Zettelkasten Forum


Long Time Listener, First Time Caller

Hello!
My name is Dan. I am fairly new to the Zettelkasten Method. I've been reading about it on and off for years (especially this website) but have finally decided to try it. I am not new to notetaking in general. I learned to take notes from the old Turabian manuals many years ago. Everything on a 3x5 note card. One thought, one card. Using markings to separate my words from paraphrasing and from quotes. Adding source information, etc. In college (many years ago), I was heavily involved in Educational Psychology around notetaking, study skills and research in those areas. Over the years, I've picked up concepts such as Commonplace and many types of notetaking methods (all of them? :P).

I adopted a Plain Text workflow a few years ago. I am on Linux/Windows environments. I'm not tied to any editor (hence my use of markdown). I use various VIM flavors, VS Code, notepad, and have tried emacs, Zettlr and Obsidian. I'm fairly comfortable using any of those but am mainly using Zettlr right now. I use pandoc to generate most everything I need either to HTML, docx or PDF via LaTeX. My reference manager of choice is Zotero. I use hypothes.is "somewhat," but not much. I haven't figured out a good way to just pipe those notes into Zotero where I'd prefer them. My "inbox" is Zotero.

Why am I looking at Zettelkasten after all these years? Because I'm adventuring out into new phases in my life where I think notetaking and writing are going to become far more important. Mainly in the area of Genealogy. Genealogy has overlap with many topics/cross-overs in history, anthropology, social sciences, archive/library science, DNA, general research, writing. I need a better way to process and use information. While I have degrees in history, anthropology, and engineering, I've work in more practical fields, mainly Tech, for years and am well out of practice in research and writing.

Since I haven't seriously written or researched in years, I need to shake the rust off. As part of that effort, I want better techniques to process and store what I've read. I think the "commonplace" tradition (and I fit Zettelkasten in that category for this discussion) is the only methodology that seriously considers the process of taking notes and tying them together. There is, I believe, a fairly complete workflow from figuring out what to read, how to read it, how to take notes about it, how to process those notes (including storage), how to tie notes together, and how to use them for output.

Also, it seems to be the most amenable method to fit into my plain text workflow.

I do have more specific questions, mainly around my notes in Zotero and what to do with them, but I will post them separately.

Comments

  • Welcome to the forums, Dan!

    That's an impressive amount of tools you wield :)

    Would love to hear more about how you use pandoc and export your stuff, eventually.

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

  • Notes attached to sources. I often do it this way where I have a number of sources that discuss the same topic and I want to compare/contrast or synthesize them.

    "Literature" note showing how I can keep direct quotes, from paraphrases, from my own words.

    .

  • @dandennison84: Nice diagram! This forum attracts a certain type of person, doesn't it? I bet many of us have our own workflow diagram (I do), even those of us who aren't engineers (I'm not)!

    @dandennison84 said:

    I'm fairly comfortable using any of those but am mainly using Zettlr right now.

    @ZettelDistraction uses Zettlr and may be willing to comment.

    I do have more specific questions, mainly around my notes in Zotero

    Do you want to discuss Zotero here in this discussion? Since you shared a screenshot here of your Zotero setup, I will give you my opinion, with which I think many here would agree: a reference manager (such as Zotero) is not for storing notes. This principle is obvious for those of us (like me) who use BibDesk, a Mac reference manager that does not have note-editing capability comparable to Zotero. Unlike BibDesk, Zotero allows you to keep many separate notes in Zotero easily, but that doesn't mean that you should.

    A reference manager is just a little library catalog of your references. Notes (Zettels) go in a separate note system (Zettelkasten). Notes in the note system are connected to records in your reference manager via (1) cite keys in the note and/or via (2) links to a reference note elsewhere in the note system that includes the cite key. (I didn't set up my note system using method 2, but I wish I had. It would be too much work for me to change at this point.)

    You can try to keep notes in Zotero if you really want, but I think most people here would agree with me that it's a mistake. Keeping your notes (Zettels) in a separate note system (Zettelkasten) is much more flexible and powerful, especially with state-of-the art software.

  • edited May 31

    Hi @Andy, thanks for the feedback! This is probably as good a place as any. Yes, it does attract a certain type! There is too much “cargo cult” mentality in adopting processes. So I like to lay out processes and understand the “why.”

