One of the fundamental tasks of my freelance blogging is having to learn a topic very quickly, sometimes in just a few days. Some of my writing is for the clients of my clients. The end clients come from a variety of industries and that means learning what they’re about – at least enough to write about their subjects authoritatively. It’s not always an easy task, and I’m still learning how to learn. Here’s what I have learned so far, that might help you learn a subject fast.
- Learn what you know.
What do you really know about the topic? You might know more than you think. Writing down your knowledge in point form (or in a brainstormed mind map) helps you to learn what you already know. This makes it easier to decide what you still have to learn.
- Learn what you don’t know (i.e., decide what to learn).
When I was in my twenties and wanted to be an actor, I started studying Lee Strasberg’s method acting by “living” a role to the best of my ability. I try to do the analogue with writing, when possible, especially on topics I’ll be writing about regularly. Now, maybe you don’t need to be an expert, but do you know what you need to learn for your immediate purposes? Whether you’re writing an article, a blog post, a term paper, a technical manual or just learning, decide on the scope of your learning. For example, if you’re learning a highly technical subject, you may need to prep your mind by browsing and surfing relevant websites before the actual learning. This task should be part of your scope as well.
- Map out your project plan.
No matter how little you have to learn, it’s still a project, and (mind)mapping what your tasks are makes them concrete in your mind. This plan should be an extension of the scope you determined in the last step. If your learning is going to be over a long-term, and/or if you will be learning multiple topics, a project plan just helps you balance everything without feeling overwhelmed. (I’ll get into more detail about using mindmapping to develop a project plan in the future.)
- Choose your references.
Now you’re implementing your project plan. One step should be to choose some references. If you have access to a suitable library, go for it. If not, use a good search engine online and bookmark some suitable references in your web browser. Be as thorough as you need to be, as these will be the soure of your new knowledge.
- Summarize each reference.
After selecting your references, read and summarize them fast. I’ll have a separate post in near the future on how to do this using mind maps. Basically, summarize each reference in a few articles. Make your own Cliff Notes, so to speak. For each paragraph in each reference, write only one or two sentences of summary. Stop yourself from going beyond that, and don’t edit your summaries. (You can always go back and re-read if you felt you missed something.)
- Rewrite your summaries.
To concretize your new knowledge, take your summaries for all references as a whole and write a short blog post or article, regardless of why you’re learning. Make sure that you use your own words. To insure that, try writing without looking at your summaries, if possible. This is the last and most important step.
I’ll try to expand on each step in separate posts in the near future. If you have any questions, feel free to drop a comment.