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How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  3,758 ratings  ·  602 reviews
The key to good and efficient writing lies in the intelligent organisation of ideas and notes. This book helps students, academics and nonfiction writers to get more done, write intelligent texts and learn for the long run. It teaches you how to take smart notes and ensure they bring you and your projects forward.
The Take Smart Notes principle is based on established psyc
Kindle Edition, 178 pages
Published February 21st 2017 (first published 2017)
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Average rating 4.28  · 
Rating details
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Start your review of How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers
Simon Eskildsen
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Note-taking game-changer. Ahrens' is a professor in systematic education at Hamburg University—and he really knows his shit. This book tells the story of the remarkable Luhmann note-taking system. Luhmann was a revered sociology professor who collected over 90,000 index cards over the course of his life to support his 30-year-project: "A Theory of Society." The book goes over how Luhmann organized his note-taking in a scalable way that allowed him an unprecedented level of productivity with 30+ ...more
☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣
Really love this. Instead of making us turn our willpowers into crutches for doing stuff we dislike, it instead takes a pleasant take on our experiences.

Food for thought:
- Slip-box method
- Virtuitous circle workflow
- Undivided attention to each task (as opposed to vaunted, flaunted, dreaded, attention-span destructive multitasking)
- Ego depletion

Transferring these ideas into the network of our own thoughts, our latticework of theories, concepts and mental models in the slip-box brings our thi
Jamie Coleiro
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: productivity, writing
This book is GOLD.

'How to Write Smart Notes' tragically undersells itself by implying it's wholly focused on note-taking. It's not.

There's a bunch of relevant psychological concepts here too—including:

- Mere-exposure Effect
- Miller's Law
- Survivorship Bias
- Parkinson's Law
- The Tunnel Effect
- And more...

As the title suggests, if you're into taking 'smarter' notes (and therefore getting more out of your creative endeavours), you'll love this. 😎

I vouch candidly that Sönke (and Luhmann—a top
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February's Non-fiction book of the month! 🤓🤓🤓

“An idea kept private is as good as one you never had. And a fact no one can reproduce is no fact at all.”

I usually criticize non-fiction authors for stating the obvious and then being proud of preaching us with “fresh, innovative” ideas. To be honest, this is one of the books that did not do that and it introduced me to a new idea but the writing felt a bit dry to me!

You see, the ful
May 04, 2020 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: academics
This book should have been titled "My long and repetitive ramblings about learning theory, with some asides about how to create a Zettelkasten (slip-box of notes), without examples".

Ahrens describes the Zettelkasten method: you take notes while you read; then make "literature notes", with your own words, attaching the bibliographic information to them; and then you reflect about them, and you make "permanent notes", with one idea per note; then you drop them into a network of linked notes, that
David Laing
Dec 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Parts of it read a bit like a dump of every pop-psych meme of the past ten years, but at its heart, it's a thorough and well-argued deep dive into a note-taking system from the future. I wouldn't be surprised if, twenty years from now, the slip-box method were taught to everyone in schools, especially at the university level.

I would have liked to see a few more examples of the slip-box in action. I don't feel like I have a clear picture in my mind of what a literature note actually *is*: is it a
Jan 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-research
6th book for 2020.

Niklas Luhmann, the 20th Century sociologist, was productive by any standard; publishing more than seventy books and hundreds of articles in his lifetime. He accredited his success to an idiosyncratic note-taking technique he developed, which he called the Zettlekästen—literally "notes box"—in which he place A6-sized cards with short atomised ideas generated while reading, each note being linked to other related notes, essentially creating a hyperlinked database of ideas long b
Liu Jianqing
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Really eye-opening for me. I would recommend this book to anyone I know. It is obvious that I do have some of the conventional wisdom mentioned in the book, thinking writing is just a transfer of knowledge/ideas/insight from my head onto blank papers. Now I realize I should use writing to collect, to connect, and get all notes ready all along the way.

But, it is just a little disappointing that the book has not shown us an example of how someone actually making those bibliography notes, and then
Andrei Stepanov
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I express a very big gratitude to the author. This book is a "must-read" manual for all researchers. This book is quite different from other "help-self" manuals. It was written by a scientist, and is based on a huge number other science books, and resources. Reference bibliography is amazing. Your productivity will gain tremendously in your daily-workflow. Highly recommend! ...more
Scott Wozniak
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Title Is Inadequate

This is a book about MUCH more than a way to take smart notes. Oh, sure, you’ll learn all about a super cool (and super simple) system for taking notes. But that is covered in the first 20% of the book. The rest of the book is about deep and critical topics related to smart note taking, like thinking well, reading well, the writing process and even how to set up habits of success. I almost didn’t read it because it looked too basic. I’m so glad I did.
Hady Osman
Jul 13, 2019 rated it liked it
I was looking me up a good fiction read to get into, when somehow, the algorithms of Amazon decided to put forward this book on Note taking right in front of me.

The title immediately peeked my interest and then some more after I read the synopsis. I have been taking notes all my life using all sort of methods and tools. The fact that I keep switching every year to a different method and medium has me very conscious that I am still very hopeless at taking notes for myself.

I must admit... the book
Sandy Maguire
Apr 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am giving this book 5 stars not because I liked it, but because it has significantly improved my scholarship --- at least, in the last few days since I started reading it. We'll see if it continues!

