Zettelkasten Forum


Should notes in Literature Notes be copy and pasted when making Permanent Notes?

Hi,

I make Literature Notes by making bullets for each main idea of a source. Once done with the source, I turn to my ZK to turn Literature Notes into Permanent Notes by organizing my bullets by big ideas, outlining, writing up, and elaborating.

The following is an example of how that looks like:

Idea: Solutions to complex problems are simple and unexpected

Bullets:

  • the majority of ppl think dat solutions 2 complex problems must b complex solutions
  • simple solutions 2 complex problems r ignored at 1st bc they'r simple
  • solutions 2 complex problems r simple & unexpected

Outline:

  • solutions 2 complex problems r simple & unexpected
    • the majority of ppl think dat solutions 2 complex problems must b complex solutions
    • simple solutions 2 complex problems r ignored at 1st bc they'r simple

Write up (without elaboration because it's an example):

Solutions to complex problems are simple and unexpected. However, the majority of people think that solutions to complex problems must be complex solutions, so they ignore simple solutions because they are simple.

E.g., the Zettelkasten Method was ignored at first because of its simplicity.

Comments

  • edited March 14

    My approach is to give literature notes useful phrase-based titles whenever possible (not always possible of course) to capture the particular point made by the author. Then that literature note has the notes / quotes from that source in support of that point the author made.

    My evergreen notes (also phrase-titled) then reference those literature notes as needed, and pull quotes/etc from them when it adds value. (it often isn't needed because the titles are phrase-based and encapsulate the author's point well enough by themselves)

    This means sometimes there is no need for an evergreen note on a particular concept because the literature note covers it well enough. In that case I do not create a "duplicate" evergreen note that only links to the literature note. If I encounter future information from another source that expands on the same concept the author made, or if I have my own additional insights later, I will then create an evergreen note to represent the concept (perhaps with a similar or even same title) and use that to synthesize the different sources and ideas.

    Doing this allows the literature note to be atomic and long-lived, and enables it to be freely shuffled and remixed into various other evergreen/lit notes as needed.

  • @Senketsu said:
    ... I turn to my ZK to turn Literature Notes into Permanent Notes by organizing my bullets by big ideas, outlining, writing up, and elaborating.

    What is the question? If you take notes while interacting with a text and then "organizing bullets by big ideas, outlining, writing up, and elaborate" into a zettel, you must feel empowered—the more of this kind of "work/play," the better.

    Cut and paste of the basic framework of notes and highlights is often the preliminary step to the actual note creation. In my own note creation, sometimes there are remnants of the initial "cut and paste," often there are no traces left. I'd suggest cut and paste away. Then "organizing my bullets by big ideas, outlining, writing up, and elaborating" with abandon.

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

  • @davecan

    My approach is to give literature notes useful phrase-based titles whenever possible (not always possible of course) to capture the particular point made by the author. Then that literature note has the notes / quotes from that source in support of that point the author made.

    I find your approach pretty interesting. I like that there's no need for concept-based notes. It's something I struggled with because it prevented me from seeing an author's argument, and your approach solves that. I will steal your approach if you don't mind.

    Doing this allows the literature note to be atomic and long-lived, and enables it to be freely shuffled and remixed into various other evergreen/lit notes as needed.

    Does this mean that you return to your already processed literature notes often? If so, when and why do you do it?

  • @Will

    Oh, so I was doing it right. I thought you were supposed to write your permanent notes in simple terms to make them future-proof. The permanent notes of my first ZK attempt were copy and paste of literature notes in the way I described, and I didn't understand them when I returned to them. Perhaps it was because I wasn't good at getting the gist of sources and abstracting back then, and not because of copy and pasting. What do you think?

  • @Senketsu said:
    ... I didn't understand them when I returned to them. Perhaps it was because I wasn't good at getting the gist of sources and abstracting back then, and not because of copy and pasting. What do you think?

    Notes are notes. There is a spectrum. From easily understandable to confusing crap. Your notes will never fall off this spectrum. Of course, it's natural to desire to move the herd. You will always be trying to cull the weaklings and breed more of the greats. (I love the metaphor!)

