Zettelkasten Forum

Litterature note question for a beginner

Hi, I made a post on the Obsidian Forum about Zettlenkastern literature note, because I read (or this is my interpretation) a somewhat conflicting information between Ahrens book and Luhmann's method regarding the litterature note. I have had no reply so far.

Here is the link of my post:
Conflicting orthography “Make literature notes” (plural) vs “literature note” (singular)

If some knowledgeable Zettelkasten practitioners on this forum could reply my question with clarity, or simply correcting me, I would be thankful.


  • The things you have read are ideas, not rules. You can adapt methodologies any way you choose, to suit what you want to do. I've been taking notes using computers since about 1990, and I've never found a method that exactly suited me. I always end up taking some bits of a method and not others, and freely combining elements of different methods. As long as it works for you, who cares what other people do?

    In short, cut yourself free of artificial constraints. Do what you want to do, not what others think you should do. What is good for them may be completely wrong for you.

  • Did you happen to these this thread? I think it will be informative in some ways. Plus, people probably don't want to repeat themselves.

  • edited September 2022

    What @Sascha wrote in that other thread is correct. "Literature Notes, " or to use the superior term of Dan Allosso, "Source Notes," make more sense when your Zettelkasten is a slip box of index cards. Otherwise Literature Notes become absorbed as citations in a reference manager (Zotero), and you are left with what have been variously termed:

    1. Zettels (the all-purpose ur designator);
    2. non-Literature Permanent Notes (Ahrens doesn't have a term for those!);
    3. Permanent Notes (simplifying the terminology of Ahrens);
    4. Point Notes (another apt term due to Prof Dan Allosso--a note that makes a point).

    This site has been through this numerous times. I was a decade late to the party in April 2021 when I crawled out of the woodwork. And I'm still a dollar late and a day short.

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0. Problems worthy of attack / prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

  • @pickaname an academic answer: it probably depends. If ideas or concepts in a source are easily separable (e.g., in a well-written modern academic paper), sure, split them out into atomic notes immediately. If ideas or concepts in the source are more interconnected, or more complex, that may require you to closer follow the logic of the source, and then a longer note on the source may be a better idea. You could (should? -gulp) then split that out later into atomic notes.
    (and either or not ditch the original literature note, as we were discussing in the thread that @rwrobinson and @ZettelDistraction refer to)

  • Thank to all for your replies. My question was specifically "did Ahrens make an adaptation of Luhmann method and to what extend (with specifics)".

    I believe that Luhmann used a single litterature note (he called reference note), one per book, because of the medium he used (paper), but I am not sure. There are two scanned Zettelkasten (I & II) on the University website, and I have to use my browser translation feature to understand them. As for Ahrens, I don't know if his book recommends using several literature notes -- because of the computer medium -- or if I misread?

    It seems that everybody interprets Luhmann system to one's need (or common sense). @MartinBB, before doing it myself, I rather understand the "hard edges": Who did what, and how.

    @ZettelDistraction do you happen to know the different notes Luhmann used (namely)?

    @rwrobinson I did, and many other threads, here and on the Obsidian forum. But my question is not really about how to manage my notes.

    It is also my understanding that Luhmann uses Reference notes just for that (to write references), but again I am not 100% positive since I read that he was writing information on the backside of his notes. As for the Kyoto University presentation I linked to, the presenter uses Literature notes as citations & references & personal ideas, in a more extended way. Maybe that's what Ahrens book recommend doing (using a note or a reference manager like Zotero)?

    I will later determine if I import my Zotero references in a single note or if I split them as @erikh suggested.

  • If by Luhmann's method you mean how he typically made notes on something while reading, I don't think Ahren's adapted it really. I just went back through his text, and he isn't very concrete with an example for us to be able to say that.

    He says to make notes about the content while you are reading. He encourages being very short and selective. This is very much what Luhmann seemed to do typically.

    The biggest thing I don't know if Luhmann ever spoke to is the idea that it should be in your own words and quotes should be rare. However, I think this was generally his practice in these types of notes.

    My understanding is that the strong divide between Luhmann's notes and bibliographic information was present but there was a lot of bibliographic information in his "main/slip box." So, one could say that fuzzy boundary isn't called out in Ahren's. But, that's not really about him adapting this idea of a literature note.

    I'd point out. Luhmann never broke things down in the manner that Ahren's attempted to do. So, it's hard to compare. When you look at some people criticizing Ahren's not being like Luhmann, the ironic thing is their implementation looks very similar Ahren's suggestions. Just rebranded (bib note vs literature note - main note vs. permanent note). You just get other dynamics added to their approach (E.g., folgezettel, index, etc.). This isn't meant to be a critique though. Just an observation.

    The "a literature note has to just be one notecard with page references a very brief notes" is, in my opinion, far too prescriptive. If it needs to be 5 note cards or 20 or none, that is up to you... As long as you are building knowledge and creating value for your future self for your projects.

  • @pickaname said:
    before doing it myself, I rather understand the "hard edges"

    Sorry, but I've no idea what this means.

  • @pickaname said:

    @ZettelDistraction do you happen to know the different notes Luhmann used (namely)?

    In Ahrens’s account of Niklas Luhmann’s Zettelkasten workflow, Luhmann first wrote brief literature notes and used these to write self-contained permanent notes called Zettels, which Luhmann wrote carefully, as if for publication (Ahrens, 17–18, 43).

    Various sources report that Luhmann's "permanent notes" became more telegraphic and less "self-contained" with time.

    I find the terms "source note" and "point note" of Professor Dan Allosso more helpful than the terms "literature note" or "permanent note" of Ahrens.

    Well then, did you never see little dogs caressing and playing with one another, so that you might say, there is nothing more friendly? but that you may know what friendship is, throw a bit of flesh among them, and you will learn.
    -- Epictetus. Discourses. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0557.tlg001.perseus-eng1:2.22

    Ahrens, Sönke. 2017. How to take smart notes: one simple technique to boost writing, learning and thinking: for students, academics and nonfiction book writers. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace.

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0. Problems worthy of attack / prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

  • @rwrobinson & @ZettelDistraction

    Thank you for your answers, they are very informative, and they help me to understand better where I was uncertain.


    I am really sorry if my English does not make sense. Thanks anyway.

  • @pickaname If you ask a question in this forum, post it directly in the thread and don't make the users to go over ot another side to even have access to the question you want to ask.

    Normally, we would've just deleted this thread but we were to late and the thread hat too much live.

    I am a Zettler

  • I no longer participate in the Reddit r/Zettelkasten subreddit and don't read the r/Obsidian thread. The quality of the discussion there is too variable.

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0. Problems worthy of attack / prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

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