6)
Encoding Strategies 202205152009 - Total Links: 10 : (In 3 - Out 7)
Elaborative Interrogation and Self-explanation 202204292117 - Total Links: 10 : (In 5 - Out 5)
Auditioning a book 202205112038 - Total Links: 9 : (In 4 - Out 5)
Creating Reading Summaries 202205101937 - Total Links: 8 : (In 4 - Out 4)
Topic Structure Reading 202204301722 - Total Links: 7 : (In 4 - Out 3)
Taking notes during a lecture 202205170920 - Total Links: 6 : (In 2 - Out 4)
Anchor Points 202205191735 - Total Links: 6 : (In 2 - Out 4)
Reading Material Organization 202205122022 - Total Links: 5 : (In 3 - Out 2)

Group Total Links: 221 : (In 103 - Out 118)

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com