Zettelkasten Forum


The struggle with notes/writing

Hello,

I am a struggling aspirational student that needs to get their act together with note taking, writing, etc. I'm hoping Zettelkasten helps, but I am having difficult putting theory to practice.

I may be a slow learner with disabilities, so this too is my struggle.

Thank you for all the thoughts and expressions of inspiration!

Comments

  • Hi @zettelkastenkampf - welcome to the forum! I suggest you start by reading Sonke Ahrens' book "Smart Notes....". You can find a link to it on Amazon and then get either a paper or Kindle version.

  • edited September 11

    Hello @zettelkastenkampf, we might be able to give you some more concrete advice if you let us know what parts of theory you are having trouble putting into practice? Also it might help out by posting here what you hope to get from starting a zettelkasten and how you see it tying into your school work?

  • Hi @zettelkastenkampf! I echo @Nick that knowing a bit more about your level of study and what you want to get out of it would be helpful. I am also studying (although also working full time) so may be able to share things that have helped me (and things that I've not yet solved).

  • @Nick said:
    Hello @zettelkastenkampf, we might be able to give you some more concrete advice if you let us know what parts of theory you are having trouble putting into practice? Also it might help out by posting here what you hope to get from starting a zettelkasten and how you see it tying into your school work?

    Hello @Nick

    Thank you for the reply. I want to state that I may be slower intellectually than the average individual due to disability, and so my problems may derive from virtue of that fact. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed going through a text and keeping up with my note taking. I have a terrible feel for what needs to be selected as salient to a note. I am hoping Zettelkasten can focus my mind in a way such that I produce a significant research project as a publishable paper. I will never produce as much research as Luhmann, even if I were as productive as he starting today. But, like Ahrens, I am attracted by the way Zettelkasten is purported to help discover insights and truths unseen before embarking on the system.

    I believe I understand the method behind Permanent Zettels: you write a single idea of your own (often stirred by your Literatur readings) on a note card, identify your idea with an identifier somewhere on the note card itself, and then attempt to relate the idea with other ideas within the Zettelkasten by reference to the identifiers associated with the separate ideas. (There was a helpful Folgezettel structure analysis in a research article that I now can't find). But, Permanent Zettels seem to be for personal insights developed from Literatur notes that are not themselves easily captured by atomicity of ideas. For example, @ctietze provides the example of a list of assumptions for hard determinism as one Literatur slip, and "moral responsibility under hard determinism" as another because, although related as an argument, it is separate and distinct.

    I have trouble with remembering arguments, repeating what follows from which premisses to their conclusion, so I'm naturally having difficulty devising them. Then there are Index like entry-point cards, which seems to be similar to John Locke's commonplace book idea, which I am confused about.

    I wish I could understand examples of Luhmann's Literatur slips from the digital archive, but neither can I read German nor his handwriting. I don't really know how I should go about keeping them while reading a text I need to understand and remember its pertinent arguments.

    There is also the problem of creating a project Zettelkasten, as opposed to my General Zettelkasten, and maybe a Rhetoric Zettelkasten. And where should I collect the flowery and lyrical prose which I simply find beautiful (yes, that is part of my collector's mindset)?

    Do you think you can understand where my problem may lie to help me?

    Thank you.

  • @GeoEng51 said:
    Hi @zettelkastenkampf - welcome to the forum! I suggest you start by reading Sonke Ahrens' book "Smart Notes....". You can find a link to it on Amazon and then get either a paper or Kindle version.

    I have read most of the book. Thank you for the suggestion, @GeoEng51

  • Just a little advice: Just distinguish between notes that a part of your Zettelkasten and those which are not. Any other distinction has no meaning in relationship to the Zettelkasten Method.

    I am a Zettler

  • @zettelkastenkampf I am not sure how relevant my experience is to your situation, but I shall share it as a starting point. Firstly, whilst I am intellectually strong overall, I have what I've been told are strong ADHD tendencies and as a result I too find it easy to be overwhelmed when going through a text, and I struggle to take in information through reading alone.