    A note can be confusing at one moment, when you are in a particular frame of mind and the same note will be the inspiration for your life's great work in a future moment. Or the other way around. You can't predict. Paraphrasing Richard Feynman, we are the worst at predicting our own futures.

    The way I've found to get the most out of my note-taking is to concentrate on "getting the gist of sources and abstracting back". Reframing and being critical of ideas and writing. Paraphrasing Joan Dillion, I don't know what I think (and can't examine it) till I write. Copy and paste may be the first step but the failure is to leave a note like this. Initially, refactoring is so important when formulating your ideas in note creation and should be applied in almost every encounter with the note. Even just a little. Incrementally morphing a note from crap to gold.

    I think you are on the right track. Keep at it. You'll soon be surprised by your improvement only if you stick with it and ride through the rough terrain. Some notes you'll not be happy with, some you'll what to send to mom so she can hang them on the fridge. It is a spectrum.

    I hope this is helpful.

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

  • edited March 15

    @Senketsu said:
    I find your approach pretty interesting. I like that there's no need for concept-based notes. It's something I struggled with because it prevented me from seeing an author's argument, and your approach solves that.

    So to be clear, I certainly do use concept-based notes, but try to always produce the phrase-based argument/claim type notes first and then fall back to a noun-based concept/topic titled note when necessary. But I definitely use concept-based notes where it makes sense.

    Examples of actual note titles from a single source:

    • Adler's 3 kinds of note-making
    • Analytical reading is a very complex skill
    • def. Inspectional Reading
    • Every field of knowledge has its own technical vocabulary
    • Good writing should have unity, clarity, and coherence
    • How to ideally engage in intelligent debate
    • The 4 levels of reading complexity
    • Learning a complex skill requires learning both the discrete components and how to tie them together
    • To be well read means to focus on quality not quantity

    As you can see some of these are pithy statements from the source and the contents of those notes may simply be a quote giving the broader context of the statement. Others may have specific processes or elaborations.

    But also notice that the phrase-titled notes can be used in a wider variety of contexts, i.e. I can create outlines that use Learning a complex skill requires learning both the discrete components and how to tie them together in many different types of lists, from reading to systems thinking to something like learning guitar. And I have a citable source supporting each of those arguments even though Adler was not talking about learning guitar at all. And because it is atomized I can relate it to other similar concepts, such as this other post in this forum that describes Scott Young's "ultralearning" method that calls out much the same principle. This to me is the heart of the ZK method.

    One of my notes from this source is over 10 pages long because it covers a very complex process that can't be meaningfully broken apart – the components only make sense in relation to each other, so atomizing it further would make the note more difficult to comprehend.

    But the vast majority of notes are much much shorter than that – the rule is an atomic note should be as short as possible to capture the idea but no shorter, and as long as needed to encapsulate the entirety of the idea but no longer. :)

    These notes were all created by applying Adler's own methods to his own book, extracting propositions and arguments and conclusions into atomic notes.

    I will steal your approach if you don't mind.

    Heck I stole the phrase-based titling idea from Andy Matuschak so there's no honor amongst thieves. ;)

    Besides as Sönke Ahrens says, we never really start from scratch anyway. :)

    Doing this allows the literature note to be atomic and long-lived, and enables it to be freely shuffled and remixed into various other evergreen/lit notes as needed.

    Does this mean that you return to your already processed literature notes often? If so, when and why do you do it?

    "Return" may be too strong a word. I link to them freely and will visit them when I need to if I'm reviewing something that links to it and I want to recall what that author said.

    Some may disagree with atomizing the literature notes like this and then linking to them freely alongside my own permanent/evergreen notes. But the reason I use this approach is because this is the same approach we take in real life.

