Zettelkasten Forum


What to focus on while reading?

Reading the blog post Making Proper Marks in Books by @ctietze [0] I realised that there is probably some specific things to look for in a text while reading, and I'm wondering what these things are.

Christian's list of things he looks for in "academic" reading consists of

  • definitions of terms;
  • descriptions of models; and
  • arguments (and perceived weaknesses in them).

My questions are

  • is this an exhaustive lists of things too look for while taking in (reading, listening, etc.) knowledge (books, blog posts, lectures, etc.); and secondly
  • what is a model?

Is there a subject that discuss these questions? Epistemology?

[0] https://zettelkasten.de/posts/making-proper-marks-in-books/

Comments

  • To this day, I didn't add an item to my list:

    https://zettelkasten.de/posts/reading-is-searching/

    One could argue how to relate empirical evidence to this list. I sort them under the umbrella of fact. But fact is not meant in a strict sense. However, I don't start an investigation and interrogate the scientist if they really conducted the study in the way they wrote it down in their paper. So, in my action I accept them as facts as in "it happened as such and such".

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:
    To this day, I didn't add an item to my list:

    https://zettelkasten.de/posts/reading-is-searching/

    Thanks for the link!

    One could argue how to relate empirical evidence to this list. I sort them under the umbrella of fact. But fact is not meant in a strict sense. However, I don't start an investigation and interrogate the scientist if they really conducted the study in the way they wrote it down in their paper. So, in my action I accept them as facts as in "it happened as such and such".

    Have I understood the blog post correctly that you

    • follow the principle that you take reading notes about "facts" (that is loosely defined in this context);
    • definitions of terms;
    • theories that is presented in the content;
    • the premises and conclusions that is used to argue for or against theories;
    • different examples presented in the text; and
    • statement of facts.

    I'm not sure what you mean about the mental models. Do you mean mental models

    • that's explicitly presented in the text;
    • that you have derived from the content; or
    • that could explain help explain the different kind of "facts" that is listed above?
  • edited May 19

    Here are the notations I use while reading, adapted from Christian's post:

    • A - Argument;
    • F - Factual claim;
    • R - Reference (to other text/source);
    • Q - Quotation (only the pithiest and least 'translatable' quotations are given a Q, as I try to rewrite/elaborate the ideas I encounter in the text);
    • M - Metaphor/Model (a figurative comparison that illustrates the larger claim being made);
    • S - Summary;
    • D - Definition;
    • ? - Question posed by the author;
    • ! - An idea that I need to clarify for myself/a reference I don't understand or need to follow up.

    Here's a picture of how it looks in practice, from my current read (Matt Colquhoun's Egress in case anyone cares!):

  • @inquisitiv3 this idea has been a big one for me this year. Because it really is the first question in note taking. What is worth taking notes on?

    The common theme I see among books on the subject is you are essentially using the common structure of books to pull out what you see as the most important information. Because of this how you read differs based on type of book.

    Argument Book - looking for the thesis and structure of the argument

    Textbook - looking to build a mental model through structure building. So you are looking for key terms and how they relate to each other and the larger picture.

    I also found this section from luhmann's essay helpful

    "The problem of reading theoretical texts seems to consist in the fact that they do not require just short-term memory but also long-term memory in order to be able to distinguish between what is essential and what is not essential and what is new from what is merely repeated. But one cannot remember everything. This would simply be learning by heart. In other words, one must read very selectively and must be able to extract extensively networked references. One must be able to understand recursions. But how can one learn these skills, if no instructions can be given; or perhaps only about things that are unusual like “recursion” in the previous sentences as opposed to “must”?

    Perhaps the best method would be to take notes—not excerpts, but condensed reformulations of what has been read. The re-description of what has already been described leads almost automatically to a training of paying attention to “frames,” or schemata of observation, or even to noticing conditions which lead the text to offer some descriptions but not others. What is not meant, what is excluded when something is asserted? If the text speaks of “human rights,” what is excluded by the author? Non-human rights? Human duties? Or is it comparing cultures or historical times that did not know human rights and could live very well without them?"

  • This discussion has inspired me to focus on a hub note centralizing and clarifying for me my thoughts and your suggestions for a reading strategy. I whipped up over the last couple of hours along with integration into my Zettelkasten. I hope I've recorded appropriate credits.

    The "Note List" shows the first order depth of this note's integration. This note connects to 25 other notes.

