How to Make a Commonplace Book

Commonplace books are like scrapbooks for the books you read. This is not something new; it has been around for a very long time; became significant in Early Modern Europe. It can be used by anyone as a way to remember useful concepts or facts. There are a number of notable personalities who have maintained commonplace books like John Milton, Ronald, Reagan and HP Lovecraft. While taking notes and reading may take longer to do, it is completely worth it as by writing things down, you think about the information and in the process, gain a fuller understanding of the information.


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    Gather essentials. Before starting a book get a notebook, preferably one made of recycled paper, a pen and a nice cup of tea or coffee. Find a comfortable place to sit.
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    Consider why you are reading. This is a tip in general for whenever you read- always know why you are reading a book. What do you wish to achieve by reading the book? Is it for a research essay? Or for a presentation? Or is it just so you learn something new?
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    Read. This is the easiest step of all. Just open the book and start reading.
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    Analyze the information you read. Ask yourself questions like "What does this information mean?", "Do I have to look up something else to understand this information better?" etc.
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    Refer to other books or the Internet for background information to put the book into historical context. This works for both fiction and non-fiction.
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    Write down quotes that strike you, key words for quick reference and your thoughts about what you are reading. [The image above could give you an idea as to how to organise the information on a page]
    • You could also write down any words that you are unfamiliar with. Write down the meaning and the sentence you read it in on a separate page which could be maintained as the glossary for your commonplace book. This could help with building your vocabulary.
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    Go through the notes every now and then and add to it. Use post-its for keywords or write the information on another sheet and clip it in the right section.


  • Always keep a small notebook and a pen handy.
  • Use different coloured pens and symbols in your notebook while recording information.
  • Use a binder instead of notebooks. When adding to the notes, a binder would be more convenient.
  • You could use a laptop instead of paper. However, paper is better as writing things would allow you to remember things.

Things You'll Need

  • Colored pens
  • Loose sheets of paper
  • Binder
  • Notebook
  • Post-its

Article Info

Categories: Books