Zettelkasten Forum


What do you do with notes that are just difficult to make complete / autonomous?

Hi all

I am still trying to find my way with Zettelkasten and just love it when I manage to produce a relatively small atomic and autonomous note that I know my future self will have easy way reading, but.. there is a kind of notes that I struggle to make complete just because they are difficult and possibly even beyond my learning abilities within short time frame.

Context: studying a difficult topic
If I get it correctly many of this forum participants are from academia, so hopefully this example will resonate with your experiences.

I am studying the ways for improving multi-comparision tests analysis in software (say, A/B/C/D tests when you show random users original/blue/green/red button and see if they manage to notice it more and click on it more). As with every non-trivial topic there are nuances and I am studying the pros and cons of different correction methods, Dunnett's correction being most promising.

Ideal note
Ideal autonomous note on Dunnett's test for my future self to get back to topic easily would include at least the following:

  • context or link to context (why on earth it's needed at all) - easy part
  • plain words description on how it is applied in general and why exactly this one is the best for many of my cases - okay part and probably the main point of the note
  • math - difficult part probably to be expanded into other notes for different sub-methods and software tools
  • applicability - the most difficult part. Test was developed not exactly for the web experiments and studying applicability part for this or that type of the experiment may very well need a week or maybe a month more of research (that I am eager to invest, though maybe getting to the "most probably it's okay" point first and full proof later)

Very long in progress state(s)
All of the things above I am eager to invest time in, but.. does it mean that for long-long time I'd be working on just making this one autonomous zettel great? And when I get deeper into the topic, quite possibly there will be more tough to complete zettels with the difficult corner cases needing more research (e.g. maybe math part will dig me into studying on whether different variants of online test have same/similar variance).

What do you do in this kind of situation?
- Do you keep one zettel in progress for a long-long time (as a #draft in your ZK?)?
- Or do you record your best current understanding of the idea and add more "correcting" zettles over time and/or adjust the original one?
- Or do you not write such grande zettels at all, collect smaller ideas and then maybe just add a starting zettel (structure zettel?) as an entry point some time later?
- Or something very different?

Comments

  • I tend to collect work-in-progress information elsewhere until I have something I can make a note from.

    For example when I researches server software, my WIP stuff consisted of demonstration videos to watch, articles to read, and a handful of bullet points that reflected my superficial understanding. From some videos, I could immediately extract useful information, so I did. But I didn't have the Grand Theory of Server Setup ready. I do now have a handful of structure notes. Some list generally useful, managerial tasks, like ways to find computers in the same network from a command-line, or how to setup a DynDNS server. Other structure notes are related to setting up an ABS server on XYZ, more like a table of contents for a how-to. These emerged over time. I still have stuff to look up and so there's a couple of open loops that are not yet reflected in my Zettelkasten.

    Unless I don't touch the topic for a year, I'm not afraid that I'll forget which structure note I wanted to put the research results. Even then it should be simple enough to find the structure notes from this winter when I set up the servers in the first place. It's not like I'll forget that I did that anytime soon.

    Your prospective note on Dunnett sounds like an overview in itself, and unlike me, you do have a top-down plan of a couple of moving pieces in mind. You could flesh out the outline in advance and add meat to the skeleton as you figure out how the parts work, i.e. the maths or test approach. All things being equal, you should be able to fill in the maths gap in 2, 5, or 10 years time, if you happen to forget to do it know because other things intervene.

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • @Artem said:
    Hi all

    I am still trying to find my way with Zettelkasten and just love it when I manage to produce a relatively small atomic and autonomous note that I know my future self will have easy way reading, but.. there is a kind of notes that I struggle to make complete just because they are difficult and possibly even beyond my learning abilities within the short time frame.

    Congratulations! Yes, no kidding, you have found an interest where the learning is hard. If it were easy, everybody would already know it. It sounds like you are on the right path. Keep working on your skills, and they will mature over time. Remember, humans notoriously overestimate what can be learned "within the short time frame." and underestimate what can be learned in the long haul.

    What do you do in this kind of situation?
    - Do you keep one zettel in progress for a long-long time (as a #draft in your ZK?)?
    - Or do you record your best current understanding of the idea and add more "correcting" zettels over time and/or adjust the original one?
    - Or do you not write such grande zettels at all, collect smaller ideas and then maybe just add a starting zettel (structure zettel?) as an entry point sometime later?
    - Or something very different?

    Yes! I do all these. I don't limit myself to only one way of nurturing my knowledge. Whenever I come across an idea that works, I steal it!

