Zettelkasten Forum

Literature Notes, Where do they go once they become Permanent Notes?

I've been reading a lot, and I haven't seen much detail on what happens to Lit Notes after they become Perm Notes. From what I can glean, it seems most separate them out for the "purity" of the interlinked knowledge base, but I've also seen them stored together. What are the pros and cons or where they go? Is it ever helpful to have the Lit Notes queried on the off chance there'd be unforseen "unlinked mentions", when using apps like Obsidian & Roam?

Side Note: Recently I read a pretty good article where the author advised to make 1 Lit Note per idea, like Perm. Notes, but unless I misunderstood from the start, this seems like an outlier. Is it? In any case, is there an advantage/disadvantage to this method? https://medium.com/@rebeccawilliams9941/the-zettelkasten-method-examples-to-help-you-get-started-8f8a44fa9ae6

Thanks all for all the help so far!



  • I'll take the risk of sounding like broken record and leave other kinds of comments to everyone else here :) -- I do not think that the strict separation of "lit" and "perm" note is helping in the long run. It sure sounds substantial when one begins to grasp how a Zettelkasten does its thing. But the best thing this distinction could offer you is comfort when you're in the middle of something and make a mess and don't know what is what at the moment.

    Do you enjoy taking meticulous notes for the stuff you read for your mere amusement? Then creating an overview note per book and sort all ideas and quotes in there might be useful to sort your hobbyist notes. That could also be useful when you are in the middle of processing a dense book: to collect what you deem worthy of keeping in a central hub area and then sort into notes that focus on single ideas later. That's basically what I laid out in Create Zettel from Reading Notes According to the Principle of Atomicity, where I started sorting paper notes into piles, but which I did digitally in the Epstein video series.

    Are these literature notes, engagement notes, permanent notes? Yes, all of it, probably, but it doesn't matter. I tried to frame the process differently: start with things that look interesting, make sense of them, partition them to make them re-usable and to provide an address for each idea. (And delete what doesn't fit. Some things I highlight in texts turn out to be unsalvageable.)

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

  • To add to it what @ctietze wrote: Lit notes and perm notes are artifacts of a try to describe an actual workflow. Other tries of note classification (project notes, topic notes, info notes etc) are not related to a workflow but to a certain template or function. Mixing both levels of analysis leads to confusing because you start comparing apples and oranges.

    You are better off dividing all your stuff into two things:

    1. Source material (other people's texts, ideas, emails whatever)
    2. The extraction and cleaned up notes that you put into your Zettelkasten

    So, you don't have a workflow but a one step process: Take your source material and extract ideas in an atomic way integrating them it into your Zettelkasten. The last part depends on whatever you want your Zettelkasten to be and it is up to yourself and your expertise your specific field.

    I am a Zettler

  • I've been taking notes on computers since about 1990 (give or take), I have taught at two universities, written one 560-page book, an 85,000-word doctoral thesis, and various other bits and pieces in between, and I have never really felt the need to put my notes into categories. I did sort of do it for a while, and found it was pointless and of no real utility. I will go further -- I believe that trying to impose a structure on one's material from the beginning is a bad idea. I believe that, instead, one should allow structure -- or rather structures -- to emerge as one works with the material. Indeed, it seems to me that that is rather the point of the Zettelkasten method. You allow the material to talk to you, rather than trying to squeeze it into a predetermined shape. And you allow the material to morph as your understanding and requirements change. The usual caveats apply that this is just my own personal view :)

  • edited March 2021

    I agree with the others in general, which may seem odd given that I also make a distinction between lit notes and permanent notes. Such is the result of holding two conflicting ideas in the head simultaneously I suppose. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    To answer your question, I always retain lit notes because the live in the same overall vault (and in the same ZK parent folder within that vault) as my other ZK notes. So they freely link between each other. The distinction I make between lit notes and permanent notes is one of degree more than anything else. The general rule that I follow is that a lit note captures a single idea from a single source in terms of that author.

    The degrees of difference between literature and permanent note (TO ME, AT THIS POINT IN TIME...) looks roughly like this, with "pure literature note" at the top and "pure permanent note" at the bottom of this list:

    1. a note capturing a single idea from a single author containing mostly or entirely a chunk of quoted text from that author
    2. the above, but with some restatement of the principle in my own words as well
    3. the above, but with some (brief) commentary regarding how this idea relates to other ideas in my permanent notes (meaning one or a few links to permanent notes)
    4. the above, but with more commentary/links than other lit notes
    5. a permanent note that focuses mostly or exclusively on a single idea from a single author, but the idea is significant or foundational
    6. a permanent note capturing multiple ideas from multiple sources, linking to the source/lit notes, synthesized together and linked heavily with other permanent notes

    This is a gross over-simplification but it captures my mental model of the evolution of a note. The decision to label something a "lit note" or a "permanent note" could sometimes seems arbitrary but is generally based on "this idea is an important one that I've seen other authors use as well" or "this is such a good point that I intend to build on it myself in the future" which drives me to "promote" it to a permanent note as opposed to "just" a literature note.

