Taking durable notes

What is the use of taking notes? Is it to record events and useful information, to support learning by helping us to remember concepts, figures, quotes, etc? Yes to all the above, but also no, those are building blocks, links in the chain, and second-order effects. The goal of good note taking is to support our thinking, to think better. Good note taking leads to better thinking. Better thinking feeds improved note taking. This creates a positive feedback loop of creative thought generation, wherein our recorded body of thought – our notes – become generative in themselves, prompting further and deeper insights. Or more succinctly: Good note-taking is good thinking. Beyond that, note-taking allows us to close open loops granting us the privilege,

[…] of forgetting the manifold things [we do not] need to have immediately at hand, with some assurance that [we] can find them again if proven important.
— Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort (2003), The New Media Reader

Being able to get ideas out of our minds is the only way to keep from going out of our minds ourselves, one must make room for the other. For these reasons, the generation of useful notes is perhaps the most important tool for thought. But Capturing lightning is hard, so how can we make good notes?

What makes notes less durable?

The Platonic ideal of a note is hard to arrive at directly, so let’s start by thinking about what makes a note less than useful.

What does a useful note look like?

So now we have a pretty good idea of what a useless note looks like, perhaps we can approximate what might constitute useful note taking. (These proposals don’t map 1-to-1 to the issues we discovered as some of them address, or partially address, multiple issue eg. Making our notes Atomic helps prevent Unbounded notes from developing.

With a good system of iterative thought capture, may we all think better than we can.