Ways of documenting what you're learning

These are some ideas about different ways of documenting and communicating ideas by writing things down. What kind of formats are available? What are the uses of each? Is there some kind of hierarchy or order? 

List of points, stories, questions

This is simply moving margin notes out of a book and into a list together. Ways you could organize them: chapter, topic, importance. Maybe there are few enough to just have one list. Maybe you have an index of these that is a list of summary points that link out to further explanations.

This is approachable and raw because it's just moving your notes from margin into one big list. It's an early stage way of documenting, and is source material for more refined ways of documenting.

One page summary

Introducing a limit can helpful to force you to answer the question of what is most important. It's ok that the limit is arbitrary. If you were to sum up what you learned from a book in one page (perhaps a word count would be better for online) then what would you include? 

You only have room for summary. You have to compress the knowledge, and you lose some of it, but you can still retain a meaningful amount. It can be enough to remind you of the most important things you learned.

For other people, this is perhaps more valuable as a discovery tool. They may learn something important, because a single sentence can change a life, but also they will not achieve mastery through a summary. They should know whether they want to delve deeper or not though. 

This could also be an index, which extends it's power. If all the summary sentences are links to deeper explanations, then you or someone else can quickly learn more about something they find intriguing or confusing. 


This is one step beyond summary. Rather than summarizing and then telling you what to do based on this knowledge, or leaving it up to you, you can also document the directives that follow.

You can even have the directives without the summary, though it seems like at least having the summary available would be helpful. Again, an index is useful for this. It provides the ability for the directives to all be visible, and yet also there is a separate place where the directive is discussed in more detail.

The way that makes sense to me for this is having a separate page, and having the points or directives link to that page, but it would be interesting to talk to someone more experienced in UI/UX about ways of doing this, because they are other ways to have information available quickly but not cluttering up the screen.


This is where we find hierarchy. So far I have been thinking about a flat list (10 directives from this book, or the 10 main points of that book). The value of an outline is filling in more detail about which points support which, probably going from particular subpoints to general main points or directives. 

There is no reason an outline could not also be in index with links to more detailed information.


So far the main benefits of the other formats have been efficiency. Stories lack this benefit, but they have the other benefits of being more human, relatable, memorable. There is hardly a better way to document what you are learning than by telling a good story.

Stories can fit into indexes as a link, or perhaps as the main content, followed by a list of summary points or directives. Perhaps stories are so important that the way you document is simply an index of stories.

How do you go from one to another?

It seems to me that raw ideas are the place start, whether they are your own ideas or notes on something you are reading. Get all of that written down somewhere so you can reference it. It's understood that it will be messy. Even though it's messy, it could still be worth sharing because it could still be helpful (that's what this post is).

I consider that source material. Once you have that, you can look for patterns. I think summary points are the next step. Organize and distill that into the arbitrary but manageable number of 10 points. Stories could also be valuable here.

Or maybe an outline comes before a list of summary points. You get the particular things down, and then move to the general things. A list of summary points is an outline with the particular things removed. 

Directives seem to be last. These are the most compact. These are the conclusions of what we should do, based on the summary points. In each step of this, there is compression of knowledge, and the interesting question is how to have that knowledge concise and valuable and yet also ready to be expanded into more detail when necessary. I think indexes are the key to that.