    @Phil, I love your photo showing how you use your notations as queues. I'm stealing this idea!!

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • edited May 19

    @Will. Counterarguments! Thanks for the reminder. Need to add that to my notation list ( as 'C' of course). I write the notations on a Post-It that gets used as a bookmark, or in pencil in the front of the book.

  • @Phil said:
    Here are the notations I use while reading, adapted from Christian's post:

    • A - Argument;
    • F - Factual claim;
    • R - Reference (to other text/source);
    • Q - Quotation (only the pithiest and least 'translatable' quotations are given a Q, as I try to rewrite/elaborate the ideas I encounter in the text);
    • M - Metaphor/Model (a figurative comparison that illustrates the larger claim being made);
    • S - Summary;
    • D - Definition;
    • ? - Question posed by the author;
    • ! - An idea that I need to clarify for myself/a reference I don't understand or need to follow up.

    Here's a picture of how it looks in practice, from my current read (Matt Colquhoun's Egress in case anyone cares!):

    Great list! I can definitely see myself using all of those while reading.

    @Nick said:
    @inquisitiv3 this idea has been a big one for me this year. Because it really is the first question in note taking. What is worth taking notes on?

    Precisely! While the creation of reading nots maybe is not part of Zettelkasten, it is definitely important for a Zettelkasten.

    The common theme I see among books on the subject is you are essentially using the common structure of books to pull out what you see as the most important information. Because of this how you read differs based on type of book.

    Argument Book - looking for the thesis and structure of the argument

    Textbook - looking to build a mental model through structure building. So you are looking for key terms and how they relate to each other and the larger picture.

    I also found this section from luhmann's essay helpful

    "The problem of reading theoretical texts seems to consist in the fact that they do not require just short-term memory but also long-term memory in order to be able to distinguish between what is essential and what is not essential and what is new from what is merely repeated. But one cannot remember everything. This would simply be learning by heart. In other words, one must read very selectively and must be able to extract extensively networked references. One must be able to understand recursions. But how can one learn these skills, if no instructions can be given; or perhaps only about things that are unusual like “recursion” in the previous sentences as opposed to “must”?

    Perhaps the best method would be to take notes—not excerpts, but condensed reformulations of what has been read. The re-description of what has already been described leads almost automatically to a training of paying attention to “frames,” or schemata of observation, or even to noticing conditions which lead the text to offer some descriptions but not others. What is not meant, what is excluded when something is asserted? If the text speaks of “human rights,” what is excluded by the author? Non-human rights? Human duties? Or is it comparing cultures or historical times that did not know human rights and could live very well without them?"

    I'm unsure what you are actually saying here. Do you mean that the important part is to describe the content in your own words (like the Feynman method)?

  • @Phil The list on which you found "Counterarguments" is blatantly stolen from @sfast's fine post.
    Reading for the Zettelkasten Is Searching
    Mar 30th, 2016 by Sascha

    Source: https://zettelkasten.de/posts/reading-is-searching/

    I only tried to integrate into my thinking.

    I might make a bookmark with a cheat-sheet of all the marks and things I should be looking for while reading. This favors physical books, what to do for digital reading??

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @Phil said:

    • A - Argument;
    • F - Factual claim;
    • R - Reference (to other text/source);
    • Q - Quotation (only the pithiest and least 'translatable' quotations are given a Q, as I try to rewrite/elaborate the ideas I encounter in the text);
    • M - Metaphor/Model (a figurative comparison that illustrates the larger claim being made);
    • S - Summary;
    • D - Definition;
    • ? - Question posed by the author;
    • ! - An idea that I need to clarify for myself/a reference I don't understand or need to follow up.

    I'm wondering if we could derive a general principle behind all these things. I think it would be great if we could get a theoretical reason why certain information should be highlighted. And maybe we could derive new things to highlight based on that general principle?

    @Will said:
    This favors physical books, what to do for digital reading??

    What operative system are you using? I know that you can highlight and make notes in PDF files using Okular. On a Kindle you can highlight text in *.mobi and *.asw3 files. The hardest medium to create highlights in/on (?) is probably web pages.

  • edited May 20

    @inquisitiv3

    Problem: we can't remember everything, so when you read a new book on topic of "who let the dogs out" three years after you last read a book on the same topic you most likely aren't going to remember what you read.

    So you need a form of "long term memory" that serves as a reference point.

