Do you scribble on books? 

When I went to school this was considered to be very bad form but as an adult I find it essential. 

Taking notes in the margins of books I want to learn from: underlining key phrases, turning over corners and generally making a mess of a book is a sign that I am loving it. 

I have even learned that there is a term for this kind of scribbling: ‘marginalia'

I have also learned that this kind of messy and manual note taking is essential for learning new things in all places, not just from books.

Research I read this week suggested that learning and mastering new concepts by taking long-form notes is a far superior way to learn. 

I thought you might be interested to know why.

The very fact that we cannot (usually) transcribe by hand what someone says to us in a lecture or a video means that we have to process the ideas between when they enter our ears and exit on our pen.

We have to sort, prioritise and synthesise the information while getting it down which has a statistically significant impact on our deep grasp of the concepts being introduced.

We end up writing down far fewer words than if we were typing but having far greater impact on our learning.

And if we want to absolutely master these concepts, we should convert the marginalia into a summary of notes in a journal. The act of summarising and re-recording will help us engage more deeply with the content, react and potentially create valuable new ideas for us.

Another piece of research even goes a step further to suggest that when reading books that teach us concepts (not just facts) we should read paper copies, not electronic.

So, there you have it. Going old-school matters when learning something new.

And if you come to one of my workshops, don't be surprised if I ask you to close your laptop 😉



Keywords: leadership communication, leadership skills, learning and development


This post was prepared by Davina Stanley, founder of The Clarity First Program and author of The So What Strategy.

Davina has been helping experts communicate complex ideas since joining McKinsey as a communication specialist 20+ years ago. 

She helps experts clarify their thinking so they can prepare powerful and strategic communication in any format. It might mean preparing for a difficult meeting, getting ready for a project steering committee, putting forward a business case or writing a board paper.

She bases her approach on The Minto Pyramid PrincipleⓇ combined with other powerful techniques to help experts of all kinds globally strengthen their communication skills.