Zettelkasten Forum


Literature note workflow

Hi all,

I have seen a number of discussions on this in the forum and some great contributions from numerous people, particularly @Will, and one important message I've taken away is that there isn't a 'right' way to do most things in a zettelkasten setup and workflow.

That said, one thing I've been wondering about is literature notes. I'm building my zettelkasten in Scrivener and I was setting it up so that both literature notes and permanent notes are in the same system.

After reading an article on Medium that makes the following distinction, it clicked for me what a 'literature note' is:

"There are a couple of differences between Literature notes and permanent notes:

* Literature notes are written in the context of the source they were inspired by. Whereas permanent notes are written in the context of your own ideas and interests.
* Literature notes only have one connection, to the book they came from. While permanent notes can have many connections (to individual notes, as part of multiple topics etc)."

It then occurred to me that rather than having a single Zettel for each literature note, I could have a single document for all of the literature notes pulled/created from a single book/article/source. This is the format that Readwise pulls highlights into Evernote in in any case.

I would then keep the literature notes in a separate location (Evernote in my case) to simulate Luhmann's setup of having two separate slip boxes and to ensure that full text search in Scrivener doesn't surface both the literature note and the permanent note for each search.

A few questions:

  • Do others keep a hard separation between storage location of literature notes and permanent notes?
  • Has anyone set their system up in a similar way?
  • Do you see any potential problems with the setup I've laid out?
  • Is there any benefit to having literature notes from a single source broken down into many individual zettel if permanent notes are going to be created from the individual ideas?

Comments

  • If literature notes are the scribbles and reminders I jot down when I read, then these get discarded as I process the book. They're a help to maybe increase engagement with a book if it is (or maybe I am) dense. But mostly, they're like marginalia: little mementos to make me recall an idea I had. Since that won't work well in the long run, extraction into the Zettelkasten is paramount, and thus the notes become obsolete.

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

  • The issue I take with such approaches is the level of analysis. I don't care so much about notes but about ideas. So, I ask myself how to work with ideas (how to capture them, link them, expand them etc.). The fact, that an idea lives in a note is more of an necessary afterthought then my main concern.

    With these googles I can't even see any difference between literature notes and permanent notes.

    But if you insist on your distinction, I'd rather create a bucket for proper excerpts and create "permanent" notes on the basis of them. (I sometimes write excerpts and break them up into individual notes)

    I am a Zettler

  • My problem with the language of 'permanent' and 'literature' notes is it triggers schoolmarmish memories of being scolded for coloring outside the lines.

    @sfast said:
    I don't care so much about notes but ideas. So, I ask myself how to work with ideas (how to capture them, link them, expand them, etc.).

    My notes are surrogates for ideas, period.

    @jameslongley, I get what you are asking about keeping some notes separate from other notes, but I think this might be a mistake. I try not to duplicate verbiage in notes, so if I kept notes in separate apps, the searches in each would be impoverished.

    As an example, I take notes while reading a physical book checked out from the university library. Don't tell anyone. I use a pencil to put a dot in the margin of a passage I have an idea about. I read a chapter, then go back and review/process the dots creating notes while the ideas are fresh. these notes are started with a link on a structure note built on the whole book, what I think you'd call a permanent note. (Maybe, I'm confused.) Then I erase the dots. I don't spend a huge amount of time at this stage, and each of these notes gets placed in my inbox for reformating/refactoring/integration. At this stage, they are what you might call literature notes. I keep improving them and integrating them, seeing ideas form and separating them into the own notes. This self-editing process goes on and on whenever inspiration stricks. This is the fun part of the play in my archive.

    @ctietze said:
    If literature notes are the scribbles and reminders I jot down when I read, then these get discarded as I process the book.

    Yes! I do this, too, in a different situation than I described above. When I read books on the kindle, I handwrite marginalia (my thumb typing skills are nonexistent) and highlight as I read. Again, I stop at chapter breaks and make notes in my archive, this time discarding the hand written notes.

    This describes only a couple of use cases for book integration. At various times, this is my focus, but I'm inspired to create notes on my meditation practice, writing practice, and technology practice.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @jameslongley - All good comments above, from @ctietze , @sfast and @Will .

    A word of warning, not everyone on this forum is speaking the same "Queen's English", even those using the same references. Everyone has their own take on the meaning of the terms "fleeting notes", "literature notes", "permanent notes", etc. Don't assume you understand what they mean when they use those terms.

    I encourage you, and I believe @Will is saying this as well, to just think in terms of zettels in your ZK. Everything you do before that is just a temporary process to allow yourself to write those zettels. Once the zettels are written, get rid of everything else. Everyone will have their own process, depending on how their brain works and the nature of what they are learning. That will include how they build references into their ZK - lots of different approaches have been discussed in this forum.

    This is a voyage for you to discover how to build your own ZK. What others write about their ideas and experiences are just suggestions for you - try them out and adopt, throw away, or hold for later.

  • One of the things that confused me at the beginning were all the different types of notes; “literature” vs “permanent” and others. This probably stems from the practice of Luhmann making a bibliographic note with the summary of the work in one file, as his main notes were filed separately.1 So, Luhmann had two locations for his physical notes, but I don’t think you have to. Ask yourself if it is really necessary to have two locations when you are using an electronic reference tool that can search? For me, it doesn’t matter what “kind” the note/zettel is, as all my notes go in the same container and with processing, they may connect to each other for a myriad of different reasons. When I need to use my notes for writing, I search and find the relevant notes and import them to my long form writing tool2 and compile the connections there.