    When you are reading the new book, you can go back to the reference point and build on it. In the previous book, it suggested that "tom let the dogs out" and gave the evidence that susan saw him do it. In the new book it presents the evidence that there is a CCTV footage of tom letting the dog out and susan saw him do it. Susan saw him do it is just a repeat of evidence, so you ignore it. The CCTV footage is new so you add a new note about that to the end of your note sequence on "who let the dogs out".

    Answer to creating these reference points that serve as long term memory is " condensed reformulated texts" in the form of atomic notes. The reason for this is it trains your mind to actually understand what you are reading on a deeper level than just copy pasting excerpts. It trains your mind to notice patterns and what isn't mentioned.

  • edited May 20

    What @Nick said.

    But here are a few principles I think are worth remembering.

    Environmental factors are more important than will power in maintaining habits. A predictable working environment (and workflow) is much less taxing in terms of effort and concentration than one that is unpredictable. Creating a successful note-taking system, like the successful establishment of any new habit, requires that we establish standardized environmental cues

    The systematicity of the ZK method is its strength; the ZK functions like an externalized memory; because unfinished open tasks tend to occupy the short term memory until they're either completed or forgotten, a phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik effect, we can shift the responsibility for 'remembering' tasks to a reliable and predictable external workflow practice such as the ZK.

    Standardizing note-taking, writing, and thinking processes help build a "critical mass in one place" as Sönke Ahrens puts it, and removes impediments to thinking which multiple workflows and formats create. The result is the ZK, a system in which every idea is potentially in play. Ideas aren't lost because we don't know where they belong or how they should be labelled.

    Restrictions, either in the form of standardized practices, forms, or generic contraints (atomicity, regularized formats for notes, repetition and predictability, etc.), might seem to limit creative expression and insight, but in truth those limits are necessary, because we use limits and boundaries in order to transcend them and grow--think here of poetry or improvisation in music, for example.

  • @Nick said:
    @inquisitiv3

    Problem: we can't remember everything, so when you read a new book on topic of "who let the dogs out" three years after you last read a book on the same topic you most likely aren't going to remember what you read.

    So you need a form of "long term memory" that serves as a reference point.

    When you are reading the new book, you can go back to the reference point and build on it. In the previous book, it suggested that "tom let the dogs out" and gave the evidence that susan saw him do it. In the new book it presents the evidence that there is a CCTV footage of tom letting the dog out and susan saw him do it. Susan saw him do it is just a repeat of evidence, so you ignore it. The CCTV footage is new so you add a new note about that to the end of your note sequence on "who let the dogs out".

    Answer to creating these reference points that serve as long term memory is " condensed reformulated texts" in the form of atomic notes. The reason for this is it trains your mind to actually understand what you are reading on a deeper level than just copy pasting excerpts. It trains your mind to notice patterns and what isn't mentioned.

    Thanks for the elaboration! So if I'm not misinterpreting you, you're arguing for the Feynman method?

    I agree that you need to elaborate and reflect to gain understanding. I'm not sure if you are just adding related information to the question, or arguing against searching for and marking specific kinds of information in your book (or equivalent)?

    A workflow with Zettelkasten become much easier when you have more detailed knowledge on what to elaborate and reflect upon; and as @Phil wrote, a much higher change that habits form.

  • What to focus on while reading: the coffee, of course :)

    Have a nice night everyone.

    :wq

  • A little free time and I made a bookmark that has @phil's marginally prompts on it so they can be held "top of the mind" when reading. I can't wait till I get to try this out.

    Here is the link to the file. This can be printed on 3X5 or A6 card stock.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • Thanks @Will. I feel honored to play a small part in your ZK journey. I see from your photo we share the same book reading stand and similar spiritual inclinations. Cheers (or should that be bows) :)

  • @Will that would make a good merch idea. I don't know how feasible that would be from a busienss standpoint. But say a Zettelkasten De bookmark with cheatsheet on it. It would probably make sense to have like a merch package where its multiple stuff like a coffee cup, laptop sticker, bookmark, etc?

  • @ctietze have you ever thought about offering merch? This isn't something I'd be interested in producing or marketing but you and Sasha seem well-positioned to do something like this. This would be a way for some of us to offer support. I'd be first in line if you offered coffee mugs, laptop stickers, tee shirts even just a tip jar.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

Sign In or Register to comment.