History is a glorious topic, but I believe, unlike any other, it can spiral out of control when you’re taking notes for a blog post. There are just so many books, sites, sources, blogs, videos, and podcasts, let alone trying to organise your own existing thoughts and knowledge…… And, the consequences if you begin to spiral? Well, it’s a crushing blow to your enthusiasm, momentum, and a one-way ticket to giving up via a quick stop at overwhelm station.
I’ve been there and I don’t want that for you!
So, here are tips on how to firstly, set yourself up for success and secondly, practical tips to support good productive note-taking.
Setting Yourself Up for Success- Planning and Mindset
- Start with the belief that you are enough to write this blog post. Excessive note-taking and going off on tangents can come from a place of insecurity or fear. Saying things to yourself like, “If I don’t include this I’ll look amateur” or “I need at least 10 original sources or people will ‘find out’ I’m not a proper historian.” Try not to overcomplicate the notes you’re taking from research from a place of doubt.
- Know the scope of your post and don’t make it too broad. If you dive in taking notes about ‘Witchcraft’ you’re setting yourself up for pages and pages of ‘stuff’. Even if you decided to write about the famous UK case of The Pendle Witches – there were 12 of them! So, perhaps your post is about (spoiler alert)……. Alice Grey, the only one accused to be found not guilty?
- Once you have a clear scope for your blog post ask yourself “what is the main point I want to make?” or “what is the conclusion of my post going to be?”
- Know who your audience is before you start notetaking and their level of knowledge on the subject.
- Decide on your working title first as it will guide the outline of your history blog post and the information and notes you need to gather. For example, “Who was Alice Grey, the only Surviving Pendle Witch?”
- Do a rough outline plus headings and subheadings before you start notetaking so when you come across information you can slot it in by relevance to what you’re trying to write about
- Most readers, especially if they haven’t come across you before, will scan your post. Include in your outline any interesting, stand-out ways you will present the information you find. For example, a list, block quotes, a family tree, a diagram, or a striking image.
- Have in mind you don’t want to overwhelm yourself OR your reader. Yes, there is a place for long-form content or a deeper dive, but your average reader is scrolling on the train home or watching TV at the same time (we all do it : ) Plan to hook them in with impactful content, interesting facts, a stand-out statistic or an unusual image they haven’t seen a thousand times. And, if it feels like you’re getting in too deep, ask yourself how you can chunk it up and create a linked-through series.
Related Link: If you’re reading this and feel like you need more help being a productive blogger then you will benefit from my course Time Smart History Blogging
Practical Tips to Take Notes Like a Pro for Your History Blog Posts
When it comes to my practical organisation, here is a common scenario, if I’m not careful.
I start taking notes on one of the many notepads I have. I jot a few things down on a random sheet of paper and a couple of bits on my phone.
Something happens. An interruption from a 6-year-old who wants yet another snack or maybe the lure of the kettle. Anyway, I get distracted.
I then come back to a new blogging session and you’ve guessed it… I can’t remember which notepad it was or where that random piece of paper ended up. (My house is like the Bermuda Triangle) I start again and hours later find everything I thought I’d lost. It’s all terribly annoying and unproductive.
Again., I don’t want that for you. So, here are some tips I’ve learned and used on a ‘good’ day.
- Have a dedicated notepad for blog posts, clearly marked with its own storage place!
- Give the Word File you create a decent, easy-to-find title. Then store a copy on your desktop so it doesn’t disappear!
- Limit the number of tabs you have open, it’s a recipe for confusion
- Limit yourself to the number of sources, quotes, and images you will use
- Have an organised workspace
- Don’t try to multitask – it won’t work you’ll just do three things semi-good rather than one thing brilliantly
- Number the sections/headings. in your outline. Then, when you find something tasty put 1,2,3,4 next to your note so you know where to slot it in
- Use the notes you’ve taken quickly and reach a level of ‘completion’ with them before you close that laptop lid. Hands up if you’ve ever gone back to old notes and wondered what on earth the point was you were trying to make? (I just paused typing to put my hand up : )
- If you’ve got gaps, but are in the zone, make a note but carry on with what you were doing. I write a sentence and then circle the letters AP (Action Point) in my notes to come back to.
Taking notes and researching is definitely a fun part of blogging. For me, it reminds me of being at university – studying and I’m someone who is happy to be a forever learner. In fact, I feel weird when I’m standing still and not discovering anything new. But, effective, productive research and note-taking is another kettle of fish (never understood that phrase and am slightly disturbed I’ve managed to get the word kettle twice into this post) – all notetaking needs to be underpinned with a positive mindset, efficient planning and staying on top of it all. Good luck everyone and let me know how you get on, I’d love to connect here or on insta.