Zettelkasten Forum


How would you take notes from a book that you don't know when or how you will use it?

I'm still new to the method, but doing some research on the zettelkasten method, I found that the zettelkasten should always be used for some project, something you are writing. But what if I'm not working on a project, but I still want to remember what I read?

If I'm learning a skill, say copywriting, for instance, when I read a book about copywriting I won't know right away which techniques I'm going to use, I won't know when or how I'm going to use the techniques described in the book, but I know I'm going to need them.

Is the zettelkasten useful for acquiring a new skill?

In case I'm reading a self-help or philosophy book for both myself and also to be capable of giving advice to others when they might need it. How would you choose what notes to take and how would make sure you would remember what you read? Would you use SRS?

For instance, how can I remember The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius?

Any help would be very much appreciated. Thank you.

Comments

  • So, this is of course a multi-faceted question and the answer becomes a bit of "it depends", but I'll try to give an answer from my experience.

    My first advice is simply to pick a purpose. Not that it is really simple, of course, but in my own experience it has been much more fruitful to have some purpose in mind. "Project" can seem a bit overwhelming and "goal" can be a bit too business-minded, so I think "purpose" strikes a nice balance -- but read into it what you want. My point is simply, that if you are reading "Meditations" there must be something that sparks your interest? Is it antique philosophy? Stoicism? Roman emperors? There are many reasons to be interest in "Meditations", but the approach to note-taking, as you identify, differs.

    Maybe the interest is just an interest or curiosity. If you don't already do it, I will recommend that you get familiar with some kind of multi-stage / multi-level reading, where you start with an overview, then a skim and then get more and more detailed as needed. Sascha wrote a nice article on it a few years back. I can also recommend Keshav's classic "How to read a paper" as I have found it extremely useful for approaching academic papers.

    As for what to write down: I take note of what I find interesting. I could probably write a paragraph on why I think I do it, but in reality it is probably just a matter of practice.

  • @Kazuya My Zettelkasten contains information from many different areas of knowledge. Only one set of zettels has anything to do with a project; all the rest are just items I found interesting as I was reading a book or listening to a lecture or watching a TED talk or talking to someone. It doesn't hurt to identify some themes around which you are taking notes, but let yourself be surprised by new ideas as well. They will all fit into your ZK :wink:

    Other than that, I like @henrikenggaard 's advice.

  • For me the big question is this: how can I use note-making to observe, capture, and support the workings of my mind as I engage with the text? As @henrikenggaard says -- if something is of personal interest, leads to interesting question, it's a note. If something feels just out of your cognitive reach, write notes until you can articulate it, or at least articulate your question.

    I noticed that you mention memory several times in your post. I want to warn you against expectations that the Zettelkasten will help you remember things. Rather, it will allow you to pursue trains of thought over years and years, in ways that both short- and long-term memory fail to support well. It supports deep and long-running thought by making memory less important.

    So, that is to say:

    How would you choose what notes to take and how would make sure you would remember what you read? Would you use SRS?

    When the goal is to remember, then yes, use SRS. When the goal is to support understanding and the development of knowledge -- of which memory is only a part, and for which forgetting and rediscovering is important as well! -- then make notes.

  • I think of "project" in a very pragmatic sense. Consider Getting Things Done, where "project" is anything with 2+ tasks that belong together.

    Some of these, let's say, threads in your web of knowledge emerge over time. 2021 you start with a note on a TED talk, 2025 you read a book, 2027 you think of a relation and connect them. Suddenly a whole new horizon of possibility opens up. Needn't be a term paper or book project, but if you got that far, this thread likely relates to a field of your interest.

    At least when I gave advice along these lines in the past, it should've been stressed that working on a theme can help to focus. If you just open the daily random Wikipedia page and process the information from there, the result will (for a long while at least) unrelated notes on a variety of topics.

    Intending to find out something, to solve a problem, to reach a milestone, or whatever, that helps to tie the work together and make it productive in the sense that you intend to do something with it.

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

  • I think the most relevant article on this paper to this issue is: Reading is Searching

    The question "How would you take notes from a book that you don't know when or how you will use it?" could be reformulated to:

    How to read for a Zettelkasten.

    I personally read anything I read with a open project-independent approach.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited March 7

    A chunk of the information is constructed such that it can be accessed
    from many different stimuli. There is no such thing as a high-speed
    connection at the beginning of building things up.

    How can I remember The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius?

    This piece of information can be retrieved from the following sources:

    • zettelkasten.de forum
    • meditation
    • Marcus Aurelius
    • Where do you read this piece of information in the physics world? For
      example, how's room looks like; how's the weather outside your room.

    The above cures are very superficial because you really don't have any
    interaction with the book.

    What is the interaction? I think this is one of the most important
    aspects of the Zettelkästen. Only you start to read the book, your
    journal will unfold.

    For example, as I read the book, there will be some thought on some
    arguments.

