@3mbry0, I’m sorry for causing the confusion. You’ve mentioned a few points in your post:
- Separating reading from note-taking.
- Petersen vs. Forte.
- Having your computer with you while reading.
- Taking information immediately vs. taking information later.
- Forgetting what your notes were about when you come back to them.
- Less effort for reading vs. more effort for note-taking.
- Progressing slowly through your books.
- Highlighting for main points and for supporting points.
I took the liberty to recombine them into How We Read and Why We Read to to reflect on the issues that you faced. I came up with the following text that builds on other people’s stuff in this thread and tries to advance the thinking behind reading and note-taking a little bit.
How We Read
Separating Reading from Note-taking
Petersen vs. Forte
Honestly, I don’t see a fundamental contradiction between the systems of Forte and Peterson. Ultimately, as a lot of people point out, it’s us and our workflow that matters, these guys only offer the options that work for them and don’t necessarily work for us. And, by coincidence, what they are suggesting are mainly techniques, whereas what we need is an understanding of the underlying principles to consciously apply them to our own workflow.
E.g., while trying to make his point stronger in the video that you shared, professor Peterson says that we shouldn’t be taking any notes while he’s lecturing (while seeing a movie, while reading a text etc.). Instead, he claims, we have to wait for him to finish and then take the notes. This could be harmful if taken literally: what if we have an interesting thought while he’s speaking? What if we see a connection to other ideas while reading a text or seeing a video? Of course we should immediately grab a pen and write down our note about this exact piece, otherwise there’s a good chance it’s lost forever.
On the other hand, Mr. Forte suggests (see extended description) that we have to go through five stages of summarization for certain pieces of information and do a lot of highlighting while reading. Again, taken to the extreme, this quickly becomes an overkill. There are plenty of books out there that are not worth the time to read, let alone highlight. If the book is easy to grasp, I, for one, will just jump to level 4 or 5 directly. If the book is complex, I might go through two or three stages of summarization, but never five. It’s not uncommon that a book is so poorly written, that we shouldn’t be summarizing it at all and stop wasting time reading it ASAP.
Taking Information Immediately vs. Taking Information Later
I don’t remember what are the exact scientific terms for that, but what we actually do is not merely reading or note-taking. These are only instances for information consuming (along with listening, watching a video, taking a webinar etc.) and information processing aka converting information into knowledge (along with discussing something with a friend, writing a forum or a blog post about something, doing something we discovered with own hands etc.).
These processes require different states of mind and thus our workflow should be designed to separate them. The way we separate them should be adaptable to the situation however. That’s the underlying principle of both methods and that’s how we can come up with a unified method.
So, as per Peterson:
- Listen / read (consuming).
2.1. Write in our own words after finishing a certain chunk (processing).
2.2. Simultaneously hook with memory with context questions (processing and linking).
Aim: remember as much as possible.
Then, according to Forte:
- Listen / read (consuming).
- Take notes and highlights while listening / reading (a bit of processing).
- Progressively summarize our notes in several attempts (further processing).
Aim: to understand as much as possible and to be able to find (discover) the notes later.
Finally, best from both worlds with a pinch of Zettelkasten:
- Listen / read (consuming).
- Initial processing:
- When we feel like deep reading and when we can relatively easily grasp the content and when we have good working environment, we read a certain chunk, then summarize with hooks according to Petersen and we don’t forget to cleverly link our notes to other notes according to Zettelkasten (processing and linking).
- When we feel like shallow reading, or or when the text seems really complex, or when we don’t have good means for deep work (during taxi ride, didn’t sleep well etc.), we highlight for later analysis according to Forte (a bit of processing). We then summarize and link as per Zettelkasten when we’re in more productive mood and conditions (further processing).
- We come back to our notes from time to time to improve them and to further interlink them (even further processing).
Aim: understand and remember the core ideas, take notes to find details later if ever required, develop our own “model of the world”.
Having Your Computer With You While Reading
Switching between different mediums is likely to kill our productivity and our flow.