    We frequently make statements in real life discussions like "this is similar to what Smith said about X when he claimed that Y" so all I'm doing is allowing my ZK to reflect real life. I will have an evergreen note that links to other evergreen notes and literature notes freely, in whatever way makes the most sense in that note. I also link from lit note to lit note, both to connect together related ideas from the same author (e.g. I frequently in a lit note link to a separate def. Some Term note capturing the author's definition of a concept expanded on in that lit note, for background reading prior to reading the main contents of the note). I also link from lit notes to other lit notes by other authors as an injection of a bit of analysis, in a "this aligns with the thinking of X, see: [...]" or "but see disagreement: [...]". And I link from lit notes to my own evergreen notes where appropriate as well, e.g. "this is an example of concept X that I've identified, see: [...]" or "but I disagree with this: [...]" etc.

    This is what I meant by the line between lit note and evergreen note starts to blur a bit, and to me its a matter of degree – the more time I spend injecting my own thoughts the more likely I need to instead make my own evergreen note rather than keep writing in the lit note. And that is sometimes in fact how I actually make an evergreen note, by "writing in the margin" so to speak in a lit note and then spinning out into a new evergreen note and cleaning up the lit note to remove my scribblings and replace them with a link to the evergreen note containing my actual thoughts. It's a matter of degree and I go by gut feel rather than hard and fast rules.

    The purpose of having all literature notes in a separate folder, and the literature notes for each source in a separate subfolder for that source (and image attachments from that source in there as well) is to they are physically grouped together in one place and can be moved as a single unit if needed. (they are also grouped together logically through the links from the outline in the source note, in particular sequences)

  • @davecan said:
    This is what I meant by the line between lit note and evergreen note starts to blur a bit, and to me its a matter of degree – the more time I spend injecting my own thoughts the more likely I need to instead make my own evergreen note rather than keep writing in the lit note. And that is sometimes in fact how I actually make an evergreen note, by "writing in the margin" so to speak in a lit note and then spinning out into a new evergreen note and cleaning up the lit note to remove my scribblings and replace them with a link to the evergreen note containing my actual thoughts. It's a matter of degree and I go by gut feel rather than hard and fast rules.

    A spectrum of evergreen-ness from none to emerald!! This is the fun/play/work of zettelkasting. It takes a while to get one's groove on. Some notes move easily across the spectrum, some not so easily or quickly. Keeping rough notes around and revisiting them or rediscovering them while linking a new note provides the opportunity for refactoring.

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

  • @Will said:

    I hope this is helpful.

    It certainly is. Really good thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

    I made a post in r/Zettelkasten that is the same as this post, and I explained my issue better there. Here is a link to the post just in case. To quote myself:

    ... My issue is that I read somewhere that you had to explain things in simple terms, but some Zettlers told me that you are supposed to merely copy and paste as in my example in the post, and now I'm confused.

    To illustrate what I mean:

    Permanent note without simple explanation; just copy and pasted ideas from a literature note and turned into narrative

    Your goal should be to produce great ideas. A computer-supported thinking system is only good as its ability to support that.

    Permanent note with simple explanation; copy and pasted, then explained in simple terms

    Your goal should be to produce great ideas. A computer-supported thinking system is only good as its ability to support that.

    This is similar to fitness. Don't get too caught up with finding the right equipment or targeting body parts. Just work out.

    I wonder if this clears things up.

  • @davecan

    Thanks for the follow-up. Great, detailed explanation.

    So to be clear, I certainly do use concept-based notes, but try to always produce the phrase-based argument/claim type notes first and then fall back to a noun-based concept/topic titled note when necessary. But I definitely use concept-based notes where it makes sense.

    Now I get it. Thanks for correcting me!

    But also notice that the phrase-titled notes can be used in a wider variety of contexts, i.e. I can create outlines that use Learning a complex skill requires learning both the discrete components and how to tie them together in many different types of lists, from reading to systems thinking to something like learning guitar. And I have a citable source supporting each of those arguments even though Adler was not talking about learning guitar at all. And because it is atomized I can relate it to other similar concepts, such as this other post in this forum that describes Scott Young's "ultralearning" method that calls out much the same principle. This to me is the heart of the ZK method.

    The ZK Method is wonderful.

