Zettelkasten Forum


How should one approach making in-text citations for similar ideas from different sources?

I understand that Zettels should be about one thought, and that if you create a Zettel about an idea but already have a Zettel about the idea, you should incorporate the details from the new Zettel into the old one.

However, I'm in doubt about how to best handle in-text citations. E.g.: In my first, failed Zettelkasten attempt, I had a Zettel on the Feynman Technique. In that Zettel, I cited some random blog post I found. I had doubts about the technique, so I read another random blog post. This resulted in a Zettel that looked something like this:

Some description of what the technique is about [citekey1][citekey2].

The steps:

1. do x [citekey1][citekey2].
2. do y [citekey1][citekey2]. Optionally, do z [citekey1].
3. do a [citekey1][citekey2].
4. do b [citekey2].

You do step number two because of reason c [citekey2].

I ask:

  • If I had wanted to show how the two sources differed in their description of the technique, was the resulting Zettel the best way to do so, or should I have made separate Zettels for each source?
  • In general, how should I approach citations in my Zettelkasten so I don't question what I do like in the scenario described?

I appreciate your comments in advance.

Comments

  • @Dilan_Zelsky said:
    ... if you create a Zettel about an idea but already have a Zettel about the idea, you should incorporate the details from the new Zettel into the old one.

    If this is what you are asking about, I'd say wrong! Or maybe I should say don't "incorporate the details from the new Zettel into the old one." Instead, I'd see them as extensions of each other. Using your example, if the idea of the first note was about step 4 of the Feynman Technique and expressed the importance of reviewing texts and a second note expressed the same step, and the verbiage is different, maybe expressing the idea that review simplifies understanding. Both want to be connected, but no need to decide which zettel to merge details of which zettel. Link them and, if called for, express why they are linked as a sentence or phrase under the link.

    However, I'm in doubt about how to best handle in-text citations. E.g.: In my first, failed Zettelkasten attempt, I had a Zettel on the Feynman Technique. In that Zettel, I cited some random blog post I found. I had doubts about the technique, so I read another random blog post.

    >

    ... I ask:

    • If I had wanted to show how the two sources differed in their description of the technique, was the resulting Zettel the best way to do so, or should I have made separate Zettels for each source?

    Second, third, and fourth level sources are always questionable. Primary sources are golden, and in this case, Feynman was a prolific writer, and his works are widely accessible and written, demonstrating step two of the technique named for him. I'd recommend focusing on what Feynman said and maybe augmenting it with other sources.

    Maybe you mean that sometimes insightful analysis of a primary text may stimulate an idea worthy of capturing. Create two separate but linked zettel. One with ideas generated from the primary source and one with ideas generated from the secondary analysis. Clearly cite each zettel. The goal is not to parrot back what is read but to form new and novel ideas. The Feynman Technique example, asking what each step means and how it can be actualized in your life, is a key step.

    • In general, how should I approach citations in my Zettelkasten, so I don't question what I do like in the scenario described?

    Cite everything.
    I use a citing model in my zettel such that the text that is mine originates with me, or my ideas are left-justified or in an ordered or unordered list. Other ideas and quotes are block-quotes or encased in quotes. If a note has but one cited work, I list it at the bottom and call it good because all citations are from a single source. If there is more than one book or paper cited, use footnotes.
    This methodology is not magic. I use it because it is simple and I can remember it. So whenever I look at a zettel, I can immediately tell which part contains my idea.

    Example. My ideas are presented left-justified, and the short quotes are cited, each to their respective sources.

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

  • edited July 5

    @Will

    I thought you had to incorporate details from new Zettels into old ones if they were about the exact same idea. That's what one of the blog posts from the Zettelkasten blog said, but you say that I shouldn't. Now I'm confused. I don't see how I could form new and novel ideas if I have two very similar Zettels. The following Zettel illustrates my doubts very well:

    After looking at your wonderful citing model example, I realize that I need to learn more about writing and referencing. Good thing that I have a tool to aid me in learning this.

    • In general, how should I approach citations in my Zettelkasten so I don't question what I do like in the scenario described?

    In general, I like to dump citations below the description.
    Something like this:

    Model is a simplified representation of the subject

    (Desc goes here)
    Models can be fetishisized due to (blabla), also see [Model fetishization]

    Quotes

    Source 1
    "The Map is Not the Territory." [link to another zettel optional]
    Source 2
    "This's not a pipe." [link to another zettel optional]
    Source 3
    "Dorian Grey." [Model fetishization]

    More specifically...

    • If I had wanted to show how the two sources differed in their description of the technique, was the resulting Zettel the best way to do so, or should I have made separate Zettels for each source?

    For me it depends on the context.
    If the differences between the sources are not significant, I usually make a description of the general subject and briefly mention the differences. Then, if needed, I make citations below the summation.
    If the differences are crucial, I make a zettel for each source and a separate zettel with their comparison.

