Zettelkasten Forum


Academic in the humanities, plus some reflections as a beginner in ZT

Hello all! I've been lurking a bit, but finally decided to make an account to say hi.

I'm a graduate student in the humanities, and I've just started to implement the Zettelkasten system for my dissertation research. I came across the ZT method through the DevonThink forums and am using DT as my ZT storage system.

I started my ZT about three weeks ago, and as I've had a problem in the past thinking too much instead of putting things into action, I've just dived right in. I've mostly used ZT to collect notes and insights from research, with the idea that it would help me with the thinking and writing process later on.

I've failed miserably in the past with various note-taking and organization systems, because I would always get stuck on deciding on categories and where to file certain things. My laptop files, for example, are currently a mess with uncategorized files on my desktop, documents, and downloads even though I have a somewhat organized file system. As for my notes, it was the retrieval process that was most difficult. I've often had trouble with tags, because I would have multiple versions of the same tag, but with slight variations in phrasing, spelling, hyphens, etc. The lack of predetermined categories really spoke to me as I am a non-linear thinker.

Yesterday, I read Ahren's How to Take Smart Notes because I figured it was time for me to add indices or structural notes. While reading, something really clicked for me in terms of using ZT for writing. What made a difference for me was the realization that I could use project notes, separate from my permanent ZT notes but still in the same ecosystem, to manage my research projects and tasks. I've experimented with different task/project management software in addition to ZT to manage the research process, but the one thing that tripped me up was the lack of flexibility involved with systems such as the GTD. So I would have questions that I would tack on, or further ideas for exploration after having written a ZT, but nowhere central to find these questions again (except tagging them with "to-do," "follow-up," or "questions," which also wasn't helpful). After reading Ahrens, I decided to set up a folder, or "group" in DT speak, for my project notes.

In my database, I have the following structure:
1. ZT (for zettels and index/structure notes. I make sure I have easy access to structure notes with a smart group)
2. Literature Notes, (notes only, with pdfs stored and linked with zotero), and
3. Project notes (where I store questions, replicate notes with questions/follow-ups)
4. Research journal (daily log - may or may not continue with this)

In my projects folder I currently have the following structure notes:
1.Writing Topics (each note is a to structure/index notes centered around a certain topic/theme),
2. Questions (factual) and Questions (further ideas/research)
3. Reference List Building (where I store footnotes that I will later want to extract for my reference lists, to be stored in zotero)

I think I will avoid using tags and flags as much as possible as a categorization technique, instead using them to store items temporarily before processing them into some kind of structure notes. For example, I will flag items after a smart search that pulls up documents that contain certain key words, and then delete the flags/tags after compiling a table of contents/structure note. I've also implemented a bottom-up process for compiling indices, compiling links from a smart search into a document, and then trying to discern some kind of categorization that emerges. I am also very indecisive with my naming systems, so structure notes gives me the flexibility to change the title of a collection of notes to something more descriptive or fitting.

I now feel like I have a sense of how ZT can help with the writing process. I feel much more excited to write, because I now can go to "writing topics" and pick a topic that I want to write about (which will already have compilations of zettels, organized around a question/theme), instead of trying to pull something out of thin air or through "brainstorming."

I still have questions about integrating ZT into my research workflow (ie. should I compile a to-read list in ZT/project notes?), but I am excited to share my progress with you all.

Comments

  • @MH__ said:
    Hello all! I've been lurking a bit, but finally decided to make an account to say hi.

    Yesterday, I read Ahren's How to Take Smart Notes because I figured it was time for me to add indices or structural notes. While reading, something really clicked for me in terms of using ZT for writing. What made a difference for me was the realization that I could use project notes, separate from my permanent ZT notes but still in the same ecosystem, to manage my research projects and tasks. I've experimented with different task/project management software in addition to ZT to manage the research process, but the one thing that tripped me up was the lack of flexibility involved with systems such as the GTD. So I would have questions that I would tack on, or further ideas for exploration after having written a ZT, but nowhere central to find these questions again (except tagging them with "to-do," "follow-up," or "questions," which also wasn't helpful). After reading Ahrens, I decided to set up a folder, or "group" in DT speak, for my project notes.

    I still have questions about integrating ZT into my research workflow (ie. should I compile a to-read list in ZT/project notes?), but I am excited to share my progress with you all.

    Hello and welcome to the ZK forum! I'm a fairly new user as well, and also "reading" Ahren's book. I find it has a lot of good ideas and I am going back through the book, trying to apply some of the reading / writing / understanding / learning concepts that he describes in Chapters 10 and 11, to his own book.

    At the moment, I'm attempting to write some permanent notes into my ZK based on temporary or "fleeting" notes (as Ahren calls them), written while reading through his text. I think it's going to take some time to actually grasp and understand everything he is saying, so I expect it will require several cycles through to be happy with what I have understood.

    I suggest continuing to seriously study Ahrens as well and then learn by doing. You will arrive at answers to some of your questions (your own answers) as you do.

    Best of luck and hope to see you again on the forum!

  • Welcome aboard, and glad to hear that the Zettelkasten-stuff makes you excited about writing! I think that's a great feat already :)

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

  • Hello, MH_,
    I am a brand new Zettelkasten noter who also plans to use this process for my own dissertation research! (Ph.D. in Humanistic Psychology). Just wanted to reach out in solidarity on so many levels regarding what you said about files and note-taking! Here's to new adventures towards enlightened dissertations! 🙌

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