Writing to Learn

Learning is a key life skill and a cornerstone of economics, where education is both a key determinant of the economy in its own right, as well as a determinant of technology, which in turn is also a special determinant of the economy.

Education, or learning, is also a key, life-long, personal application of economics.

An article from the website Farnam Street Blog goes over some well known but good-as-ever advice:

Research shows that people who follow strategy B [read ten pages at once, then close the book and write a one page summary] remember 50 percent more material over the long term than people who follow strategy A [read ten pages four times in a row and try to memorize them].

In the footer a note is made:

A better idea by way of Nassim Taleb: ‘Don’t write summary, write bullet points of what comes to mind that you can apply somewhere.’

Nassim Taleb is not the book author. He may or may not be the same as this Lebanese-American essayist, scholar and statistician. If so, there’s some extra credibility. If not, I would endorse the advice in many cases anyway, but not always. There are benefits and negatives to that approach.

I would recommend writing on a website. Create your own blog, submit articles to a news aggregation, or merely engage in forums and social media. Furthermore, when you write notes you don’t have to write notes. You could make audio or video recordings, although each of these has both benefits and negatives compared to the writing format. Here is my list of bullet points, as per Taleb’s advice:

  • Bullets are easier to write and they are great at cutting out useless information.
  • On the other hand, bullets are sometimes harder to read. If the point is conversation then you may want to either shy away from bullets, or, as I often do, use a hybrid combination of unordered lists (bullets) ordered lists (1, 2, 3…) and standard paragraph or paper-style writing. You may think that conversation is not the main point much of the time, but I will argue that most people undervalue the role of conversation in learning, which we will discuss in a moment.
  • Writing articles on a personally owned and operated website does several things far beyond mere note taking. These articles:
    • Build your reputation and brand as an authoritative thinker.
    • Published on your own website can be published at your own convenience.
    • Generate traffic which can be leveraged into sales or otherwise lead to income.
    • A convenient point of reference, in contrast to hand written notes and such.
    • Are often more durable than the hand written note which is thrown in the trash.
    • Become easy to recall, group, categorize, and otherwise organize and reorganize down the road as you aggregate related information. This is much easier with a digital interface than with a pile of hard-copy notes, if such notes were to even last that long.
    • Invite conversation which is important for several reasons.
      • Conversation builds audience engagement and attention. Done with a bit of friendliness, it can lead to positive social connections. All of this can improve your social capital. It can improve your brand and your social network, as well as improve the strength, positivity, and frequency of interactions among already networked people.
      • Conversation improves learning through the need to repeatedly consider, reconsider, interpret, and even teach.
      • Conversation improves learning in that the community has an opportunity to build on what you have said. They can fill in gaps, correct mistakes, further research unanswered questions, and more. This is information you, even as the author, can learn from.
  • There are pros and cons to publishing in, for example, newspapers, better-known websites, peer-reviewed journals and other outlets.
  • There are also pros and cons to publishing by different media. Video, for example, may be more entertaining, but harder for search engines to reference.

In conclusion, writing notes is a great way to build retention of information. Writing articles, on the other hand, is both a great way to build retention of information, and also a powerful way to do so much more with very little additional effort, in particular by utilizing a personally owned and operated website.


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