The crux of the book is "write down insights you have, as you're having them, and then regularly reconcile these into a single place, and track insights you have while writing THOSE down. Rinse and repeat." It's been a very helpful framework for thinking about big thoughts; rather than trying to kee
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
When I was writing my thesis (approximately one million years ago), I accidentally built about 50% of the workflow described here. Had I known how to use the slip-box part, I think the whole thing would have been a lot better. Maybe I had an incredible memory back then - probably not, but it's not better now. I've now implemented the free tool chain of Zettelkasten: Zkn3 and the reference tool Zotero (I know there are lots of reference tools around but I like this one and its Chrome plug-in). So ...more
León XIV
Jan 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
A useless book

This book does not explain how to use Luhmann’s method precisely. It is just a compilation of over-explained ideas (nothing new under the sun, by the way) that are not even useful for applying that method. There are other resources in the web, so please, avoid buying this book.
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow, wow, wow ...

... and a double wow, wow.

This is definitely my greatest read for 2019 so far and I can't see anything surpassing it.

It has had the same impact as David Allen's "Getting Things Done" and Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits Of Highly Successful People" before then in that it has already caused a fundamental change in the way I see, understand and take action on things.

Wyatt Woodsmall hammers in the point that learning IS behaviour change. I can honestly say I have learnt from Sonke Ahr
Jul 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Not a bad book for someone not familiar with personal knowledge management. But it was really scattered, not structured in a good way.
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
A surprising little gem.

The book describes Luhmann's note taking system.
The interesting thing is that this paper-only system was translated into software - but it still deeply *under*leverages what could be done with a digital system.
But by being under-leveraged it highlights the actually important *manual* steps of the method.

The book is very worth the reading. There is an excellent passage which clearly demonstrates the connections springing from the application of the method - highly unlikely
Jul 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A bit repetitive but still an enlightening introduction to the philosophy and practice of Zettleksten, a German technique for greatly improved learning and productivity through careful note-taking.

There were not an many real world examples as I would have liked but a quick Google search helped with that.
Sreejith Puthanpurayil
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a habit-changing book for me. It was about much more than note taking. It was about a set of processes that allowed me to question and be more a more active participant when absorbing information.

As the book says, writing is thinking. More precisely, writing is distilled thinking. The process of penning information down in your own words improves understanding and forces you to address your blind spots.

The book suggests taking temporary notes when consuming information such as books, vi
Jan 19, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Academics
I definitely enjoyed it, but if you are looking for something that offers you concrete examples about how to implement the Zettelkasten method of note-taking, also known as the slip-box method, then keep looking because this is not the book for you. The author assumes you are using a specific online application and does little to explain how you could apply the system in different contexts if this is not the case for you. Even the analog method is given sparse coverage and little to no examples ...more
Eren Buğlalılar
If you already read books like Make it Stick, Peak, Thinking Fast and Slow and Habit, there is nothing much to learn from Ahrens' book. Except the new note taking system he describes.

At its heart, the book promotes a note taking system first developed by Luhmann, a German scholar. The system is mainly about (a) taking a lot of concise, well-written notes and (b) linking them with each other so as to create a physical network of information produced and distilled by your brain. This would work li
Dec 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: learning

One of those books I wished I have read 10 years ago.

I will highly recommend this book to learner who are avid reader, who want to use note-taking as a tool for thinking critically and learn better. Although book is written with publish-or-perish academics as main audience, but it really applies to learner in all walk of life.

The book debunks the following myths for me:

- Writing starts with staring at a blank page
- Highlighting, underlining passage, copying quote is effective learning
- Sortin
Helene Uppin
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: aime
I was looking for a system for the literature notes. To be honest, I feel liberated now :D the things I was intuitively drawn to proved to be right and I will definitely employ a system of permanent note-taking (probably on paper though). I feel as if I should have read it years ago but then again - I probably wouldnt have appreciated the system and the tips as much as I do now after some experience with writing academic articles.
P.S. The book contains a lot about learning and thinking in genera
Jan 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fix-it-felix
At points during the book I definitely felt Called Out about my own approach to learning and reading. The argument in favour for the slip box method is certainly quite convincing. I am definitely guilty of highlighting and writing in margins of books, and then completely forgetting about the notes I wrote. The philosophy behind the slip box system of note taking certainly does feel simple and obvious, like something I feel like I knew already but never thought about enough. I'm excited to try to ...more
Oct 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you're debating, you should read this book.

Here's some longer thinking I did about it while reading it:
Massimo Curatella
Dec 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing, got-it, pkm
I'll need to annotate this book into my Zettelkasten.

Update in June 2020, after a second reading I've decided that this is the book I will start with to begin my slip-box.
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
Could have been significantly shortened. Very much felt like a book that was artificially extended for a publisher's benefit. ...more
Marek Kalnik
Feb 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cto, favorites
I have followed Andy Matuschak notes and stumbled upon this book. It is a really inspiring read, I feel that can become life changing. I'm an avid reader, manager, coder and Lean practitioner. I have always had an impression that I'm learning a lot, but the knowledge would rarely stick. A lot of moment when I was like: "Um, I should have already known this" or "Too bad I didn't act on this earlier". This book opens a new perspective for me, on how to structure the knowledge, both in what I am le ...more
Megan Makela
Jul 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
As the title of the book promises, as a student/academic who often finds myself staring at the blinking cursor on a blank document, I found this full of valuable information and interesting tidbits. (I used my own 'smart notes' in obsidian to write this!) In all, a brief read I would certainly recommend to thesis-writing graduate students (or undergraduates, if you're that kind of super nerd) and journal-publishing researchers. Otherwise, it really can't hurt, but I'd only pick it up if you were ...more
Lars-Christian Elvenes
This is a solid book.

Zettelkasten, or the slip-box, as it is also called in the book, was a new concept to me. This is about having an effective system for taking and using notes. It is not about layouts (divide the page in such and such a way, etc). It certainly makes suggestions on what to add, but it is the idea of the system, the Zettelkasten, that is the main point.

Zettelkasten is based on how the German academic, Niklas Luhmann, took notes. He would make short notes and store them in his
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