    I think a permanent note can be a blanket description of any note that you will understand easily in the future versus temporary notes ones that make sense now, but may not make sense later. I think that is why many advocate for looking at new notes and processing them into something robust, i.e. would make sense if someone else read them before they slip out of view as new notes are added.


    @Will said:
    My problem with the language of 'permanent' and 'literature' notes is it triggers schoolmarmish memories of being scolded for coloring outside the lines.

    YES! This paints the picture of how I felt at the beginning quite nicely insert Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice here. Once I let go of having to have it perfect, I could begin to see how some people think of processing notes as joyful, i.e. reading, editing, connecting, deleting, expanding, feeding, conversing etc. with their Zettelkasten as an activity to look forward to rather than a burden of work.

    


    1. Ahrens, S. (2017). How to Take Smart Notes. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform p. 18 ↩︎

    2. Currently my tool is Ulysses as it has the ability to access outside folders so I link it to my Note Box. I like the idea of Scrivener because of the cork board tool, but there was too much friction for me with the exports and rtf files and awkward sync with iOS devices that I don’t use it anymore. ↩︎

  • @ProfMac said:
    One of the things that confused me at the beginning were all the different types of notes; “literature” vs “permanent” and others. This probably stems from the practice of Luhmann making a bibliographic note with the summary of the work in one file, as his main notes were filed separately.[^1] So, Luhmann had two locations for his physical notes, but I don’t think you have to. Ask yourself if it is really necessary to have two locations when you are using an electronic reference tool that can search? For me, it doesn’t matter what “kind” the note/zettel is, as all my notes go in the same container and with processing, they may connect to each other for a myriad of different reasons. When I need to use my notes for writing, I search and find the relevant notes and import them to my long form writing tool[^2] and compile the connections there.

    I think a permanent note can be a blanket description of any note that you will understand easily in the future versus temporary notes ones that make sense now, but may not make sense later. I think that is why many advocate for looking at new notes and processing them into something robust, i.e. would make sense if someone else read them before they slip out of view as new notes are added.


    @Will said:
    My problem with the language of 'permanent' and 'literature' notes is it triggers schoolmarmish memories of being scolded for coloring outside the lines.

    YES! This paints the picture of how I felt at the beginning quite nicely insert Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice here. Once I let go of having to have it perfect, I could begin to see how some people think of processing notes as joyful, i.e. reading, editing, connecting, deleting, expanding, feeding, conversing etc. with their Zettelkasten as an activity to look forward to rather than a burden of work.

    

    [^1]: Ahrens, S. (2017). How to Take Smart Notes. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform p. 18

    [^2]: Currently my tool is Ulysses as it has the ability to access outside folders so I link it to my Note Box. I like the idea of Scrivener because of the cork board tool, but there was too much friction for me with the exports and rtf files and awkward sync with iOS devices that I don’t use it anymore.

    Yeah I like that perspective. I'm definitely leaning more towards the 'let the structure emerge' approach while keeping a few principles in mind. The next challenge I think I'll face is with linking notes and the potential that step offers for getting lost in 'productive procrastination'.

  • @GeoEng51 said:
    @jameslongley - All good comments above, from @ctietze , @sfast and @Will .

    A word of warning, not everyone on this forum is speaking the same "Queen's English", even those using the same references. Everyone has their own take on the meaning of the terms "fleeting notes", "literature notes", "permanent notes", etc. Don't assume you understand what they mean when they use those terms.

    I encourage you, and I believe @Will is saying this as well, to just think in terms of zettels in your ZK. Everything you do before that is just a temporary process to allow yourself to write those zettels. Once the zettels are written, get rid of everything else. Everyone will have their own process, depending on how their brain works and the nature of what they are learning. That will include how they build references into their ZK - lots of different approaches have been discussed in this forum.

    This is a voyage for you to discover how to build your own ZK. What others write about their ideas and experiences are just suggestions for you - try them out and adopt, throw away, or hold for later.

    Excellent suggestions @GeoEng51 - except for your blatant disrespect for The Queen and her English 😆. Thinking in terms of zettels (permanent notes would, I suppose, be a generally agreed-upon term for these) as the first-class citizen and the rest as steps towards creating those permanent notes makes a lot of sense.

  • @jameslongley I keep a bibliography folder with information on each book I read, that I can then link to. See below image. The note in the middle is my note and you see it links to a bib entry. Then I pulled up the actual bib entry on the right. Then in the file explorer on the far left you see all my bib entries

  • @Nick said:
    @jameslongley I keep a bibliography folder with information on each book I read, that I can then link to. See below image. The note in the middle is my note and you see it links to a bib entry. Then I pulled up the actual bib entry on the right. Then in the file explorer on the far left you see all my bib entries

    Looks like a solid workflow. I'm experimenting with using Zotero and Scrivener in tandem. It seems to allow a solid level of integration while also keeping the 'hard edges' that I like to keep between tools (something I've picked up over the years via GTD which helps me with mental clarity/avoiding decision fatigue around what kind of information goes where).

    Thanks for sharing, I'll have a proper look at your setup and see if there's anything I can draw from it 👍

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