Somewhere in the last couple of years I came across the idea of commonplace books.
“Commonplace books (or commonplaces) are a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They have been kept from antiquity, and were kept particularly during the Renaissance and in the nineteenth century. Such books are similar to scrapbooks filled with items of many kinds: sententiae (often with the compiler’s responses), notes, proverbs, adages, aphorisms, maxims, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, prayers, legal formulas, and recipes. Entries are most often organized under subject headings and differ functionally from journals or diaries, which are chronological and introspective.” Commonplaces are used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts; sometimes they were required of young women as evidence of their mastery of social roles and as demonstrations of the correctness of their upbringing. They became significant in Early Modern Europe.”
Thanks to a recommendation from my writing colleague, David Socha, I adopted the iPad App GoodNotes. As I reflect on how I use GoodNotes, I realize that every day I am adding to my commonplace book. My GoodNotes are my repository of quotes from my many Kindle books, handwriting scratches of ideas that I want to pursue, highlights of the digital artifacts I copy and paste, and photos of relevant daily life. My GoodNotes allow me to include whole articles or even PDF books.
Best of all everything in my GoodNotes commonplace book is searchable. Even my hen scratching.
Searching for “medium” within my commonplace book I find my handwriting magically highlighted.
The best part of having my iPad GoodNotes digital commonplace book along with an Apple Pencil is that my notes are always by my side. With my 2500 kindle books available in the same device, I can immediately copy relevant highlights and quotes (with attributions) into my commonplace book.
I can also include “find organize visualize publish artifacts” from our software tool KnowNow that I used to answer a homework assignment from Harold Jarche‘s Personal Knowledge Mastery Class. One of the homework assignments was to list the people I go to for different types of advice in my network.
As I work my way through Matt Giaro‘s notes taking course, I see that my commonplace book is only doing a part of the virtuous cycle of consumption, collect, connect and create. With my commonplace book I am doing a good job of consuming and collecting, but not so good a job of connecting and creating.
With our KnowNow software we identified five different digital working styles. One of those working styles is NotesLinking. My commonplace book is a good starting point for solving for NotesLinking. These blog posts are a step along the way of creating more value out of my notes. But I still rely on my brain’s neural links to connect these disparate notes in my commonplace book.
Wouldn’t it be nice if I had a tool that automatically connected the bricolage of my commonplace book into a more organized set of notes like with the Zettelkasten method.
With tools like Readwise capturing all of my highlights and notes and copying them to Evernote, the digital artifacts for what I want to “connect and create” are readily available.
The beauty of a digital commonplace book when augmented by content analytics and visual analytics is that I can see my research actions and combine them and recombine them to publish and share my insights with colleagues.