    One of my notes from this source is over 10 pages long because it covers a very complex process that can't be meaningfully broken apart – the components only make sense in relation to each other, so atomizing it further would make the note more difficult to comprehend.

    What UID are you using? S. Ahrens said that you should limit the size of your notes to A6 format, and if you're using the Luhmann ID, there's no need to make notes longer than A6.

    Some may disagree with atomizing the literature notes like this and then linking to them freely alongside my own permanent/evergreen notes. But the reason I use this approach is because this is the same approach we take in real life.

    I'm not too sure about this. Don't you do that already with your phrase-based titles?

  • What UID are you using?

    I use a timestamp at the end of my titles.

    S. Ahrens said that you should limit the size of your notes to A6 format, and if you're using the Luhmann ID, there's no need to make notes longer than A6.

    With all respect to Ahrens, his book is useful but it is overly broad and philosophical and there are cases where this approach simply doesn't make sense. Also he is an academic and there are distinct ZK styles for academics and non-academics. I'm a non-academic practicalist primarily, though I have done academic work before and do prefer to cite sources etc wherever possible. But the nature of academic work is such that it favors the short writing Ahrens describes, while for practical uses (such as forming executable strategies) it is difficult to do this, largely because the books we read for practical purposes are not describing studies and findings that can be summed up in a short blurb like Ahrens recommends.

    To me this is a fundamental flaw in Ahrens' approach, failing to recognize this. The fact that many extremely useful digital note systems (such as Matuschak's, and the examples shown here especially from @sfast and @ctietze) violate Ahrens' dicta is evidence of this breakdown.

    Take the process I'm describing for example. The book it comes from is information-dense and the process is woven through 50-70 pages in the middle of that book. It consists of four major phases, each with a lot of moving parts.

    Now, I could make small notes and stitch them all together, but that would mean I have notes with weird titles like Convoluted process Phase 1 Step 2a which makes absolutely no sense by itself.

    Instead it makes far more sense to keep similar components together as a single "atomic" unit of knowledge.

    Again, atomic to me doesn't mean small it means cohering to a single concept.

    Don't you do that already with your phrase-based titles?

    Yes that's exactly what I was saying. This may be a miscommunication. My point is that I do atomize literature notes (down to a coherent idea or principle) just as I do with evergreen notes. I'm simply saying some may disagree with that approach, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. I could discover later that my approach is fundamentally flawed, but for now it seems to work well for me.

  • Yes that's exactly what I was saying. This may be a miscommunication. My point is that I do atomize literature notes (down to a coherent idea or principle) just as I do with evergreen notes.

    Next step would to ignore all the artificial labeling of notes and just capture thoughts, ideas etc. :) (Citation is just for credit and/or transparency).

    I am a Zettler

  • edited March 17

    Next step would to ignore all the artificial labeling of notes and just capture thoughts, ideas etc. :) (Citation is just for credit and/or transparency).

    That's actually how I started. :)

    When I first started out I decided to try to keep things as simple as possible and only add new features to my system as I found a legitimate need. For the first couple of months I made virtually no distinction between note types (other than hubs/"MOCs" but even that line is getting very blurry now) and everything was just "a note" in a flat namespace.

    What I found after a couple months was that I began having trouble distinguishing between what someone else primarily said and my own thoughts and insights. It was creating mental friction for me. So I began looking for a way to make the distinction more clear, which is how I landed on my workflow which so far works extremely well. I find value in being able to see at a glance from a link title whether it is something I primarily wrote or if it was primarily written by someone else. (this is useful especially when I see a cluster of links to related literature notes, signaling that I perhaps should create my own evergreen synthesis note on that concept)

    So to me it's not so much about rigid adherence to specific types of notes, but rather useful signals on the kinds of content I would find in the note (signaled through the title format usually) without getting too caught up in specific schema or structure between the types. (I may use the term "type" too loosely as shorthand for this concept) That nuance may be too subtle of a distinction without a difference but it seems sufficient for me at this point anyway.

  • What I found after a couple months was that I began having trouble distinguishing between what someone else primarily said and my own thoughts and insights. It was creating mental friction for me.