  • @Dilan_Zelsky said:
    I thought you had to incorporate details from new Zettels into old ones if they were about the exact same idea. That's what one of the blog posts from the Zettelkasten blog said, but you say that I shouldn't. Now I'm confused. I don't see how I could form new and novel ideas if I have two very similar Zettels.

    Which blog post are you referring to?

    What do you mean by should and shouldn't?

    As @emps says, "it depends on the context." If an idea emerges around a single topic from two sources when I'm creating a zettel, then I'd include them in the same zettel. See the example above. If, weeks or months later, I created a zettel about an idea already in my zettelkasten, I'd be sure and link them. I'd refactor the first zettel depending on what my zodiac chart said about the trans-Saturnian planets' position. :wink: By that I mean, how I felt at the time. I might think the differences trivial and do nothing, and I might think one has more impact than the other and investigate that. I might see the idea more clearly and delete one or the other. Who knows. See the example below. In the end, these two examples don't look much different, but the thought process I went through was unique for each.

    All this is nuanced and hard to talk about. I only comment to clarify my own ideas and to provide help.

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

  • @emps

    For me it depends on the context.
    If the differences between the sources are not significant, I usually make a description of the general subject and briefly mention the differences. Then, if needed, I make citations below the summation.
    If the differences are crucial, I make a zettel for each source and a separate zettel with their comparison.

    This is the answer I was looking for.

    So in the example Zettel I provided, it's a premise for conclusions Sascha Fast and Christian Tietze made. In [fast2020IntroductionZettelkastenMethod], Sascha Fast uses this to say that the body of a Zettel should be in your own words. In [tietze2014ReadingHabitsPutting], Christian Tietze concludes from this to create reading notes using your own words.

    I think that the best thing to do here is to put the premise in the Zettels that contain the conclusions instead of making a separate Zettel for it. If I want to link to a Zettel on the idea that using your own words has benefits, I imagine that it's better to link to a Zettel that draws from a primary source, as @Will said. What do you think?

    With regards to the other scenario, I think that I would have had the following options to deal with the Zettel on the Feynman Technique:

    • If I wanted to compare how different sources described the technique, I could have made separate Zettels for each source and a Zettel to show how their difference.
    • Ditch out the sources and go straight for the primary source.

    I realize that the latter option would've been better.

    If the differences between the sources are not significant, I usually make a description of the general subject and briefly mention the differences. Then, if needed, I make citations below the summation.

    Could you elaborate on this? In particular, I don't get what you mean by "general subject." Does this mean that you describe the idea of the authors? E.g.: "The time spent making connections for a Zettel relevant to a topic increases as the number of Zettels linked to from the Structure Note on that topic gets larger [author1][author2]."

  • edited July 6

    @Will

    I was referring to this blog post: When Should You Start a New Note?.

    With regards to your second question, I'm sorry for being so unclear.

    The thing is that I follow the IEEE style to make in-text citations. E.g.: I read a text and an author makes an argument that I find important, so I'll write down in a paper slip the argument using my own words. Then, when I create a Zettel from this slip, I might end up with something like "bla bla bla bc bla bla bla [citekey]." Here, I'm citing the author's argument by placing what would be the unique number of the reference at the end of the sentence.

    Well, except that I place citekeys instead of numbers in my Zettels. This is because when I need to create a large piece of text, I replace the citekeys in the Zettels by unique numbers that link to the references. E.g.: [somecitekey] becomes [1] and in the references list you'll see "[1] Full reference."

    My problem is when two or more sources say the same thing. E.g.: Author 1 says that the first step of the Feynman Technique is to do X, and author 2 says the same thing. In my Zettel for the technique, I had step one say "do X [citekey1][citekey2]." There, the in-text citations were pointing to the two sources.

    My questions were: What should I do about these two sources? Is it ok to cite the two the way I did in the example Zettel? Should I have made separate Zettels for each author's description of the technique?

    After reading your first post, I see that I should've gone straight for the primary source in that case.

    The second question was where I stated my specific problem. Thankfully, @emps' managed to understand my poorly-stated question and hit the nail in the head with his answer.

    My second question, phrased better is: If two sources say the same thing but with some differences and I want to show those differences in my Zettelkasten, what should I do? Describe what the authors said in a Zettel and then briefly comment how they differ in what they said, or make a separate Zettel for what each source said and another Zettel to explain how they are different?

    By the way, ignore this:

    @Dilan_Zelsky said:
    I understand that Zettels should be about one thought, and that if you create a Zettel about an idea but already have a Zettel about the idea, you should incorporate the details from the new Zettel into the old one.

    After reading the comments to my post, I see that this paragraph has nothing to do with my problem.

  • @Dilan_Zelsky said:

    Some description of what the technique is about [citekey1][citekey2].
    
    The steps:
    
    1. do x [citekey1][citekey2].
    2. do y [citekey1][citekey2]. Optionally, do z [citekey1].
    3. do a [citekey1][citekey2].
    4. do b [citekey2].
    
