The Philosophical Apprentice

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” Albert Einstein

Archive for the tag “Research methods”

Taking Notes on Taking Notes

Lately I have been doing a lot of experimenting in how I take notes. The impetus behind this came when I went back to review some old notes and I realized that I could not read them without putting in a ton of effort to decipher them – they might as well have been the Rosetta Stone. All flippancy aside, my previous note taking efforts have been a colossal waste of time. And make no mistake, the further I progress in my philosophy studies the more important a workable stem for taking notes becomes.

Obviously, if I cannot read my hand writing then typing them out on a computer is in order. However, I have been resisting this idea for a long time since I believe I spend way too much time in front of a computer as it is. Besides I enjoy writing by hand. I had hoped that I would be able to put all my material on index cards much like Ryan Holiday has recommended. Alas, it was not be. I got bogged down on a philosophy paper, taking notes by hand, and fell way behind. So I broke down and started taking notes on the computer.

The results surprised me. First of all, I found that I enjoyed the process. Even though I enjoy writing by hand, copying passages by hand can be very tedious and I discovered myself procrastinating when it came to sit down and work which is one of the reasons I fell behind in the first place. Since I can type fairly fast processing the material went by quicker and it often generated a flow state and a feeling of satisfaction which is critical if you are trying to inculcate a new habit. Secondly, it solved the problem of how to render passages that are italicized or bolded which I think is important if you are going to transcribe accurate quotes.

Overall, I’ve been satisfied with the changes though my decision was bolstered by some note taking recommendations I’ve run across since going over to the dark..I mean digital side. Here are two good pieces worth reading in this regard.

I will offer one caveat. I only use the computer to take reading notes. In the classroom hand-written notes are still superior as many recent studies have shown.

Research Methods and Writing Metaphors

I’ve been casting about for a while now for a method or a metaphor that would help me with my research and my writing. I’ve managed to cut out a lot of the distractions at home and i want to fill that time productively. To be more precise, I want to better combine my research and writing. On the research side I’ve been wanting to implement the 4×6 notecard research system that Robert Green has developed over the years to write and publish several best-selling non-fiction works. I’ve been intrigued by the concept ever since I came across it. I believe it must work since several other well known writers such as David Fryxell, Kenneth Atchity, and Ryan Halliday have used essentially the same system to guide their writing and their research.

So far so good. I can see the value of the notecard research system. The biggest problem I am having is with the writing part particularly when it comes to my academic writing. I do not normally have a problem with writing since I enjoy it tremendously. However, I have been suffering from terrible procrastination the last couple of semesters and I’ve been looking for ways to get around it. Cutting down on the internet has been very helpful on freeing up more time but I want to find a way to make research and writing more enjoyable since I will probably be in school for the next several years.

Part of my problem is that I hate doing schoolwork. There is something in me that rebels when I have to read a book or I have to write a paper. A lot of this is sheer inertia since I have noticed that when I manage to get focused on a project I begin to learn more about the subject matter at hand and then I start to enjoy doing the research and writing. So too with my work related writing. Having to research and write daily products about damn near everything under the Sun I have managed to hone my skills so that I can be very productive while enjoying it at the same time. I have acquired a lot of the background knowledge that allows me to analyze a subject quickly and ferret out the implications so that I can write about it with ease.

The challenge as I see it is to develop a similar system that I can use at home that would allow me complete my schoolwork with a minimum of effort and angst. The problem is is that philosophy is hard. I am having a hard time writing about philosophy because I have not completely grasped the subject, internalized it and made it my own so that I can easily put it into my own words.

I would love to develop a system where I could, in due time, attain the background knowledge that would make my philosophical writing easier. I recall reading that Abraham Maslow developed a system where when he wanted to learn about something he would take notes and write them into a rough paper that would serve as his mental scaffolding for the new subject matter. Here’s where a metaphor might be helpful. Since philosophy is a systematic subject (at least in the academic sense), i thought to myself why not create your own encyclopedia to the subject? Why not create a list or outline of the major thinkers and trends in the field and then do some research on each of them, taking notes according to the Robert Green system and then write them up? And since the very act of writing about something would help to cement the material in my mind it would give me a framework to easily incorporate new material later on.

Having written this I recognize that it would be a lot of work on the front end but the efforts would pay immense dividends later on.

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