March 31, 2023

A simple format to distil what you learn

Reading Time: 4 mins

A version of this post first appeared in my newsletter. Subscribe to receive posts like this in your inbox every Friday.

It’s surprising and fascinating how our minds can make unconscious connections we don’t realize.

I was going through some random notes in my Obsidian vault and came across this one: ICE Method For Active Note Taking (Source)

Upon reading it I was immediately surprised that I recognized it. I use a version of ICE to write my newsletter each week. This link didn’t occur to me when I was revising my newsletter layout but it must have been in there deep in the darkest corner of my mind ready to be used.

It’s amazing to me how this happened!

Here’s the note from when I first brainstormed the newsletter format:

The note from when I first brainstormed my current newsletter format

I can’t exactly remember how the structure came to mind but I can kind of piece it together looking back.

When I used to read Justin Welsh’s newsletter I enjoyed that there was a formula/structure to them. Justin breaks this down in this video. I liked the idea of having a defined structure for each edition so readers would know what to expect each week.

A structure would also make writing the newsletter easier as I could work within the constraints of the headings to guide what I wrote about.

I asked myself: what do I want to achieve with the newsletter? and I worked from there.

Well, I wanted to explore my curiosity, learn new things, and share what I learned with interested readers. I imagined the structure like a science experiment I did back in Chemistry class. You put forward a hypothesis, perform an experiment, and evaluate the results.

I imagined the structure like a science experiment I did back in Chemistry class. Yes this is totally what my Science class looked like…

With all this swirling around in my head I settled on: Observation, Context, Learning, Outcome. I describe this in more detail below.

ICE format

Here’s the ICE format (Source):

My newsletter format:

As you can see there’s a similarity between the two which fascinated me to no end when I first made the connection.

After discovering this connection, I wondered if I should update the format to more closely reflect the ICE format. But I ultimately decided against it as I’m happy with how it is. I did spend some time thinking about better names for each of the headings but I think honestly they’re pretty clear as they are so no changes are necessary.’’

Since adopting this format I’ve found my desire and ability to write have improved. I’m encouraged to explore things I’m genuinely curious about. This in turn translates to how much and how easily I can write about those topics.

I’m learning a lot more and taking more information in whereas before it would have been in one ear and out the other.

If you’re thinking about starting a newsletter of your own or simply starting a blog, I’d encourage you to “steal” this format and conduct your own learning experiments.