Commonplace Books

I do a lot of highlighting and jotting notes as I read, and while I would love to flip through them regularly to see some of the more important things I have noted, realistically I can’t see that happening with any regularity.

I have tried a few different methods to record notes. While I use Evernote for a lot of record keeping and writing, I am still very much a paper-and-pencil type of person when it comes to jotting down notes. I have always found the physical act of writing things down the best way to retain information. So when I decided I needed to not only highly and take notes in the margins, but to also transcribe significant points, I needed to set up a commonplace book.

A Google search for “commonplace book” will result in a slew of examples. It can almost seem overwhelming how to get started.

While I considered using a 3-ring binder or an Arc notebook so I could keep notes from the same books together, I ultimately decided I wanted a hard cover bound book. I set up my notebook the same way my lab notebooks were set up when I was still working as a scientist. After picking a journal (I opted for a jumbo journal that cost $5…), I made sure to set it up completely before recording my first entry.

I set up a Table of Contents section at the front, with each line already labeled with page numbers. Following the Table of Contents, I numbered 300 pages, making sure however to leave pages in the back out of my numbered count to serve as an Index. Each page in the Index is labeled with a letter – while entries on each Index pages will not be in alphabetical order, at least each page will be organized by letter.

IMG_1011

Here are a couple of things I am doing to make sure my commonplace book serves its purpose as a repository for quotes, inspirations, contemplations and questions:

I have worked out a “system” for my highlighting and note taking so that I can skim through after I finish a chapter and transcribe the important points. I keep a pencil pouch on hand when I am reading, with a full set of highlighters. Each color represents something – a point that I want to put into action in my own life, a word or term that I need to look up to further understand, an author or book reference to follow up on, and one color is used to highlight points that are especially significant or important in some way and that I want to transcribe to my commonplace book.

I have made sure to have my book organized and set up for optimal use before I put any writings into it. My Table of Contents, page numbers, and Index pages are all ready to go.

For each page’s entry, I put the title of the book and a short description of what that page’s particular notes are about at the top of each page. This also is written in the Table of Contents.

I don’t wait too long to transcribe! It’s too easy to lose track of what I intended to record in my notebook. A short session a couple times a week is sufficient to keep on top of my note taking.

These are some commonplace book resources that I have read and found interesting.

Self Made Scholar

Thought Catalog

The Atlantic

I hope this encourages others to consider keeping a commonplace book as well!

Leave a Reply