How to Take Smart Notes (Ahrens)

I read this book after seeing Sreejith’s 5-star review. It was a habit-changing book for me.

The most important take-away for me was the difference between a writer and an archivist. As I have been reading more and more non-fiction books in the past couple years, I realized that there were several connections that I was noticing but wasn’t really making on paper anywhere. I was making notes about separate pieces of literature, but I wasn’t really connecting them. My behavior was that of an archivist.

To move into a writer’s mindset I realized that I have to start thinking about how anything I read is changing my mindset and actually write my thoughts down (apart from the things that have already been said by the author).

A few other things that were expressed very well in the book:

The criteria for a convincing argument are always the same, regardless of who the author is or the status of the publisher: They have to be coherent and based on facts. Truth does not belong to anyone; it is the outcome of the scientific exchange of written ideas. This is why the presentation and the production of knowledge cannot be separated, but are rather two sides of the same coin (Peters and Schäfer 2006, 9). If writing is the medium of research and studying nothing else than research, then there is no reason not to work as if nothing else counts than writing.

P.S In a crazy connection, the author says that the book about the rise of the shipping container, The Box, that I read a few months ago was one of the reasons he realized that simple ideas find it especially hard to become popular and widely adopted. I read The Box because of my interest in shipping containers and the logistics world in general only a few months ago.


I have started looking into Org roam in the past couple days. With my recent switch to start using Emacs more in my daily workflow, I think integrating Org roam and using it to take notes should be easy to begin. I want to write notes about some of the topics that I have read about in the past few months (and heard podcasts about) that are connected to each other:

The book advises you to simply start writing notes for new literature that you read and forget about everything that you read until now. Some of the books I read in the past couple years were extremely important though, so I am definitely going to put my reading on hold for a week or so and actually write these notes down and get a good workflow going with my slipbox and reference system.