    You do step number two because of reason c [citekey2].
    

    I ask:

    • If I had wanted to show how the two sources differed in their description of the technique, was the resulting Zettel the best way to do so, or should I have made separate Zettels for each source?
    • In general, how should I approach citations in my Zettelkasten so I don't question what I do like in the scenario described?

    I appreciate your comments in advance.

    If you think about what a citation is, the questions are more easily answered: A citation basically means X says Y. So, the question is what do you cite? Do you cite an experiment? Then you connect the empirical knowledge that someone gathered (= X interpreted data and forms information). Do you cite an opinion? Then make it explicit that it is an opinion and how the opinion giver comes to that conclusion.

    A citation anchors a statment you are making to the work of somebody else. It is a mechanism to transport truth. Therefore, the justification of the cited source is used to justify your own opinion. Make sure that you are either 100% confident in the justification or 100% transparent how the author justifies his own conclusion.

    Practically, said:


    Some description of what the technique is about [citekey1][citekey2].

    The steps:

    1. do x [citekey1][citekey2].
    2. do y [citekey1][citekey2]. Optionally, do z [citekey1].
    3. do a [citekey1][citekey2].
    4. do b [citekey2].

    could be transformed to

    *Your best description of what the technique is about.[citekey1][citekey2]

    The steps:

    1. do x.[citekey1][citekey2]
    2. do y.[citekey1][citekey2]. According to author 1, the step differes: z.[citekey1].
    3. do a [citekey1][citekey2].
    4. do b [citekey2].

    Don't hide behind any authors! It is now your description of this technique. Stand behind it. And make transparent on which fundaments the technique you describe are (citations, quality of their justification, you confidence in it). Add a commentary that describes any pitfalls and possible weakness to make sure you don't fool your future self.

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast

    Yes, I like what you said in this most recent comment.

  • @sfast

    What an enlightening reply!

    If you think about what a citation is, the questions are more easily answered: A citation basically means X says Y. So, the question is what do you cite? Do you cite an experiment? Then you connect the empirical knowledge that someone gathered (= X interpreted data and forms information). Do you cite an opinion? Then make it explicit that it is an opinion and how the opinion giver comes to that conclusion.

    A citation anchors a statment you are making to the work of somebody else. It is a mechanism to transport truth. Therefore, the justification of the cited source is used to justify your own opinion. Make sure that you are either 100% confident in the justification or 100% transparent how the author justifies his own conclusion.

    Don't hide behind any authors! It is now your description of this technique. Stand behind it. And make transparent on which fundaments the technique you describe are (citations, quality of their justification, you confidence in it). Add a commentary that describes any pitfalls and possible weakness to make sure you don't fool your future self.

    So to answer my own questions based on your reply:

    First of all, are the authors transparent about how they came to their conclusion? If not, ditch them. Otherwise, do I think that my opinion is right or reasonable? I need to be confident in it because I'm citing those sources to show that my opinion has a good reason to exist. If I'm not confident in it, then I should do something about it.

    Now, if I'm confident in my opinion and the authors are transparent, then I should make it explicit how transparent the authors are in how they came to their conclusion and how confident I am in my opinion. Also, I should briefly describe any problems with the cited works. E.g.: If the second author said something more, I should say "You can also do x because as author 2 states, it helps in y as the reliable study he based himself on clearly demostrates."

    Also, this hits hard:

    Don't hide behind any authors! It is now your description of this technique. Stand behind it. And make transparent on which fundaments the technique you describe are (citations, quality of their justification, you confidence in it). Add a commentary that describes any pitfalls and possible weakness to make sure you don't fool your future self.

    I've been hiding behind authors all this time, never leaving any room for my own opinion. No wonder my Zettelkasten seemed somewhat alien to me. But I'll make it right.

    Thanks for everything!

  • @Dilan_Zelsky Exactly. :)

    "You can also do x because as author 2 states, it helps in y as the reliable study he based himself on clearly demostrates."

    This is the reason why I always check the primary source of any piece a process. ;)

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast

    So I got it. Cool! And thanks for the feedback on my answer to my own questions.

    This is the reason why I always check the primary source of any piece a process.

    Will make sure that I do so too.

  • I'm a little bit late, but...

    Could you elaborate on this? In particular, I don't get what you mean by "general subject." Does this mean that you describe the idea of the authors?

    Yes. I tend to describe the idea in my words and generalize it. Sometimes it's a waste of time because I'm stating the obvious ("gravity is a force"), sometimes it leads to unexpected associations.

  • @emps

    I'm a little bit late, but...

    Nah, it's never late.

    Yes. I tend to describe the idea in my words and generalize it.

    Ah, I get it now. Thanks for elaborating!

    Sometimes it's a waste of time because I'm stating the obvious ("gravity is a force"), sometimes it leads to unexpected associations.

    I totally relate to this.

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