    The wise man is neither raised up by prosperity nor cast down by
    adversity; for always he has striven to rely predominantly on himself,
    and to derive all joy from himself.

    I think what I should do is to find perspectives from the external
    world, and try to merge those perspectives into the happiness defined
    by myself.

    It never to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people,
    but care more about their opinion than our own.

    Does this mean that caring about other people's opinions is good for people?

    Or you may find the interesting ideas:

    • Any thoughts are a reflection of my mind
    • Self is an illusion
    • focus on what I can control
    • focus on the process

    Or you may find Stoicism is a practice that helps you to overcome
    difficulties in your life. Or you may find similar minds like:

    • Musonius Rufus
    • Epictetus

    You never know what will prompt up to your mind. The important thing
    is to write down your thoughts. It makes your journey a real one and
    it will also help you to a place where you never know.

  • How to digest what you read in a project-neutral manner:

    1. Quickly skim the material and form your own very rough outline of its main points and arguments, in terms of propositions/arguments/conclusions.
    2. As you read, identify the author's propositions/claims. Identify the arguments that result from those claims and their conclusions.
    3. Update your outline as you identify these.

    End result: your own outline, that may not correspond to the author's structure, but it captures each of the main arguments along with the claims, evidence, and conclusions for each argument.

    You can then decide which of those arguments you agree with, whether some claims or evidence are unfounded, etc.

  • Thank you all for answering. I think I should use the Barbell Method when reading. I might make a few changes depending on what I'm reading though.> @ctietze said:

    At least when I gave advice along these lines in the past, it should've been stressed that working on a theme can help to focus. If you just open the daily random Wikipedia page and process the information from there, the result will (for a long while at least) unrelated notes on a variety of topics.

    Intending to find out something, to solve a problem, to reach a milestone, or whatever, that helps to tie the work together and make it productive in the sense that you intend to do something with it.

    That's an interesting point. I might decide to write something even if I don't intend to publish it. As an experiment. Or maybe when I'm processing the book, I should decide on action steps that I should take depending on the book.

    Best regards.

  • edited April 21

    I know this was asked and answered a while ago but...

    My Zettelkasten exists for a purpose, which I hope will help me complete many related projects. However, a first reading is not scanning a reference for supporting material. I do not read with a lens focused on my Zettelkasten's purpose.

    Reading a book is time for me to explore the writer's project, not my own. After I consume and fully understand the book then it may appear as a citation in my own projects, but not before.

    When reading a book I use various techniques, some described above, but I keep two ideas in mind.

    How can I teach this to somebody?

    Something like the Feynman technique is useful here.

    I must first really know something before I may express an opinion about it.

    The idea is described well by Charlie Munger.

    “I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that
    I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.”
    — Charlie Munger

    This means that some of my notes are like a dialog with the author. I ask the author questions. I identify things I do not agree with, etc. This helps immerse me in the narrative and gives me ideas to explore.

    I doubt I ever reach Charlie's level of understanding the argument but it is the goal.

    Non-fiction projects feel to me like a some combination of meaningful facts, teaching, and opinion.

  • edited May 3

    A side question related to this:
    For those of you identifying questions whilst reading, do you write a zettel for each question, tagging it in some way so you can ID it later on, with the intention of going back specifically to answer it at some point?

  • @sepuku said:
    A side question related to this:
    For those of you identifying questions whilst reading, do you write a zettel for each question, tagging it in some way so you can ID it later on, with the intention of going back specifically to answer it at some point?

    Personally, I differentiate between what I call "queries" and "questions". A query is something that I could probably answer directly with some future searching or reading. A question is a larger beast to tackle, one that will likely require synthesis of many different readings. I put queries in a list that is separate from my ZK. Questions can become notes in my ZK, which I flesh out over time with links to related permanent notes and hopefully, eventually some sort of conclusion.

  • edited May 4

    @prometheanhindsight said:

    Personally, I differentiate between what I call "queries" and "questions". A query is something that I could probably answer directly with some future searching or reading. A question is a larger beast to tackle, one that will likely require synthesis of many different readings. I put queries in a list that is separate from my ZK. Questions can become notes in my ZK, which I flesh out over time with links to related permanent notes and hopefully, eventually some sort of conclusion.

    Thanks for the response!
    As I've been reading, I've been making notes of questions, but as I use a physical ZK, I've decided to write questions on an individual notecard, and leave them within the book. As I go through the book, I'll add onto the card any references in the book that add an opinion/answer to the question. Once I'm finished, I'll empty out the book, and see if I can answer my question from earlier on using the areas I've noted down.

    As you said, questions and queries are different. I'm specifically talking about questions here. Things that require more investigation, knowledge, thought processes to understand and answer.
    Queries being "What year did the Hindenburg disaster happen", or "Who was that bloke who..."
    Obviously these can lead to other questions, and they would then get their own notecard, along with the processing required to answer.

    Thanks for the response again! Thats helped further clarify my thinking on this... :)

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