Zettelkasten Forum

Why the Single Note Matters

imageWhy the Single Note Matters

A Zettelkasten is a personal tool for thinking and writing that creates an interconnected web of thought. Its emphasis is on connection and not mere collection of ideas.

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  • This makes me think of a note I have about what is worth taking notes on while reading. With one end of level of detail being just the title of the book and the other end copy-pasting the entire book into ones vault.

  • @Sascha wrote:

    The digital Zettelkasten, freed from physical limitations, offers a unique feature: You can flesh out ideas, look at them from different directions, apply different ways of analysis, and use theoretically infinite methods to explore the idea on a single note. As a result, the note grows in size, but then you can refactor it. You refactor the note, move the grown components as new ideas into new notes and make the parent note about the relationship between the new notes.

    Here is a thought that came to mind when I read this paragraph: This kind of analysis-through-refactoring was also one of the key features of the qualitative data analysis software NVivo (formerly called NUDIST—you can imagine why they changed the name). For example, compare @Sascha's passage above to the following paragraph from Tom Richards & Lyn Richards (1991/1992), "Database organisation for qualitative analysis: the NUDIST system", in Papazoglou, M. P. & Zeleznikow, J. (eds.), The next generation of information systems: from data to knowledge: a selection of papers presented at two IJCAI-91 workshops, Sydney, Australia, August 26, 1991 (pp. 116–133). Berlin; New York: Springer-Verlag.

    A feature of qualitative data analysis as discussed in most texts on the subject, e.g. [Strauss 1987], is that the task of the scholar is to create actively a theory or other unifying picture out of the data. [...] one cannot usually bring to bear on the source material an a priori set of categories and hope the process of finding them in the text will result in a scholarly analysis. True, one must always start with some idea of what one is looking for, and mark the finds accordingly for study. But what usually happens thereafter is several or all of the following: (a) the initial categories get refined as one's understanding of them matures through the research project, so their content and relationship to each other changes; (b) they come to be seen as irrelevant or misleading and are jettisoned; (c) comparison or analysis of material in different categories, especially when studied in context, leads to the generation of other, more important categories out of these; (d) the categories themselves, rather than any text they reference, come to be the major topics of study. At this stage the research has abstracted from the original evidence and acquired the generality of a theory. These processes are fundamental to scholarly work, and are often called grounded theory [Glaser & Strauss, 1967] because the construction of the theory is grounded in, but ultimately transcends, the qualitative data. [...]
    CONCLUSION: The contribution of computer techniques so far to qualitative analysis has largely been to give control over messy data. Nobody who has handled messy data will question the importance of this control. Code-and-retrieve techniques are producing a new confidence, endowing theories produced from unstructured data with the authority of certainty that all relevant segments have been searched, all variables that might matter explored. But whilst computer applications guarantee accuracy, they still segment. This is true of code-and-retrieve qualitative data analysis packages and the standard database management packages. They segment thoroughly and without consideration of context, and their accuracy may discourage the researcher from wandering around text, wondering whether the segmentation has been satisfactory. Hence they encourage regarding the text as a permanent, concrete entity, not only committed to paper but encoded in computer files. Probably the most dangerous feature of such packages is that the method removes analysis from its context, and above all qualitative analysis needs to be sensitive to context We need not only flexibility of indexes but the ability to juxtapose and reweave the threads of ideas that they represent.

    In other words, in the 1980s the developers of NUDIST/NVivo were trying to improve on earlier code-and-retrieve qualitative databases by facilitating the creation of theory from qualitative data through analysis-by-refactoring. Methodologically this seems similar to what @Sascha is advocating.

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