Type Essay
Date 2000
Tags nonfiction, reading, note-taking

Learning How to Read

  • Lesen lernen


Reading requires skill beyond merely sounding out the sentences on the page, and different kinds of text require different skills. For beginners, Luhmann suggests that the best way to train these skills is to take notes:

Perhaps the best method would be to take notes—not excerpts, but condensed reformulations of what has been read. The re-description of what has already been described leads almost automatically to a training of paying attention to “frames,” or schemata of observation, or even to noticing conditions which lead the text to offer some descriptions but not others. What is not meant, what is excluded when something is asserted? If the text speaks of “human rights,” what is excluded by the author? Non-human rights? Human duties? Or is it comparing cultures or historical times that did not know human rights and could live very well without them?

What to do with these? Luhmann hints at using them as the beginning of a zettelkasten-like system, though he admits that these early notes are unlikely to be of much value:

This leads to another question: what are we to do with what we have written down? Certainly, at first we will produce mostly garbage. But we have been educated to expect something useful from our activities and soon lose confidence if nothing useful seems to result. We should therefore reflect on whether and how we arrange our notes so that they are available for later access. At least this should be a consoling illusion.

Name Role
Manfred Kuehn Translator
Niklas Luhmann Author