    I looked in my inbox, and the oldest zettel of the 13 zettel has a UID of 201902091432. It probably hasn't been in the #inbox the whole time. Notes move in and out of the "draft" or active refactoring process. There is no shame in working on a zettel for a "long-long time." In fact, it should bring you happiness.

    I correct note through refactoring a lot and consider this process fundamental. It's what I call zettelkasting.

    Some ideas start as lightning strikes in the wilderness. Some smolder then fizzle, and some burst into a wild inferno, exploding, requiring bravery as you approach to tame the beast. (I love metaphors!!)

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Attention Horizon, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • edited February 26

    I’m a complete newbie so this may not make any sense, but I’ve opted for having various types of Zettel - including “Scratch” Zettel where I jot down ideas and rough thoughts. I keep it concise and atomic, one idea or train of thought per “Scratch”. I tag them appropriately and have a saved search category to dig them back up.

    More specifically to your question, I don’t see the harm in keeping notes as WIP for a long time. At the end of the day, each Zettel is a a thought or concept which can certainly evolve.

    sharing2learn

  • I don’t see the harm in keeping notes as WIP for a long time

    Agreed. Since any note can change at any point in time the concept of a draft note doesn't really exist in my system.

    Any note that contains my own thoughts is an evergreen (permanent) note, and there are no "sacred cows" in my evergreens, they are all subject to change over time. I've even retitled some as my thinking evolves and in some cases refactored a single note into two or more separate notes and updated all backlinks to refer to the appropriate new note.

    Where there is value in highlighting that a note is in rough shape I will simply add a narrative statement at the appropriate place in the note stating such.

    This comment from @prometheanhindsight resonates with me:

    The "permanent" label refers to the strategy when designing a permanent note. You want the note to be permanently useful.

    >

    So much so that I have an evergreen note based on it titled Permanent notes are notes that are permanently useful, not notes that are unchanging. I did this because I often see people confuse the term "permanent note" to mean one that is "final" and unchanging, which should not be the case.

    This is why I personally prefer the term evergreen note since it carries the (IMO) correct semantic connotation, that it is constantly growing and changing and sometimes requires pruning.

    @Artem The above means that, for me, I start with what I currently know and allow the note to evolve. It's an organic process. There is no (to me) strict predefined process that applies to every note. I let the note speak to me. If the note starts to tell me it needs to be refactored into multiple notes then I do that. If it tells me it needs something else I try that.

  • I have a number of notes whose titles are questions. Having that outlet is very useful -- I'm developing an instinct for separating what I know and can articulate, what I need to research now, what I need to research tomorrow, and what I should "put a pin in", so to speak, and leave as an open line of inquiry for later revisiting.

    So I suppose I do what you describe here:

    - Or do you not write such grande zettels at all, collect smaller ideas and then maybe just add a starting zettel (structure zettel?) as an entry point some time later?
    

    Nick Milo refers to the "mental squeeze point" and this feels related to me. Sometimes (often?) a cluster of notes starts as a list of statements, then a nested list of statements, some of which become notes. And after long enough, a second and unrelated structure emerges, at which point I need a second entry point into this family fo ideas.

    There definitely is no harm, as others say, in keeping a long-running draft going. But it's sometimes useful to articulate in what ways something is a draft. Sometimes it's obvious -- it has the #stub tag and is nearly empty! Or it's obviously just a sketched-out list. But sometimes it's very useful to articulate exactly what's missing.

    I am experimenting with a few approaches to this but fundamentally -- sometimes I need to take a prompt that "this note needs to be split", or "I think Hahn's idea of this is slightly different than Fella's, but that's not the most important question to answer right now".

  • I use a Work In Progress saved search (notes with #inbox tags) to organize those notes where I still have questions where ideas are not yet flushed out. About half of the 15 zettel in this group are structure notes that I'm filling in as my class progresses or are short-term project notes. The other half are books or articles that are in various states of factoring. One is being refactored, created 201902091432, but current studies have inspired me to refactor it. Notes bonce in and out of the WIP saved search.

    @jim said:
    ... I'm developing an instinct for separating what I know. I can articulate what I need to research now, what I need to research tomorrow, and what I should "put a pin in," so to speak, and leave as an open line of inquiry for later revisiting.

    There is an art to titling notes that I'm only beginning to appreciate. I have only a few notes with questions for titles and think I'd benefit from doing this more often. This helps differentiate what I think I know and what I don't know, pointing to further exploration.

    @jim said:
    There definitely is no harm, as others say, in keeping a long-running draft going. But it's sometimes useful to articulate in what ways something is a draft. Sometimes it's obvious -- it has the #stub tag and is nearly empty! Or it's obviously just a sketched-out list. But sometimes, it's very useful to articulate exactly what's missing.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Attention Horizon, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

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