    One of the main reasons I’m on the forum and more active now is because I know I need a transition to something else. I don’t have what you all call “permanent” notes as of now. I go directly from “fleeting” and “literature” notes to writing something.

    I would like to fit a more permanent storage mechanism in my workflow, like a ZK. I am uncertain about what to do about what I am calling “literature” notes in my workflow. Should I simply offload that entire process to a ZK? Should I keep briefer “lit” notes that perhaps just specify some keywords and page numbers in Zotero?

  • I searched for "notes in zotero" in the forum and found these three older discussions that may be worth your time to read:

    Should I simply offload that entire process to a ZK?

    I would say yes, and I think that's largely the consensus in the discussions linked above. I consider this comment by @pgrhowarth in the third discussion linked above to be a helpful way of thinking about it, for example.

    Should I keep briefer "lit" notes that perhaps just specify some keywords and page numbers in Zotero?

    I can understand wanting to keep some kinds of information in Zotero. In my reference manager, I keep a summary of each reference and table of contents in its abstract field, but most of that information is just scraped from the web or copied and pasted. I don't put those summaries in my note system. It's up to you where to draw the line. But looking at your screenshot I think you should move much of that information into a ZK because you're already trying to slice and dice the information, which is more fruitfully done in the ZK.

  • edited June 1

    One more observation about your Zotero screenshot: the structure that you're trying to create there almost looks like a table in a relational database. (It also looks like coding in qualitative data analysis.) You may want to think more about what kind of database model is most appropriate for the questions you're trying to ask in that screenshot. I've been impressed by how the Dataview plugin for Obsidian allows users to query their note system like a relational database, and there are other personal knowledge base (PKB) software applications that allow similar database wizardry. That kind of flexibility of data models and queries is what dedicated PKB software will give you and Zotero doesn't.

    Post edited by Andy on
  • Thanks for the feedback @Andy. Those posts were helpful, especially by the historian. That type of evidence-based research is also how I approach things and the types of notes I need to make.

    What you are seeing in my screenshot is how I approach reading for a subject. I rarely read anything “blind.” I formulate questions I want answers to and read to fill them out. So in my screenshot, you can see the questions I’m asking.

    When I’ve processed them all, I build a table to compare contrast (or other graphics like flow charts). This is how I connect, extend, criticize, synthesize, etc. This is likely where you are picking up the relational aspects.

    In this case I am building my understanding of genealogy timelines and how they are used. I plan on building a powerpoint and/or brief guide on the subject. I’ve found teaching something is the best way to learn it.

    These are all areas I think are better served in a ZK. My “ hangup” has been note categories like “lit,” “fleeting,” etc and the principle of atomicity. I think I’m over that now. I am going to put it all in. I believe my comparison tables could serve as indices into the rest of the notes on the topic.

  • edited June 1

    @Andy said:
    @dandennison84: Nice diagram! This forum attracts a certain type of person, doesn't it? I bet many of us have our own workflow diagram (I do), even those of us who aren't engineers (I'm not)!

    @dandennison84 said:

    I'm fairly comfortable using any of those but am mainly using Zettlr right now.

    @ZettelDistraction uses Zettlr and may be willing to comment.

    I do have more specific questions, mainly around my notes in Zotero

    Excuse me for barging in without reading the full context. I use Zettlr and have documented my configuration on github. Follow the link to the Zettel wiki for the software configuration.

    The main software I use for my Zettelkasten is Zettlr (with Pandoc export formats for LaTeX and PDFLaTeX) + Zotero + BetterBibTeX + Pandoc (built into Zettlr but with latex template changes) + MikTeX LaTeX + WinEDT (a LaTeX editor that I'm fond of). This is documented on the wiki linked to previously.

    I only use Zotero for source references and never use it to store notes (except very occasionally when these are pertinent to a source reference, such as an extended abstract). The so-called literature notes (others might call them this--I don't) go into the Zettelkasten, for which I use Zettlr. I also use Obsidian to fix broken links, but Obsidian has become less useful to me since the "File Explorer Markdown Headers" plugin stopped working. I don't know if it is worth my time to install a node.js development environment for Absuridan and rewrite the plugin. I use the "Display the first H1 header as the file title" option in Zettlr.

    My workflow is designed around Zettlr. Pandoc-style citations help. I have a system of IDs that I use in conjunction with a standardized Zettel template. Chris Aldrich linked to my standardized Zettel template in his online Zettelkasten, so perhaps others would find it useful.

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0.

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