How to use good knowledge organisation and effective learning strategies to communicate effectively

Too many non-fiction books sink without trace. They don’t stand out enough to sell many copies. And even when they are read, they often don’t stick in the reader’s mind or help the reader develop useful skills.

The purpose of this website is to investigate strategies that help non-fiction books stand out and have a powerful impact.

Although the website focuses on non-fiction authors, it may also be useful to people interested in communicating ideas through blog posts, presentations, articles, papers and online courses.

The problem

While some people read non-fiction books just for enjoyment and to pass the time, there are many others who read to build their knowledge and to develop new skills.

Many book purchasers give up within the first chapter or two — while those who do finish a book will soon have forgotten most of the ideas in it and often can’t even describe the main points of the book.

And while skill development books often get readers excited about the changes they can make in their lives, they often then don’t motivate them to practise any of the exercises.

If you’re a non-fiction author, these are all significant problems.

If your readers don’t finish your book, don’t remember much about it or don’t get any desired results from it, your book isn’t going to have the impact you want it to. And less impact means fewer reviews and recommendations, so you’re not going to get much positive buzz to encourage other people to buy the book.

The goal

There doesn’t seem much point spending hundreds of hours writing your non-fiction book if it ends up having a limited impact on your readers. So one of the first jobs of an author starting a new book is to work out the type of influence you want to have.

You might, for example, want to write a book that transforms how your readers look at the world. Or you might want to help them understand the world in more depth.

You might want to persuade them of the importance of an idea or to help them build their stores of knowledge.

For skill development books, you might want to help them learn new skills that that will help them get the results that they want in the world.

What’s so rewarding about being a non-fiction author is that there are so many ways in which you can have an impact on your readers. What is critical though is being clear about the impact you want to have because everything else about your books flow from this.

A different approach to non-fiction books

My approach is heavily based on the sophisticated insights that the cognitive psychology of learning has provided about how people learn best.

There are three key components to writing a non-fiction book that has impact.

Powerful ideas

While you will be bringing the powerful ideas you want to communicate in your book, I can help you to refine them and to be clearer about the type of impact you want to have.

Good knowledge organisation

Developing a clear and coherent structure is critical for your readers to get the most out of your book. I can help you to identify how many of the 15 different knowledge structures you are using — and how they can be used and connected more effectively.

Use of effective pedagogical strategies

Every author has to contend with the limitations of their reader’s working memories and the difficulties of embedding knowledge and skills into their long-term memories. If these issues aren’t addressed, your readers will often struggle with reading your book. However there are many strategies that you can use to get around these problems.

Potential strategies

Here are some examples of the particular strategies that I may recommend:

  • providing content at different levels of detail to provide a context for readers to understand the detail and then to help readers re-visit the key ideas
  • designing your content around the limitations of working memory to improve understanding and remembering
  • use of more diagrams to make your explanation clearer
  • catering for the needs of different types of readers with multiple reading routes
  • providing easy wins to get readers to put skill development strategies into action quickly.

I am currently writing a long paper that will explain the latest version of my methodology. Please follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my newsletter to be notified when it is published.

Below you can find links to some articles and blogs that will provide an introduction to previous versions of my approach.

Introductory reading

Here are some suggestions for initial reading on this site.

Organising knowledge with multi-level content. The paper looks at two of the key problems for learners and those who want to communicate knowledge, namely the problem of structure and the problem of multiple knowledge levels. It suggests that a solution to this problem is to provide multi-level content combining both diagrams and summary explanations. Read here.

Multi-level summaries: A new approach to non-fiction books. The paper looks at how non-fiction books can be made easier to understand, remember and act on through multi-level summaries. Read here.

The power of diagrams. I think diagrams are hugely underused in non-fiction books. The article explains four different ways in which diagrams can be used and gives examples of some powerful diagrams. Read here.

In defence of summaries. Psychiatrist and philosopher Iain McGilchrist argues against summaries because he believes they oversimplify complex arguments. In the article, I explain why I completely disagree with this point and why I believe they are crucial for reader understanding. Read here.

Christopher Alexander’s use of multi-level content. Architect and systems thinker Christopher Alexander used multi-level content in a 1978 book. I discuss the benefits this brings readers but also how his particular approach to multi-level content has its own problems. Read here.

Your next step

Please have a look around the site and read some of the papers, articles and blog posts. If you feel that my approach resonates with you and you’d like to discuss it further, please get in touch with me via my Contact Form

Francis Miller