    Also you could replace the term lit note with permanent note above and everything would still make sense, so again this is entirely an artificial distinction. And it may be unnecessary or harmful in the long run as @Sascha and @ctietze are stating, which is why I don't advocate others necessarily adopt it outright. It is something that evolved naturally for me, and works well for me – it is artificial but it is a useful stepping stone for me at this time along the way, and I may discard this distinction later when no longer needed, like Wittgenstein's Ladder. I'm fortunate that my system is extremely flexible and adaptable – a few days ago I relabeled several hundred of my notes using a Keyboard Maestro key combination and it took no more than a few minutes to evolve my system further.

    I suppose my overall point is to contradict this statement you made in the other thread:

    it's so difficult to change the system once you start to create your templates and workflows

    I think you are stuck in the mechanics still. Changing the system is not difficult at all if you internalize the principles. But to internalize the principles you have to get experience using them.

    This again is why I advocate the principles in the previous thread. Start small, don't use templates at all, don't make any distinction between "note types" at all, write one idea per note, link them together.

    As you encounter friction you will then be able to ask more precisely targeted questions for solving that particular pain point through the application of the basic principles, which will result in much better outcomes for you in the long run.

    I say this as someone who was trapped in the mechanics for a long time when starting out. It's normal. Accept that, and accept that its necessary to let go and let your notes become their own almost-living-thing that will speak to you and tell you what it needs.

    It sounds touchy-feely but there's something fundamentally true about that, and it takes going through it to get it as a deep feeling that is difficult to convey in words.

    So don't tell your notes what they need – learn to listen and provide them with what they are telling you they need to grow. :)

  • This is such a fun and timely question as I just finished reviewing some literature notes from @ctietze article https://zettelkasten.de/posts/dont-rely-on-source-have-faith-in-yourself/ I enjoyed the piece so much that even though I have nine literature notes from the article, I occasionally scan the paper to relive that ah-ha moment of realization regarding the creation of information. @Sascha discusses dividing everything into two things. I agree. Source material, the captured discussion thread of ideas from the source as literature notes and the extraction.

    In specific answer to what happens to literature notes after they become permanent notes, nothing happens. In my Zettelkasten, they retain their location in their original context silo as @gescho explains in his https://zettelkasten.de/posts/lattice-of-thoughts/ . I'll explain: similar to @davecan I believe there is a general gradient between literature notes and permanent notes. I keep everything on the literature note until I combine it with another literature note. The new entry is combinatory (@gescho), with bits and pieces extracted from each literature note who donated something to the new idea. I don't delete the original literature note because I often use other bits and pieces in yet additional permanent messages, which may or may not combine again at some future period. Eva Thomas (who I believe is also a member of this forum) said it best in her article https://medium.com/@ethomasv/understanding-zettelkasten-d0ca5bb1f80e "The slip-box forgets notes that are not an integral part of the web of interconnected slips." It's, for this reason, I don't get too hung up on The collector's Fallacy (https://zettelkasten.de/posts/collectors-fallacy/) if something catches my eye, I'll record it. If I can put it in my own words, I will. Still, I have entire paragraphs on probability and low-probability events that I have boiled down to "shit happens" (Fawer, Adam. Improbable. 2005). So it is helpful to keep the original literature note and make all my adjustments to the permanent (I believe there is a whole thread on the malleability of permanent notes).

  • edited March 2021

    For me, there isn't a distinction at all. The only difference between a "literature note" as a ZK note, and a "permanent note" as a ZK is if there's an entry in the References section.

    I have a wholly different sort of distinction: What I call a literature note is a mix of literature and reference note - containing: the metadata of a source; a link to the original source, most likely via my reference manager; all notes, annotations and graphs copied out of the source; a section with Zettel notes that arose from that source; a 3-sentence summary of the note.

    For books and articles, I use Tiago Forte's principle of Progressive Summarization. Meaning when I read something digitally, I mark it up. I extract that (there are programs and plugins to get annotations and notes of PDFs) and put it into the ref/lit note, preserving/duplicating the source's original TOC; I mark THAT up again, together with my own notes on the matter.

    As an example of the "condensation pressure" that I apply here: This week, I've condensed a 140-page book down to 2300 words, just by highlighting and reordering original text. That 2300-word compressed form is my basis for working the source into my Zettelkasten.

    It gets chopped up into Zettels by copy-and-pasting the marked up, condensed matter into existing and new Zettels, with sourcing added liberally. After that follows initial connection to a structure note ("Every note has to have at least a link to one other note"!), and THEN finally my own writing. Often, the resulting notes start big and get chopped up later as well when, my mindscape of a subject or question gets more nuanced.