    Why is it important to you who came up with the idea?

    I am a Zettler

  • edited March 17

    Why is it important to you who came up with the idea?

    This was partly a side effect of studying the method and being repeatedly advised to focus on writing permanent notes, so I needed a signal to help me see when I'm writing my own vs just adopting the statements of someone else. (I also prefer the term evergreen rather than permanent since it better reflects the constantly-malleable nature of the notes.)

    Another reason for the distinction is because I use Obsidian to maintain more than just my ZK in the vault – it also collects meeting notes, personal & work project notes, notes on people, etc. They are in separate folders from the ZK and use different naming conventions, so I can interlink between them if needed but can see immediately at a glance whether a link is in my ZK (evergreen & lit note) or elsewhere.

    I operate by feeling and intuition in these things, and after a couple months it felt wrong not having this distinction because I had a mess of notes and was having difficulty establishing a structure. But now it feels right as it feels like the system has a solid structure underneath me now that supports my thinking.

    For reference, some stats from my vault after a few short months:

    All notes in vault: 831
    Source & literature notes: 325
    Evergreen (permanent) notes: 322
    '[[' Links:
      - In Evergreen notes: 1030
      - In Source/Lit notes: 819
    

    I made the switch to distinguishing between them when I was around 250 total notes, that's when I started to feel the internal pressure building.

    The line between the two gets very blurry, since I have some evergreen notes that refer to only a single source, and some literature notes that include a small amount of injected observation or analysis.

  • I operate by feeling and intuition in these things, and after a couple months it felt wrong not having this distinction because I had a mess of notes and was having difficulty establishing a structure. But now it feels right as it feels like the system has a solid structure underneath me now that supports my thinking.

    Mh. Can't argue with feelings. But it still eludes me why a classification of the sources is helpful while dealing with the ideas themselves.

    It reminds me of my father (RIP). Many times after an argument he disguised my points has his. Often, after a couple of week, he made a proclamation of an insight he had, which was exactly what I told him before. It was a bit difficult to accept this for me, he was perfectly fine. :)

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast I have a lot of sympathy for what you were saying about your father. I have, over the years, had similar thoughts. Although I must say that at different stages in life I've gained greater insights into the challenges my father faced and perhaps why he had some of the attitudes and behaviour that bothered me so much as a young man.

    I had a bit of insight the other day - it occurred to me that I had lived at home for, let's say, the first 20 years of my life. I am now 70. That means I've been on my own, being my own person and striving to be a good person, for 2 1/2 times as long as I was living with my parents. Why am I still dealing with a few of the issues that arose from those early years? Maybe it's time I just let them all slide away and fully turn my thoughts and energy to my current and future life and family.

    I'll say that I've tried to do that for the past 50 years, but every once in a while something comes up that still bugs me. Sigh.

  • @GeoEng51 I think this is a very natural phenomenon. :) Perhaps, you didn't extract all the wisdom yet that is embedded in your experience?

    I am a Zettler

  • @GeoEng51 said:
    Why am I still dealing with a few of the issues that arose from those early years?

    Very possibly because they arose in those early years. The young mind is impressionable, and the young brain is not fully developed. Studies have shown that certain parts of the frontal cortex are not "fully wired" until the age of around twenty-five. Freud paid a lot of attention to early experience, as did many who came after him, including John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, and Donald Winnicott. Psychoanalysts are familiar with a phenomenon called "repetition compulsion" in which issues that have not been resolved come back again, sometimes in disguised form. In short, it is certainly not the distance from the experience that determines its power! :)

  • @sfast Haha - yes, that is definitely true.

    @MartinBB I understand. I guess I'll still be discoursing with some of these phantoms when I have one foot in the grave.

  • @davecan
    I don't think we had a miscommunication. I simply misunderstood what you wrote. Excuse me.

    Changing topic: now it dawns on me why Sonke's approach felt weird. The fault was in the A6 format!

    Also, I agree with you on the importance of note titles. Note titles informing note content is better than a label or symbol telling you a note's type.

    In short, great thoughts. Thanks to you and everybody else!

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