Tiago Forte on Writing Book Summaries

Written — Updated
  • Author: Tiago Forte
  • Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YO4_O_mqyo
  • Read and highlight
    • Generally highlighting on its own is not of great utility, but in this case it’s just the starting point of the process.
    • “Highlighting changes the way that your and and think about the text.“ It goes from passive consuming to looking for notable points.
    • The other advantage of just highlighting is that it doesn’t interrupt the reading process much, so you can actually get through the book without stopping all the time to write notes.
    • Deciding what to highlight
      • Chapter titles and section headings help since they link the nearby highlights to the relevant topic.
      • Tiago often skips highlighting the start of chapters when they have stories that act as a preamble for the restof the chapter. These stories set the stage for the rest of the chapter but otherwise don’t add much to it.
      • Lists and summaries are useful since they are summarizing work that the author has already performed for you.
      • “popular highlights” like those in Kindle are useful because they are often actually worth highlighting.
      • Beyond that, ask the questions that you should ask when deciding to read a book in the first place.
        • Is it unique?
        • Is it helpful?
        • Is it interesting?
      • Do not highlight entire paragraphs or pages. This requires more work in the end to extract the actually useful part.
      • Don’t highlight entire stories or long examples. You can always go back and find them if you need to.
      • Don’t highlight things that you already know or are obvious. Focus on the things that are “novel, surprising, and counterintuitive.”
  • Export the highlights
    • This is pretty simple. Just dump them into a note in your note taking app.
  • Progressively Summarize
    • When looking at your big list of highlights, initially it’s not always clear what the main point is of each one, and sometimes you have lost the context required to understand what the highlight means.
    • One big advantage of Progressive Summarization is that you can do it a little bit at a time. You don’t have to set aside a big session to to do all in one go. This also gives you more time to reflect and come back to the notes with a fresh eye for what’s truly useful.
  • Outline
    • Once you have your summarized highlights, you can make an outline that forms the basis of the final summary.
    • Consider these ideas:
      • Which ideas do I want to attach my reputation to?
      • Which ones are worth the time to write, rewrite, and broadcast to the world?
      • Which arguments and explanations can I improve upon?
    • Outlining is actually good to do all in one go, since it really requires you to have the entire set of main points in your head at once.
  • Write
    • Once you have the outline and everything else done, this should pretty much fall into place, and most of the effort goes into translating your outline’s points into actual paragraphs.
    • Because you’re writing for a more focused audience, you can be more focused in your summary. You don’t have to appeal to everyone like book authors must, nor do you have the space to do so.
    • Leave out anything that doesn’t add value to the summary. This can even include skipping chapters. “You are writing a curated, abridged version of only the parts you find relevant.”
    • Be selective with examples, since they are re often long. Including your own examples is good though since it adds a personal touch.
    • Direct quotes should be used sparingly since they bring the summary back toward highlights again and lose the insights that you can bring.

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