Zettelkasten Forum


Is a handwritten Zettelkasten better for conceptual understanding?

The majority of note taking these days is done digitally using a keyboard. Studies have shown that typed notes are not nearly as good as hand written notes for conceptual understanding. There seems to be a greater connection to the mind with handwriting than with typing.

Was part of Luhmann's success that he wrote his notes by hand thus creating a more solid link between his second and first brain? I've started trialling using my iPad Pro to handwrite my notes. I'm using Goodnotes and have created a 3x5 card template. As Goodnotes allows searching I can link notes via a unique ID. I'm also toying with Cardflow+ which already uses 3x5 cards and allows card linking.

I would love to hear some thoughts on this.

I would also love some thoughts on anyone maintaining a handwritten Zettelkasten.

Do you have any tips for creating a digital handwritten zettelkasten?

Comments

  • Interesting comments on the source you cite are here:

    First, I don't think this is true:

    typed notes are not nearly as good as hand written notes

    My notes tell me that typed notes were created in a more fragmented way, they were longer, and computer typists did on-the-fly corrections, while hand-written notes appeared to be more thought-out in front (e.g. because you cannot go back and edit) and 20% shorter. "Good" and "bad" are value statements you brought to the table, though.

    There's other things one could point out instead of using the study you cited, e.g. that the level of processing in your brain is different when the activity is involving analog tools instead of staring at a screen and typing. This is an observation we shared here once, too: it's harder to read a paper book and type your notes directly than jotting down ideas with a pen. There may be some switching of gears involved that hinders the process. (I think I don't know about any studies about this "gear switching".)

    Second, I doubt Luhmann remembered much of the 90,000 notes. He certainly remembered some clusters, but do keep in mind that he could never get to a note directly if he didn't know the ID without consulting some sort of index, first. Even if he knew "it has to be somewhere in this part of the drawer". You can retrieve anything on your computer even with vague keyword searches. Keep that upside in mind, too.

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

  • @ctietze said:
    My notes tell me that typed notes were created in a more fragmented way, they were longer, and computer typists did on-the-fly corrections, while hand-written notes appeared to be more thought-out in front (e.g. because you cannot go back and edit) and 20% shorter. "Good" and "bad" are value statements you brought to the table, though.

    There's other things one could point out instead of using the study you cited, e.g. that the level of processing in your brain is different when the activity is involving analog tools instead of staring at a screen and typing. This is an observation we shared here once, too: it's harder to read a paper book and type your notes directly than jotting down ideas with a pen. There may be some switching of gears involved that hinders the process. (I think I don't know about any studies about this "gear switching".)

    This seems to substantiate my point and that of the studies. Cognitive engagement with computer typing is less due to the ease of editing later. Later then doesn't come. This could be mitigated by the typist engaging more in the process, but tends not to happen. It could also be that computers in general are more distracting and allow less focus.

    Perhaps thinking should be best done away from a computer? Considering that the Zettelkasten is your second brain, maybe building it using tech is the best solution, although perhaps pen and tablet technology might be the best of both worlds. Perhaps this is why so many people keep returning to paper and pen?

  • @svsmailus said:
    ...maybe building it using tech is the best solution,...

    Sorry, typo. This should read ...maybe building it using tech isn't the best solution,...

    Sorry editing comments does not seem possible.

  • edited July 26

    Well, I do both.

    My reading notes are nearly always hand-written, since I don't have to worry about the limits of an app and thus can concentrate on just taking notes. I consider this writing as dirty drafting and don't worry a lot about a proper form.

    Cleaning up means bringing the handwritte note in to a zettel -- and this repetition is (prima facie), what helps me conceptually understand the content. I think this iterative approach is what allows me an appropriation (the latin root of the word means not much more than "to make it one's own") of the content. I'd say appropriation is the way to understand something.

    You need to make that, which appears to be a strange thing, your own without destroying its strangeness, because otherwise you'd have just absorbed (i.e. misunderstood) it. For me, notes mediate between the other (the strange content) and me. Because of this central position they have in my understanding process, it's important to me that they are as free as possible.

    If understanding is about appropriation, it is not possible to say what a good way of understanding is. Is your process of making something you own not different from the process of others? I'd say so. For some people, note writing may be only about remembering things. For understanding, they may prefer to talk with others (there is a nice essay by Kleist about the peculiar effects talking with someone has for the process of understanding).

    A closer look reveals: Talking and writing are quite poor descriptions of the actual practices, since these are abstract terms. Maybe for me writing my notes in draft form on paper is important for understanding, because it allows me to freely draw lines and little circles, maybe I'm unconsciously associating paper and pen with proper knowledge work and thus feeling better while doing it and in effect understanding it better this way. It may be the silly little things, too, that are important for your process. For example, I discard my drafts. When I'm done writing the zettel, I'll crumble up the paper (which is in itself a satisfying activity to me). That's something there is no proper digital analogy to, but it's part of my understanding process, i.e. to materially, tangibly know that I can't rely on that draft anymore.

    Why this account? Is it not just a personal depiction of my understanding?

    Yes, exactly. Making something your own is a personal activity. What may be true for others, the majority, the minority, your neighbour or the cat person from the other side of the street may not be true for you. Understanding is something that happens between you and that, which is to be understood.

    I think the (primary) focus on software / hardware / tools for understanding is wrong. It follows, that studies / objectivating on this topic are a bit silly. First, you need to know your own way of understanding. Then you can choose the proper tools to make it easier (of course, this is not a unidirectional process).

    (I guess my english is not good enough to make my point, I've tried though, please be kind :))

  • @Henri said:
    A closer look reveals: Talking and writing are quite poor descriptions of the actual practices, since these are abstract terms.

    This is the central culprit of such studies. Hand-writing is more engaging than typing. And if you let some students (people with very little practice) just roam freely this result is somewhat unsuprising.

    But if you use various techniques the story turns out different and way more complicated.

    What about first drafting in paper and then systemising it for your archive? Way different! What about an typing-approach that involves much editing? Also: Way different. Etc. :smile:

    PS: As a practical tipp on information aquisition, never refer to any magazine. A magazine doesn't meet quality standards. Always go to the original source.

  • Thank you @Henri for sharing such a detail description of your note-taking process. Thought-provoking.

    I to have found that handwriting free-flowing rough drafts in the form of marginalia then "processing" the ideas captured into a more (I use this term loosely) formal form in my zettelkasten. This works and feels right to me. Producing useful knowledge.

    I particularly love how you describe the "strangeness" of things being made and the striving to keep things strange. English is my only language so your intention might match my picture but I love how strangeness and originality collide.

    While everyone learns at their own pace and is subject to their own levels of skill, resources, and attention, we can learn from each other. In fact, this all we are, a conglomerate of learned bits, cobbled together and somehow we think we are unique and special.

    Thanks so much.

    Will Simpson
    kestrelcreek.com

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