On summarising articles

Sonnie Bailey

2 December 2022

There have been times on this blog when I’ve discussed and quoted articles from other writers extensively. I haven’t done it much lately, but want to do it more often.

There are selfish and selfless reasons for this. This article is an explanation (or justification?), and I’ll probably refer back to this when I borrow heavily from other articles in the future.

Before I explain (or justify!), I want to make it very clear that when I discuss other articles, you should never treat it as a summary or a substitute for the article itself. I’ll never capture the full spirit of another person’s article. I will miss points and probably bastardise some.

When discussing an article, I will inevitably emphasise what is interesting and useful to me, and add my own thoughts. For better and worse, I will add my own flavour. But in each case, I recommend going to the primary source.

Selfless reasons for discussing articles in detail

There’s so much great information out there!!

I love it when someone who is on a similar wavelength to me curates information from different sources. Quite often, these people provide an “in” to something I wouldn’t have come across, or – just as importantly – I might not have been interested in reading if not for their prompting.

I hope these types of articles are useful, simply in terms of exposing and reinforcing valuable sources of information.

Selfish reasons

 I don’t write about other articles with the intent to cannibalise traffic for the original article. I don’t care about SEO or traffic. Whenever I discuss an article, I will link to it and make it as easy as possible to access. Unless it’s obvious, if I discuss an article in depth, it is a strong recommendation to read the article in question.

The main selfish reason for talking about articles is to help internalise the lessons in the article.

Below is a slightly-in-the-weeds description of how I read and internalise a lot of articles. You’re welcome to skip it. The main point is that the more I engage with a piece of writing, the more likely I am to internalise its lessons. Writing about an article, and making this writing public, is an excellent way of engaging with it.

When I read articles, I have a system. When I come across an article I want to read, I usually save it to Pocket using a read-it-later browser extension. I then read the article on my iPad mini (or on my Kindle after exporting the articles from Pocket via P2K). When I read articles, I highlight excerpts, and import them to Evernote using Readwise. (If I highlight using my Kindle, I currently have to import the highlights manually). For me, the act of highlighting is an act of engaging with the article, which seems to improve my understanding and retention.

That is usually the end of it. I have hundreds or thousands of untouched notes in Evernote which include highlights from articles I’ve read and will never return it.

However, every now and then I will go through Evernote and review the highlights of articles that I remember finding especially rewarding.

The first time I go through this process, I bold the highlights I really like. (I do this on Evernote using my PC; I have a G604 Logitech mouse and have programmed one of the additional side buttons to bold selected text).

If I’m going through the highlight a second time, I will review the highlighted excerpts again (focusing mainly on those that are in bold) and then actually highlight those special excerpts using another programmed button on my mouse).

With a fraction of these articles, I play around with these highlights, moving them in another Evernote document or mindmapping them or whatever feels right. Sometimes I’ll create flashcards with ANKI.

Then sometimes, I go further and use it as a springboard to draft an article. Sometimes that article gets published on my blog. When I publish an article, there is something else that goes on: because I’m sharing it with others, it’s a social signal that reinforces the message at an even deeper level.

Reading an article once is valuable. Going through the process I’ve described above, and finishing up with a published article at the end, is even more valuable. It might be useful for others. But from a more narrow perspective, it’s useful for me.

Have I mentioned that if I talk about an article in detail, that’s almost always a recommendation to go to the primary source? 


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