Zettelkasten Forum

Reducing Friction


How are you all taking reading notes? I have been using a notebook (a bit smaller than A5 size) to take mine. Usually I jot down things in bullet points as I read with a text. But this has been causing some issues. The actual writing takes a bit, and can be enough to get me out of the flow of reading. This usually leads to frustration as I try to write as fast as I am thinking, resulting in a barely legible scrawl. Either that or I take very few notes as I try to stay engaged with the reading material So, I wonder, am I taking notes too often? Should I wait until I am done with a certain section before jotting down ideas? The mental block I have there is that I will forget what I wanted to write down by the time I get to a stopping point.

Maybe it is not the frequency of notes, but the medium. Or maybe both. I have tried using a computer, and that does help with speed somewhat. However, that works best with digital texts, and I mostly read printed ones. Another approach I have thought of is using index cards. That does make processing later a bit easier, and you can group notes freely to see relations, but it can also get messy. What are your thoughts on using a computer for notes? Index cards?

My goal is to have a system where I can read fluidly while writing down things I would like to process later. How are you accomplishing this?


  • @Sev_L

    When I'm reading, I mostly take notes on my computer - in a plain text file (I use both iA Writer and 1Writer for this purpose). I use (numbered) bullets for each thought, with breaks and headings for each new chapter. Later, this is the material that I think about and distill, as I'm creating notes for my ZK (i.e., zettels).

    While I have decades of practice taking hand-written notes, I have experienced the same issues as you describe with that medium. My computer skills are sufficiently quick and smooth that taking notes that way does not interfere with reading the material, although I may stop momentarily to highlight a few sentences so that I can find them again, if need be.

  • I very rarely take notes during reading. I just mark the relevant passages for later review when I process the book fully. The vast majority of markings in the marginalia are just dots. A minority are a word or two (e.g. "compare to buddhism" or "dumb idea"). Sometimes, I make a happy or a sad smiley when appropriate.

    It is way more efficient to separate the concerns of reading and processing unless the book is very systematic and easy to read. An example would be Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.

    It is called the Barbell Method of Reading.

    I am a Zettler

  • @Sev_L

    So, I wonder, am I taking notes too often?

    If it gets the job done, I'd say it's good. There's no need to rush things. It's similar to working out. If you rush the workout, chances are that your performance will be poor.

    Should I wait until I am done with a certain section before jotting down ideas?

    Take this with a grain of salt. I think that it depends on what you're reading. Some materials benefit from taking notes while reading, and others from note-taking after reading a major section. There's no way to know what suits a material before reading it, and that it's just a matter of experience. It's like doing a math problem that you're familiar with. You've solved similar problems before, so you know how to get to the answer.

    What are your thoughts on using a computer for notes? Index cards?

    You can write faster with a computer and organize your notes easily, but there's the risk of verbatim. Besides, you may not be able to take the computer with you anywhere.

    Index cards can be messy and limited depending on what you take notes on, but are great to prevent verbatim and can be taken anywhere.

    How are you all taking reading notes?

    Depending on the material, I either take notes while reading or after reading a major section, such as a big heading or a chapter. I take notes on A7 paper slips and use a Folgezettel-inspired approach so I can "expand" the size of the slips, as I describe here.

    I hope that you find my answers helpful!

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