Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Feynman Notebook Method

 “Study hard what interests you the most in the most irreverent and original manner possible.”  - Richard Feynman

I recently read about something called The Feynman Notebook Method, also called the Feynman Technique. It was developed by Richard Feynman as a learning and study technique.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) was an American theoretical physicist. He worked on the Manhattan Project, won the Nobel Prize in 1965 (along with Julian Schwinger and Shinichiro Tominaga), and helped to discover the cause of the space shuttle Challenger disaster. He was also known as the “Great Explainer” because he could explain complex concepts in simple and understandable ways.

After his second year of graduate school he started using a notebook dedicated to learning a new concept. On the title page he wrote, Notebook of Things I Don’t Know About. He used the notebook to disassemble what he was studying and reorganize his knowledge. He took a difficult concept and wrote notes and diagrams that made it easier for him to understand. As he filled the empty pages of his notebook his knowledge of the topic grew.

I found this interesting as I have been keeping a notebook dedicated to learning about writing for about two years. As I read books and articles on writing I highlight important passages. Once I finish I go back through and write notes and diagrams in my notebook. Going back later and reviewing what I have written has been helpful. 

So far when I’ve done this I’ve just written down things exactly as they were originally written. That has worked for most ideas but not all. I found myself copying down long passages because I didn't want to change what was originally written. That’s been fine for some ideas. I just broke down the long passages into smaller bite size chunks. But it hasn’t been helpful for a lot of other more complicated concepts.

I realize now that I should have been doing what Richard Feynman did. He didn’t just copy down quotes. He would simplify his notes and diagrams in order to be able to teach the concept to others. Then he would review his explanations and look for where he still didn’t understand something or where his explanations weren’t clear. Next he would go back to the source material and add or edit as needed, all the while simplifying as much as possible. I’m definitely going to start doing this with my notebook. 

When I read the article about this study method I thought Richard Feynman was completely new to me. After reading the article I looked up some more information about him. Some of what I read sounded familiar to what I’ve read on a Twitter account from what looks like a professor. The bio doesn’t explain who he is but the feed includes motivational quotes about learning. It turns out I’ve been following the Richard Feynman Twitter account for quite awhile. 


  1. Read Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?, both by him.

  2. Will do. Thanks for the suggestions!

  3. Exactly! It's not enough to copy down quotes. You have to add what your thoughts are. Even better, like you suggested, organize the info as if you were going to teach it to others.

  4. Thanks! That's the plan from here on out. Not sure why I was so focused on quotes. I never did that in school!


Books I Read in March 2024

  Sword & sorcery, two Irish authors, a book on writing, and a comic book this month.  The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard (Berk...