Reading a paper book? Highlight with a pen or pencil, create our own system of icons, do quick notes on a sheet of paper (referencing the page number) or in the book itself. I once read about a guy who prepared to read a book and take notes by altering book pages with blank sheets he would cut beforehand. Besides, there’s probably an additional perk of having our initial notes in handwriting. You only need your computer when you further process your notes, i.e. rework them, interlink them and prepare for discoverability.
Reading on an e-book reader? Not being a fan of them, I can only assume that switching between a reader and a computer can also be tiresome and laborious. I’d try e-book + paper. Or do e-book-only highlights and notes, then process within Obsidian or other tool of choice. In fact, we’re all hostages of today’s half-baked and mind-unfriendly tools. Notice how Tiago has to go thru the pain of getting his notes over from Kindle to Evernote, hence probably is why he only does summarization after reading a complete book. It doesn’t necessarily has to be this way.
Highlighting for Main Points And for Supporting Points
Having said all this, I’m not sure how to comment your point on different highlighting for main and for supporting points. For me, it only becomes apparent if the point is main or supporting after some initial processing. I’m not sure I immediately grasp this when reading or highlighting.
If your highlights give you nothing, why bother highlighting? Also note, sometimes it’s the case that the author doesn’t get the difference him or herself, e.g. makes some minor point and “dances” around it extensively, at the same time barely mentioning a huge point or an underlying principle.
Why We Read
Despite what we’re often told, it’s really hard to describe the end goal in the first place. We usually have a very vague understanding in the beginning, then slowly shape this “thought cloud” into more and more substantial matter. However, if we don’t reflect about the goal, we never come up with anything meaningful.
So what is the purpose of our reading? Do we want to be world-class experts on anything? Do we want to employ some of the techniques for our own studies or job? Do we want to get some insights from completely different field to merge into our field of work? We probably don’t get a clear answer right away, but the process of goal-setting is valuable by itself, it will shape our reading and note-taking style gradually.
Progressing Slowly Through Your Books
If I’m starting a completely new research area for myself, every piece of information will be tough to consume for me and will take a lot of time. On the contrary, if I’m reading a book on a subject that I’ve read a hundred articles / dozens of books about already, I will definitely have very few highlights unless a book is a real masterpiece and will progress much faster through any piece of content.
Also, I’m not sure that “being slow at reading” applies here. In my view, it’s perfectly fine to slowly read a few curated sources than to jump through hundreds of social media posts or rubbish articles.
I will only jump through the articles if I need to have a general understanding of the topic in a short amount of time. Even then, I’ll try to find one or two well-written pieces and stick to them reading slowly. Later, I can expand my knowledge building on the links from those well-written sources.
Less Effort for Reading vs. More Effort for Note-taking
This one should read “less effort consuming, more effort thinking and creating”. I think you’re learning a lot, if you have some much to document from a book. However, make sure your ways of reading and note-taking align with your learning goals as described above. If they do, let it take as much time as necessary. If they don’t, cut them right away.
Forgetting What Your Notes Were About When You Come Back to Them
To me, that’s a signal that something is wrong with the notes. If that only applies to highlights, chance are you’re highlighting too much. Again, it’s fine for a book from a completely new area. For familiar stuff, I always try to remember that I’m not documenting the world, I’m trying to distill information into my own knowledge to build my own “model of the world”. I also try to write those notes as if I was explaining something to a different person, in fact that person is my future self.
For me it also applied to notes sometimes. I ended up adding a piece of metadata to each note with some internal context which helps to remember why at all I bothered to write something. Note how Petersen adds a lot of context to his notes with questions like “how does this idea relate to other ideas I know”, “what is its significance for this idea”, “do I believe it ”, “how might I criticize it”. He then explains that he’s “attaching little memory hooks to it in in five different ways”.
Reading after a certain age diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking…
— Albert Einstein, “What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck” The Saturday Evening Post (26 October 1929), p. 17.