Using text as memory palace

As we work with texts, we may need no other physical structure to store our visualizations. The text’s own structure may be sufficiently unique to be used almost like a memory palace. I did not previously encounter this technique anywhere except for my wife’s lessons.

The beauty of the text

When we see a printed text, it has been formatted and reviewed by the editor to look good on the page. The editor worked to have paragraphs of beautiful size that do not break between pages in an ugly way. If needed the editor provided images or white lines. Some paragraphs were broken to provide a fast pace of events. Other paragraphs were united to build beautiful metaphors. The fonts have been chosen for maximal readability. Headings and emphasis were added when needed. Printed texts usually look beautiful due to the editing involved.

This is less true for a digital text, but a digital text has its own beauty. It has more headings, hyperlinks, images, and no page breaks. If we use a wide monitor, the WordPress theme will usually limit the width to something similar to a printed text. To really appreciate the text, we should be able to see at least 4 paragraphs. Do not use the method below on mobile phones.

Placing visualization on the margins

The next step is very straightforward. The students are taught to mark important words and draw anchor visualizations on the margins. Typically we use two markers: green for the anchor words, and yellow for the other stuff we want to remember. We can have two anchor visualizations per paragraph, 3 words each (person performing an action with an object) which we draw on the margins near the text. The other marked words can get their own visualizations, but do not get to appear on the margins.

We review all the margin visualizations each time we review the text. The green and yellow markers are also reviewed, but if we forget them it is something we can afford. It is important to review the text with the markers several times during the days after reading for long-term retention.

From physical to virtual

In the beginning, we ask often our students to do this exercise very literally and to actually make the drawings. After a couple of weeks, we switch to the virtual approach. All the marking is made as visualization, and the chosen keywords are written in google sheets or equivalent. Now reviewing the keywords should generate the visualization of the relevant texts with relevant markings before the students’ eyes. No need to print stuff and make awkward modifications and the reading process gets faster.

Benefits

While not one of the fastest methods around, this method is very easy to teach and to learn.

Using the text itself instead of mindmaps or mental palaces is a very natural note-taking process.

It is also very beneficial for the students with good visual memory who want to remember more of the text itself.

This method can be easily applied to very abstract and complex texts, like programming codes. mathematical proofs and patents.

The navigation within the text and long-term retention become very good, especially if we need to reread the text several times.

History

My wife Anna used this method as the first method every student would learn at the beginning of her course. We still often teach it with our students, as we can easily find and outline their mistakes. Most students feel uncomfortable making drawings on the margins of the page. Dealing with this discomfort they do not fight the need to visualize, and the visualization itself becomes almost effortless.

The example below is courtesy of Uncle Sam. It has both the key statistics an and memorable imagery on the margins.

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