Zettelkasten Forum

A Taxonomy of Notes

Anyone have any comment on this article about different ways to classify notes?

I doubt that @sfast will have any opinion about it, but perhaps others will. :smile:


  • Is this classification actionable? Does anyone draw practical conclusions from that?

    I am a Zettler

  • The only "taxonomy" I kind of liked (apart from Doug Barone's FSIM to categorize types of notes) is the "Semantic notes" convention. I still find some of the glyphs useful to this day to affect note sort order in a productive way.

    But this goes in a different direction I can hardly grasp. The link you share here appears to me to tackle figuring out properties of a note. I'm a confuse, as people say.* Is this e.g. for archivists of notes in the world? Is it the upcoming Dewey Decimal Classification of producing notes? I don't know what to make of it.

    • Medium. Where the note is recorded. This could be digital (on a phone, tablet, laptop) or analog (post-it note, notebook, index card, etc).

    I don't understand why this is worth mentioning, and it makes me ask for some sort of advise what the taxonomy is good for. Is this taxonomy meant to be the XML of notes? Covering everything you could say about a note, but you have to figure out a subset of useful-to-you parts?

    • Goal. Why the note is recorded. Notes can be taken with a variety of aims, such as productivity, memory, creativity, collaboration.

    This might actually be a useful question to oneself when a note gets complicated to work with: what is it good for? Why do I have it? What can I make of it?

    • Temporality. When and for how long the note is recorded. Notes can go from quick and ephemeral (“fleeting note”) to living archives you keep on adding to (“evergreen note”).

    Also kind of useful, in the sense of the GTD flowchart: is it a reminder for yourself when you get back home to do a specific task? Then, in my case, it's an ephemeral written analog note. -- But I don't know what to do with this info :)

    • Format. How the note is recorded. The note could be written (bullet points, excerpts), audio (voice note), or visual (screenshots, doodles, graphs).

    Same. I don't see me questioning myself at some point, looking at this taxonomy, and then thinking: "heureka, I should take a voice note, that'd help, thanks for the reminder!" Again, I see how this is needed to make a complete taxonomy, but again, what for, if you're not an archivist?

    • Method. There is a bit of overlapping with the format, but this looks at the specific method used for taking the note, such as the Cornell method, mind mapping, or Zettelkasten.

    I'd argue this overlaps with Goal more than with Format. Because who cares if I take visual Cornell notes on a phablet -- except collectors of notes, that is. But why do I take the note, what for, that sounds interesting to me. Cornell notes during lectures for semi-structured recall and task generation afterwards, sure!

    • Structure. How the note is arranged. Logs, lists, and excerpts are lower-effort, whereas outlines and summaries are more involved. Again, some overlap with format.

    ... and overlap with Method. Mind-Map is some sort of structure as well. Now I'm arguing about the coherence of the taxons already, oh no :D

    • Source. Was the note generated from a book, a research paper, a newspaper article, a tweet, a podcast, a conversation?

    That sounds like a universally useful thing for practitioners of taking notes. With a Zettelkasten, you want the source for later reference. With an emphemeral analog written list, you want the source to take proper action later, e.g. look it up. Not thinking about the source of whatever you're note-taking now may be cause of chagrin in the future.

    What do you make of all this, @cobblepot? Is this a similar exercise to counting all the evergreen trees in the nearby forest, a completionist's task, or were you seeing some utility in this?

    *: Well, 1 person from Italy I know of.

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

  • The article says:

    "To my knowledge, there is no taxonomy consolidating all of these approaches."

    I think that's the goal of the article.

    @Sascha , it is actionable in the sense that notetaking systems invariably use some of these categories as ways to structure the system, and looking at a consolidation of many different types of notetaking systems might encourage someone to question their existing categories or think about potential new ones.

    @ctietze , I think that from me the "goal" category was the most interesting to think about. It includes: productivity, memory, creativity, collaboration. These do not seem mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive to me. There is overlap. The concept of "productivity" is highly ambiguous. It seems to me that productivity and creativity could both be either individual or collaborative efforts.

    I'm not sure how this relates to the taxonomy, but I'm currently thinking about knowledge work methods as they relate to two aspects of systems: first, a spectrums from ease of processing on one end to usefulness (i.e. completeness of processing) on the other, and a division of steps between information encoding, retrieval, combination/generation, and organizing/output.

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