    This is an issue as my course is entirely untaught, and I have to do quite a bit of reading before I start to get clarity on the key points. As a result, for me, writing notes is a way of engaging in a more physical way, in a way that I never had to do when I was taking part in physical lectures. I find this frustrating, as it makes studying a bit longer, but I'm learning what works for best for me.

    In fact, this is why I use Zettelkasten - most people on my course do not have to resort to such a note taking technique at our level of study, but I find it useful to provide structure where my brain needs it. As a result, I'm not using it quite as 'purely' as some people here, and that's okay for me right now.

    My course is analytical philosophy, so the majority of marks (at my level) are awarded for the quality and conciseness of the argument rather than for original ideas. I have to be able to present very concise summaries of other philosophers' arguments within an essay that is itself structured as a tight argument, in a way that very precisely addresses the question. This means that the way I study now is very different to my first degree, (and hence why I'm not sure how relevant my experience is).

    My first challenge is to identify the key positions of the topic - this is not always easy in the absence of lectures / tuition. I try to find a summary overview. I read PDFs where possible, and I use LiquidText which allows me to pull off the key terms into the workspace and play around with them. I try to identify both the traditional argument / issue / tension and the traditional structure of the debate. If I had lectures, I'd be doing this from the lecture notes.

    I then tackle the reading list and I annotate each paper with liquidtext. Because of the difficulties I have with processing written information, I often need to summarise paragraphs to single sentences and almost sketch out the summary in the margin, but then I'll often go back and tidy things up so they're not so visually overwhelming. I aim to have an annotated paper that's easy to revisit at revision time, with the key parts of the paper's argument (thesis, premises, interim conclusions, overall conclusion) clearly indicated. Liquid text is great for this as you can use different types of annotation and text boxes.

    Because of the nature of my course, my literature notes are usually permanent notes. I definitely try not to take extensive summary notes for a paper, but I capture the key position and a concise summary of the key argument for each paper, plus any other very high level pointers to remind me what the paper was about. When I was using The Archive, I tagged these notes #reference so that I could include or exclude them from searches.

    It gets a bit hard then to explain how I structure my other notes in my zettelkasten but, if philosophy is not your subject, it may not be that relevant - it's not really the way I would have approached my first degree. I am currently trialling RemNote rather than a totally flat system like the Archive - the ability to visually organise notes works a lot better for my brain, plus the fact you can duplicate the same note in multiple places (and keep all changes in sync) means I can use a hierarchical structure when that's useful but not be limited by such a structure. Luhmann had the advantage of physical cards that he could get out and arrange, which would work for me in a way software doesn't. I don't find that a flat list of notes works for my brain at all - I'm a very visual person. I've played with Tinderbox, which I'll probably move to once my studies get more involved, but at the moment RemNote is doing the job.

    Although some of this feels a bit tortuous and very frustrating (especially as I know that in a different learning environment much of it wouldn't be necessary) I've done very well with this method - I've had very good results so far.

    One thing I'm adding in this year is to try and write something at the end of each study session to put what I've learned into my own words. The aim of these writing sessions is to see how well I can explain my learnings so far, which will by definition be incomplete. These don't yet feel like they will be Zettelkasten, but I haven't done enough yet to decide where they get filed, if at all.

    I appreciate that not very much of this is to do with the Zettelkasten technique itself. My personal experience was that the 'secret' for me getting on wasn't to be found purely in the technique, as some of it just isn't a great fit for the way my brain processes stuff and visa versa. It's also true that I only do things in this way because of the nature of my course - I was reading for interest over the summer and I used a 'purer' zettelkasten approach of noting ideas and connecting thoughts.

  • edited September 11

    @GBC said:
    Hi @zettelkastenkampf! I echo @Nick that knowing a bit more about your level of study and what you want to get out of it would be helpful. I am also studying (although also working full time) so may be able to share things that have helped me (and things that I've not yet solved).

    I was in a hurry earlier, and skipped this comment. @GBC I currently work and desire to get back into academia somehow, if it makes sense for someone like me.

    @GBC said:
    @zettelkastenkampf I am not sure how relevant my experience is to your situation, but I shall share it as a starting point. Firstly, whilst I am intellectually strong overall, I have what I've been told are strong ADHD tendencies and as a result I too find it easy to be overwhelmed when going through a text, and I struggle to take in information through reading alone.

