How to Make Notes and Write, a handbook by Dan Allosso and S.F. Allosso

A new handbook on note making and writing

I wasn’t expecting it until next week or shortly thereafter, but just in time for the new academic year, Dan Allosso has finished a major rewrite on his and S.F. Allosso’s earlier edition of A Short Handbook for writing essays in the Humanities and Social Sciences. This expanded edition has several new chapters on note making (notice that this is dramatically different than note taking) using a zettelkasten-based (or card index or fichier boîte if you prefer) approach similar to that practiced by Beatrice Webb, Marcel Mauss, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, Hans Blumenberg, Mortimer J. Adler, and Walter Benjamin among many others.

The focus of the book is on note making for actively producing tangible outputs (essays, papers, theses, monographs, books, etc.), something on which a few recent texts in a the related productivity space haven’t delivered. While ostensibly focused on the humanities and social sciences in terms of examples, the methods broadly apply to all fields. In fact, some of the methods draw historically on some of the practices fruitfully used by Bacon, Newton, Leibnitz, Linnaeus, and many others in the sciences since.

This isn’t your father’s note making system…

While many students (especially undergraduates and graduate students) may eschew this sort of handbook as something they think they “already know”, I can assure you that they do not and will benefit from the advice contained therein, particularly the first half. I’ve often heartily recommended Sönke Ahrens’ book How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking to many in the past, but I think Allosso’s version, while similar in many respects, is clearer, shorter, and likely more easily realized by new practitioners.

There’s more detail in Dr. Allosso’s announcement video:


How to Make Notes and Write is available at Minnesota State’s Pressbooks site for reading online, or download as a .pdf or .epub. If you’d like a physical copy, they’re also available for purchase on Amazon.

For those in the educational spaces, Dr. Allosso has given the book a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), so that people can use it as an Open Educational Resource (OER) in their classes and work.

For teachers who are using social annotation with tools like in their classrooms, Allosso’s book is an excellent resource for what students can actively do with all those annotations once they’ve made them. (Here’s a link to my annotated copy of a recent working draft if you care to “play along”.)

† Unless of course your father happens to be Salvatore Allosso, but even then…

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Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, IndieWeb, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

22 thoughts on “How to Make Notes and Write, a handbook by Dan Allosso and S.F. Allosso”

  1. Chris Aldrich points to this open text, How to Make Notes and Write, by Dan Allosso and S. F. Allosso. In  a nutshell, the book describes how to take notes from readings and sources, find how they are connected, and weave the results into longer works. This is sometimes called personal knowledge management (PKM) or the Zettelkasten method. Aldrich offers a link to an annotated version of the book. I find the approach a bit mechanical (as maybe it should be if you’re just learning). Then, I have virtually zero desire to write longer works, and prefer to be able to envision the entire text in my own mind before writing it and filling it in.

  2. Ton Zijlstra says:

    Bought and downloaded earlier today. Thanks for the pointers in your annotations.

  3. Dan Allosso says:

    Thanks, Chris! I was, as you mention, very lucky to have S.F.A. as a father and teacher!

  4. I have it in Kindle version. The book is not bad, but for me there wasn’t anything new. Probably because I have already read too much about notetaking and “thinking on paper” — I have read too much, to be honest, it’s becoming an obsession.

    Also, the book is meant for college students as a handbook on writing. I read only the first 7 chapters on notetaking, the rest of the book was about writing well.

    Little bit disappointed that the book doesn’t have a reference/bibliography section at the end, even though he mentions in the book how important it is to reference your sources.

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