No Better Way to Master an Idea Than to Write About It

Scott Rosenberg turned me on to this article which is awesome. When people ask me why I blog, one thing I say is "it clarifies my thinking." I will now say: "When I write, I figure out what I think." And I’m glad to see the author – Robert Frank of Cornell – even applies this to economics. Because I love economics "in its natural state" but not all that ugly algebra!

The initiative was inspired by the discovery that there is no better way to master an idea than to write about it. Although the human brain is remarkably flexible, learning theorists now recognize that it is far better able to absorb information in some forms than others. Thus, according to the psychologist Jerome Bruner, children "turn things into stories, and when they try to make sense of their life they use the storied version of their experience as the basis for further reflection." He went on, "If they don’t catch something in a narrative structure, it doesn’t get remembered very well, and it doesn’t seem to be accessible for further kinds of mulling over." Even well into adulthood, we find it easier to process information in narrative form than in more abstract forms like equations and graphs. Most effective of all are narratives that we construct ourselves….Daniel Boorstin, the former librarian of Congress, used to rise at 5 each morning and write for two hours before going into the office. "I write to discover what I think," he explained. "After all, the bars aren’t open that early." Mr. Boorstin’s morning sessions were even more valuable than he realized. Writing not only clarifies what you already know; it is also an astonishingly effective way to learn something new.

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