    My course is analytical philosophy, so the majority of marks (at my level) are awarded for the quality and conciseness of the argument rather than for original ideas. I have to be able to present very concise summaries of other philosophers' arguments within an essay that is itself structured as a tight argument, in a way that very precisely addresses the question. This means that the way I study now is very different to my first degree, (and hence why I'm not sure how relevant my experience is).

    This resonates with me, keenly.

    My first challenge is to identify the key positions of the topic - this is not always easy in the absence of lectures / tuition. I try to find a summary overview. I read PDFs where possible, and I use LiquidText which allows me to pull off the key terms into the workspace and play around with them. I try to identify both the traditional argument / issue / tension and the traditional structure of the debate. If I had lectures, I'd be doing this from the lecture notes.

    I then tackle the reading list and I annotate each paper with liquidtext. Because of the difficulties I have with processing written information, I often need to summarise paragraphs to single sentences and almost sketch out the summary in the margin, but then I'll often go back and tidy things up so they're not so visually overwhelming. I aim to have an annotated paper that's easy to revisit at revision time, with the key parts of the paper's argument (thesis, premises, interim conclusions, overall conclusion) clearly indicated. Liquid text is great for this as you can use different types of annotation and text boxes.

    This sounds like something I try to do, to great exhaustion, with articles, but printed out and not digital; books to a certain extent as well.

    I appreciate that not very much of this is to do with the Zettelkasten technique itself. My personal experience was that the 'secret' for me getting on wasn't to be found purely in the technique, as some of it just isn't a great fit for the way my brain processes stuff and visa versa. It's also true that I only do things in this way because of the nature of my course - I was reading for interest over the summer and I used a 'purer' zettelkasten approach of noting ideas and connecting thoughts.

    And I appreciate the time from your input. Thank you. I'm hoping Zettelkasten will focus my often scattered and uninitiated (or overly initiated?) mind to handle the kind of work necessary for a career in academia.

  • @sfast said:
    Just a little advice: Just distinguish between notes that a part of your Zettelkasten and those which are not. Any other distinction has no meaning in relationship to the Zettelkasten Method.

    In reality, I haven't started a Zettelkasten. My notes are fleeting at the moment.

  • GBCGBC
    edited September 11

    @zettelkastenkampf said:

    And I appreciate the time from your input. Thank you. I'm hoping Zettelkasten will focus my often scattered and uninitiated (or overly initiated?) mind to handle the kind of work necessary for a career in academia.

    Good luck and ask us lots of questions. I have found frustrations at times because some of the very good advice both here and on my course guidelines just doesn't work for my brain or course, but I'm slowly finding my way.

    But, like I say, for my level of study and course, it's not proving to be the best approach for me, in its purest form at least. When I was doing a different kind of reading / research over the summer, though, it really came into its own, so I am glad I've taken the time to learn it as I'll be using it in different situations for sure.

    Somebody here recommended this course, which is free and might be of interest, at least in parts: https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn

  • @zettelkastenkampf said:
    Sometimes I feel overwhelmed going through a text and keeping up with my note-taking. I have a terrible feeling for what needs to be selected as salient to a note. I am hoping Zettelkasten can focus my mind in a way such that I produce a significant research project as a publishable paper. I will never produce as much research as Luhmann, even if I were as productive as he starting today. But, like Ahrens, I am attracted by the way Zettelkasten is purported to help discover insights and truths unseen before embarking on the system.

    I think if you just start simply, you won't feel too overwhelmed. For example, read a short article (any article) on the internet, that contains 1 or 2 main points. You could highlight those points (say in a PDF file or on a piece of paper). Then write a Zettle that captures one point - a simple statement in your own words, perhaps only 2 or 3 sentences. Do all the tagging and note connections that make sense to you. Then move on to capturing the next point in your next Zettel.

    As you repeat this process, you will see that note-taking can be broken down into small, discrete steps that themselves are not overwhelming. The practice of doing this a number of times will build your confidence in writing Zettles. Once you feel comfortable doing this on short articles, move on to a longer article or a chapter in a book. To start, pick a chapter in a book that is not too complicated (e.g., a short while ago I read "So Good They Can't Ignore You" by Cal Newport - that is fairly straight forward). Again, build experience and confidence. After a while, move on to a more complicated article or book.

