Zettelkasten Forum


How close to a final product you get in the Zettelkasten?

I replied to another thread here but realized I have a question of my own: how much of the organization of a final text should take place in the Zettelkasten?

In that other thread I mention that I'd like to see a Scrivener for plain text. The key with Scrivener is that it has a lot of organization tools that AFAIK no other writing app has. But maybe I'm relying too much on the editor for the organization. I do keep a Zettelkasten but I only collect literature/thought notes (as opposed to "evidence notes" or notes on primary sources). Most of the texts I write need to combine the two.

Does it make sense to try and capture all the materials needed for a document in the archive? If you keep all the text materials needed to write a document as notes in the Zettelkasten, how important are the organization features of the editor that produces the final document?

I'm thinking it is possible to strengthen the Zettelkasten and the whole process by adding these "evidence notes" and combining notes in arguments and outlines. The extreme version of this would be to export a final outline note that prints all notes linked on it. Then it would be the editor's job to do some light revision, making sure tables, figures, footnotes and references are in their place, and compiling the bibliography from the keys in the notes.

My problem with the "evidence notes" (sorry for the proliferation of note types) is that a range of texts need some sort of support that I wouldn't usually think about making a note for. Just as an example, how many COVID infections in the last X months or a couple of news articles mentioning a declaration by a politician that you use to illustrate a point.

Another problem is the style. A document straight out of notes would be either a brick to read or the Zettelkasten gets filled with paragraphs reformulating statements for different cases.

I believe a final document should have a lot of work on its end, hence the complaints about lack of organization features in plain text writing apps. I know Vim and Emacs come to mind when it thinking about great editors but having tried them I feel I take more time learning and configuring them than writing (not that Scrivener compiler is the most intuitive tool either).

Comments

  • @d503 said:

    I replied to another thread here but realized I have a question of my own: how much of the organization of a final text should take place in the Zettelkasten?

    I imagine you're going to get a range of different answers to this question. I don't do any organization of a publication in my note system. I write publications in Scrivener (in Markdown), precisely because it has such useful organization features for longer writing. Any relevant new information from the publication that is not already in the note system gets copied into the note system when the publication is finished.

  • Possibly, not what you want to hear, but at least from my perspective, it depends on the project, and it's not exclusive to a Zettlekasten. I wrote a dissertation using Scrivener, and I arrived at a point where I needed to compile the content as a Word document to submit to the editor and subsequent publication. The decision was not as easy as it might seem. I waited as long as I thought I could to make the switch to MS Word, but I still found a way to introduce a certain level of unnecessary confusion and busy work. I also discovered that I was not alone, as I found postings on the Scrivener forum from other students who had similar experiences.

  • edited March 8

    @d503

    The simple answer to your question: "It depends...".

    There is not going to be one right answer. It depends on the demands of the final product, on how you have "designed" your ZK and its content, on your own personality and writing style, etc.

    You will have to figure out something that works for you, based on what you can glean from what works for others and then applying it to your own case.

    Sorry - on this one - no easy answer. And you will get every answer under the sun if you search through this forum for the opinions that have already been given in other posts.

    My own personal approach - I keep my ZK focused on atomic zettels and links (in The Archive) and do my writing elsewhere - mostly in Scrivener (95% of the time) but sometimes mucking around in iA Writer or 1Writer. I'm addicted to trying other Markdown editors but never seem to actually use them for anything. Oh - and I do like Pandoc.

  • @d503 said:
    My problem with the "evidence notes" (sorry for the proliferation of note types) is that a range of texts need some sort of support that I wouldn't usually think about making a note for. Just as an example, how many COVID infections in the last X months or a couple of news articles mentioning a declaration by a politician that you use to illustrate a point.

    Capturing the raw data of how many COVID infections were recorded in the last X months is a good example for a note, actually.

    You can then separate the data aka observation from interpretations (plural!): could be your take on the matter, could be news articles, tin hat wearers, politicians -- the data is the same and can be reused.