    This kind of lit/ref note is right on the edge of the Zettelkasten, but it actually doesn't work via Zettelkasten rules as it's still a full-length document. I see it as the swing before the chopping motion to turn the full-length text into free-flowing segments. It's also part of my Thought Curation, as 1% of 1% I ever start reading ever gets a chance to end up in the ZK - only the creme de la creme for my slip box! I can liberally follow the Collector's Fallacy and use this process to filter out anything uninteresting over time - as from starting to read to having the source "done" can take weeks or months; some never get the slip box treatment because ideas that sounded interesting at the time of reading are irrelevant 2 weeks later.

  • @gescho said:
    For me, there isn't a distinction at all. The only difference between a "literature note" as a ZK note, and a "permanent note" as a ZK is if there's an entry in the References section.

    Interestingly this is virtually the same with me as well. Except that I also find value in seeing the distinction between source, literature, and permanent note in the note name (and thus the link title) so I can see at a glance if a note is largely consisting of the ideas of me or the ideas of others. (this is helpful in outlines especially – if an outline is links to a lot of literature notes that signals that I should consider fleshing out that area of my knowledge with more synthesis)

    Otherwise my literature notes are treated very similarly to permanent notes, with the exception that the literature note is primarily consisting of content from a single source. Otherwise I try to give them the same phrase titles as permanent notes, link to them in outlines, etc.

    My notes flow generally like this:

    1. A source note, which becomes a list of links to 1..N ....
    2. Lit notes, each of which contains an idea from the source, and a "Source: [[...]]" link at the bottom linking to the source note; some of these are used to build 1..N ...
    3. Permanent notes, which synthesize ideas from multiple sources and/or record my own thoughts, and have a References section that links back to either the lit note or its underlying source note. This is how I maintain traceability from note to source.

    Not every permanent note pulls from lit notes, and not every lit note is used in a permanent note yet. (some may never be)

    Each source is in a folder, named the same as the source note title (authorlastnameYYYY Title of the source), and the literature notes nestle alongside the source in the same folder.

    I have a wholly different sort of distinction: What I call a literature note is a mix of literature and reference note - containing: the metadata of a source; a link to the original source, most likely via my reference manager; all notes, annotations and graphs copied out of the source; a section with Zettel notes that arose from that source; a 3-sentence summary of the note.

    This is almost exactly like my source notes. The only difference between us is the distinction I make between my lit notes and permanent notes. A distinction, again, that I may eliminate as I progress, at which time our approaches will be virtually the same.

    [discussion of progressive summarization into zettels]

    Your approach of "condensation pressure" is also very similar to my approach as well! Though I typically work from my desktop with two monitors, PDF in one and notes in the other, so I can write notes and copy quotes as needed. The difference is where you spin these out into permanent notes I spin them out into single-idea literature notes, each linked back to the source note.

    The annotations I make on the literature note (giving my own ideas, and links to other permanent notes that are related) are what moves it along the spectrum described earlier – the more annotations there are the further it is along the spectrum, until I may decide it is no longer "just" a literature note and "promote" it to a permanent by changing the label in the title.

    I can liberally follow the Collector's Fallacy and use this process to filter out anything uninteresting over time - as from starting to read to having the source "done" can take weeks or months; some never get the slip box treatment because ideas that sounded interesting at the time of reading are irrelevant 2 weeks later.

    I do this as well! My reading inbox currently has over 100 sources in it. Is this Collector's Fallacy? Yes, but they are sitting there waiting to be processed. Currently I'm processing maybe a half dozen or up to ten in various stages of completion. I'll get around to the remainder eventually, or I'll tire of them staring at me in the inbox and discard the ones that no longer interest me.

    This method of note taking enables gradual digestion of multiple sources on our own schedule. By gradually processing multiple sources we are interleaving materials which leads to new insights as we use the rules and patterns learned from source A to find new meaning in source B and vice versa.

    I picked this up when practicing incremental reading with SuperMemo a few years back, its a surprisingly powerful technique. When I used SuperMemo I was able in one case to split a long video up and process half of it over the course of an evening, and then as other priorities mounted I delayed processing the second half for two years and the incremental reading capabilities ensured I had only minimal loss of comprehension of the first half during that time. The zettelkasten method itself doesn't include the spaced repetition scheduling that supports that, but using it does approximate spaced repetition in some ways and reviewing previously taken notes (conveniently right there in the source note) prior to another processing session reduces the loss of understanding between sessions as well.

    This interleaving effect can be intentionally used as a strategy when studying a particular topic, by simultaneously processing multiple sources on the topic and interleaving the insights as part of the digestion process.

    It's refreshing to see a very similar approach to my own, with the difference in mechanics of course. Thanks for writing this!

  • To expand similar workflows to the ones described here:

    Readwise hub --> Note Information System (Tana_inc) --> (Reference Note <--> Literature Note) --> Atomic Note --> Hub Note

    David Delgado Vendrell

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