    I believe that starting "small", so that you can develop your skills, and then applying those skills to writing notes on larger and more complicated texts, is a recipe for success that will let you feel centred and in control.

    My apologies if I have misunderstood your concern or if the advice seems too simple. I get a feeling, though, that you will feel better about this if you practice more and worry about possible complexities of the process less.

    I have trouble with remembering arguments, repeating what follows from which premises to their conclusion, so I'm naturally having difficulty devising them.

    As you move from simple to more complex texts, as described above, you can also move from texts involving just statements, to those which contain statements plus some supporting evidence, to those that develop a full argument (hypothesis, ideas for and against, conclusion). Again, I believe that will allow you to develop your skills and confidence.

    There is also the problem of creating a project Zettelkasten, as opposed to my General Zettelkasten, and maybe a Rhetoric Zettelkasten. And where should I collect the flowery and lyrical prose which I simply find beautiful (yes, that is part of my collector's mindset)?

    On this forum, you will see different opinions on this from different people. Personally, I put everything in one Zettelkasten and trust the process (tags, note connections, structure notes, and general searches) to let me access information when I need it. Having separate Zettelkastens, in my mind, is like defaulting back to a hierarchical categorization system with all its attendant problems. But that's just one person's opinion/approach.

    Where to put beautiful writing by others (prose or poetry)? It depends. If I have something to say about it, I put it as a quote at the end of a Zettel, with whatever comments I have at the beginning of the Zettel. If it's just something I want to store and refer to later, I put it in Bear (a different note-taking app).

  • @GeoEng51 I think I will try to start simpler, smaller as you suggest. I haven't gotten the feel mainly because I haven't really started--again, it feels overwhelming, and the idea of chunking via atomicised notes seems fitting for me. Thank you.

  • GBCGBC
    edited September 12

    @zettelkastenkampf Another thought: if you need to keep track of the relationship of academic writers, papers, position expressed within specific papers, and arguments for and against each position, etc in a formal way, you might look at hypernomicon which is software developed by a phd philosopher for exactly that purpose. Its principle is utterly different from the flat structure of zettelkasten and it has something of a learning curve, but it is an approach that may work for you. I looked at it a couple of years ago and discounted it as an option for being beyond my needs, but I'm starting to work at a level that might benefit from it.

  • @zettelkastenkampf said:

    @sfast said:
    Just a little advice: Just distinguish between notes that a part of your Zettelkasten and those which are not. Any other distinction has no meaning in relationship to the Zettelkasten Method.

    In reality, I haven't started a Zettelkasten. My notes are fleeting at the moment.

    Have you decided on what software you use?

    I am a Zettler

  • edited September 12

    @sfast said:

    @zettelkastenkampf said:

    @sfast said:
    Just a little advice: Just distinguish between notes that a part of your Zettelkasten and those which are not. Any other distinction has no meaning in relationship to the Zettelkasten Method.

    In reality, I haven't started a Zettelkasten. My notes are fleeting at the moment.

    Have you decided on what software you use?

    I had decided against software. I wanted to be fully paper based, but I'm wondering if it's fully worth the higher potential for physical damage, loss, immobility, lack of an easy search functionality.

  • @GBC said:
    @zettelkastenkampf Another thought: if you need to keep track of the relationship of academic writers, papers, position expressed within specific papers, and arguments for and against each position, etc in a formal way, you might look at hypernomicon which is software developed by a phd philosopher for exactly that purpose. Its principle is utterly different from the flat structure of zettelkasten and it has something of a learning curve, but it is an approach that may work for you. I looked at it a couple of years ago and discounted it as an option for being beyond my needs, but I'm starting to work at a level thatI' might benefit from it.

    I thought I heard of them all. Haven't heard of Hypernomicon. It has all the things I think I would like: Open-Source, Zotero & Mendeley integration, Linux compatible. It actually sounds cool. If it could convert to a Markup language like Argdown, that would be neat. Thanks for the tip!

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