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

  • @jamesrregan said:

    I wrote a dissertation using Scrivener, and I arrived at a point where I needed to compile the content as a Word document to submit to the editor and subsequent publication. The decision was not as easy as it might seem. I waited as long as I thought I could to make the switch to MS Word, but I still found a way to introduce a certain level of unnecessary confusion and busy work. I also discovered that I was not alone, as I found postings on the Scrivener forum from other students who had similar experiences.

    A couple of observations about this situation: (1) Any time you use new software, you can expect a learning curve and some inefficiency, so if you decide to use Scrivener to write your dissertation, and you have never used Scrivener before and never written a dissertation before, some confusion is unsurprising. It was only after several projects that I became so accustomed to Scrivener that I was an efficient production factory. (2) If your destination format is Word, and you write in any other format, you will have to make the same decision of when to switch formats; this problem is not unique to Scrivener. Again, this is a decision that probably becomes easier to make when you have the experience of doing it several times.

  • how much of the organization of a final text should take place in the Zettelkasten?

    It really depends on the nature of the final text. On the one extrem of the spectrum are short blog posts that could be just single notes. On the other extrem of the spectrum are large complicated books.

    But other factors are also to be considered like how didactic you are writing etc.

    A rule of thumb would be: The further the text is from a non-linear, atomic network of thoughts the sooner you need to recontextualise the notes and their connections (meaning editing outside of the Zettelkasten)

    I am a Zettler

  • I'm going to push back against editing ideas outside the zettelkasten.

    When compiling a set of zettel into a long-form text, I am constantly tempted to leave the ZK too soon to edit text outside the ZK. When I edit outside my ZK, I find the edits clarify the original ideas in the ZK. A whole variety of changes to my ideas happen. Sometimes these idea clarifications change the connections ideas have with each other. I have the strong compulsion to re-edit the zettel to match, otherwise, the new idea dissolves into the ether. After a few rounds of this, I have a miss-match between my exported text and what is in my ZK. I quickly tire of double work and start over with a new export.

    I'd recommend staying with your ZK as long as you can and longer than you think necessary, switching to Word or GoogleDocs, at the end only for very minor edits and only the structural formatting. Even the final formatting of the text can be done through pandoc export templates making this trivial. You should have spent much time at this stage. Using templates for formatting allows the same text to be formatted for the web and journal publication. Write once, repurpose for many uses.

    A rule of thumb would be: The less the text is a network of your ideas documented in your ZK, and the greater the time pressure, the sooner you can abandon your ZK and 'recontextualize' your ideas outside your ZK. Of course, you'd happily do the double work of refactoring all those new ideas back in your ZK!? Wouldn't you?

    If we are taking the time to write about our ideas, wouldn't we want our ZK to accurately and fully reflect those ideas?

    Will Simpson
    “Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @Will said:

    Of course, you'd happily do the double work of refactoring all those new ideas back in your ZK!? Wouldn't you?

    If we are taking the time to write about our ideas, wouldn't we want our ZK to accurately and fully reflect those ideas?

    Since the view implied here is the opposite of the one I expressed above, I will clarify that when I copy new material from my publications into my note system, there is no refactoring involved, so it is not very time-consuming. I don't re-write old notes, although I may append new information to an old note. My note system is very unstructured. That's why I don't, and really can't, write highly structured publications in it. I don't expect my note system to mirror my publications; my note system is just a tool, not a product. This is an example of two very different designs or styles of note system as @GeoEng51 mentioned above. I expect this kind of difference has been exemplified many times in this forum, which I only read sporadically.

    Using templates for formatting is good advice, but that advice applies to any writing anywhere.

  • Thanks a lot for the advice. I have experienced myself that writing –outside the ZK– leads to more ideas worth keeping, as @Will said. However, most of my products should be heavily contextualized. I guess one's work can be treated as an external source. Any new ideas that appeared during the writing process can be brought back to the ZK.

    In terms of format, 90% of things end in Word or Google Docs so there's nothing much I can do about that.

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