Zettelkasten Forum

Literature Notes vs. Permanent Notes

Obviously, from my title, I'm using Ahrens' terminology. I'm aware that an alternate terminology exists, but I'm not sure I know how to use it correctly ("Source Note" = Literature Note? "Point Note" = Permanent Note" I'm not confident that's right).

In any case I want to make sure that I have the basic idea down correctly.

I searched for other posts on this but I didn't feel like I found a really conclusive answer. People seem to have different ideas, some expressed more strongly than others.

As far as I currently understand it, a Literature Note is a summary of any concept or idea that comes from a source other than yourself. Books will be a regular source, but audio, video, personal conversations, etc. technically could as well. The Literature Note should have some kind of way to identify the bibliographical information. Maybe something as simple as an ISBN would work, or a URL. (I intend to do mine on paper, so simplified methods like an ISBN are preferable to writing out everything). The Literature Note also needs some kind of identification apart from the bibliographical information. Ahrens recommends author's last name plus year (but what if you regularly pull from a blog where the author write several long articles per year?). The main content of the Literature Note should be written in your own words, using quotes very, very sparingly, and correctly convey the idea/concept of the author. It is unclear whether you should have one Literature Note per work (e.g., a book) or one for each major idea that you glean out of the work (e.g., several dozen Literature Notes per book being quite possible).

Meanwhile, a Permanent Note captures one of your own personal ideas, insights, conclusions, or assertions based on the key information you wrote down in your Literature Notes. Permanent Notes should be written in as close to a "ready to publish" way as possible. Theoretically, Permanent Notes could be something as simple as an affirmation or denial of what is in a Literature Note (e.g., "Smith is correct when he identifies that the opinion cascade effect is often caused by the official curators of media"), but the highest-value Permanent Notes will be of a different substantial point than a mere regurgitation of the Literature Notes, often combining multiple points of knowledge into a new insight.

Do I have that right?

Ahrens seems to lean toward the Literature Notes being quite brief. My own practice Literature Notes are usually 2-5 sentences, but a former professor once accused me of being as wordy as an Anglican prayer (no offense, Anglicans!), so that might just be a personal problem.


  • edited April 23

    Hi :)

    I've a very basic model about, despite this is very effective for my use cases.
    I've abandoned the idea of finding "the exact theory about", what I need was a model that works for me.

    For me literature notes contain informations, concepts, ideas, theories,... expressed and builded according to the POV (point of view) of another person or in a neutral form.

    Permanent notes contain the stuff taken from literature notes (and not only that) as my mind was capable to reframe. The stuff taken from sources are transformed in a network of concepts that model my knowledge.

    Just for an example, I try to apply what I've written to the theme of your topic, what is the difference between Literature and Permanent Note :)

    I can put the description of literature and permanent note according to Ahrens in a note and your first post in another literature note, skimming, rephrasing in my words and translating them.
    I put in the permanent note how I've internalized the two concepts of permanent and literature after reading the two sources together with other sources collected in the past and mainly the already developed thoughts on that, already present in some notes.

    I take some ideas from your opinion that convinces me, compare with what Ahrens has written about, try to develop the difference, and synthetize concepts that I find relevant, interesting, useful, that I can link to other concepts already present in the web of notes.

    Starting from this, after (or during) I've obtained a web of thoughts in this form, I try to develop also my thoughts about.

    I can consider this post I'm writing, born after reading your post, recalling to my mind other contributions taken in the past, after having thinking a lot in the past, and thinking a bit how to synthetize in a single note all of this stuff, a draft of the "permanent note" about the difference between Literature and Permanent Note.

    Your post is (my) literature note, my answer is (my) permanent note.
    They seems to tell "the same thing", more or less, buy they born with very different processes.
    They surely overlap in some part of the knowledge expressed, but they have a different form, context, use and purpose.

    P.S. My note type system is a little more complex, in the practices I've "three kind" (but they aren't formal types) of permanent notes and one of these in particular adhere less to this model (I don't need only notes of kind "how I've internalized permanent note", but also almost one "what is permanent note" that works as the centre of other notes. Even it this note, however, there is an importan reframing of the content, it is not a direct mapping from a source note. Sometimes I have hybrid, too...), but in the essence I think that difference between permanent and literature note is this: Literature Note is how others write and tell me a thing, Permanent Note is how I would interpret, write and tell for myself that thing. I consider this principle valid for descriptive notes (or descriptive part of notes), too.

    P.S. the example seems silly because is a process that has considered only a single source, your post. But consider the effect of reading many sources about the topic and reapply many times the process, comparing the new source with the already taken ideas.
    Once you reach a critical mass, the process become very fertile.

    Post edited by andang76 on
  • edited April 22

    As I've already written, if I had not a permanent note about literature notes vs permanent note, I could use the previous stuff as the main body of that permanent note :)

  • The answer to all of your questions is "Whatever".

    Seriously though. The answer to every single one of your questions is a matter of preference. Do what makes sense for you.

    My only comments would be:

    1) Lit note (source note) can be one big note or multiple notes per source; whichever way helps you prepare main notes from that source note(s). Source note can be as terse as just keywords on one side of an index card or as long as dozens of cards (or notebook/computer pages) per source.

    2) Main permanent note does not always have to be just "your own personal observations", they can also be concise reformulations/summaries or taking note of decisive ideas and concepts of what you read.

    3) I don't feel lit notes have to be concise and in your own words, while it may be helpful to do so, you don't have to and can also jot down key phrases and excerpts as needed. I feel you have more liberty in making your lit notes anything you want, can be longer, more excerpts, etc., but they do need to useful to prepare you to write a concise main note.

  • edited April 22

    @JasperMcFly said:
    The answer to all of your questions is "Whatever".

    2) Main permanent note does not always have to be just "your own personal observations", they can also be concise reformulations/summaries or taking note of decisive ideas and concepts of what you read.

    This is an important point in my model, too.
    In my contexts of use it is hard using a "pure personal" mindset.
    Even in this case, anyway, the key term for me is reformulation. It rarely is reduced to a simple rephrasing from a source, even more rarely is a copy-paste

  • edited April 23

    @VineDresser I'm on the side that does not define various types of zettels. I have one type of zettel which might contain my thoughts, quotes from others, references to sources of information, etc. I do not see the need to define all these different kinds of notes. The only "different" kind of zettel that I have is a structure note, and even those I use quite sparingly, as they are not the primary method for organizing my Zettelkasten nor the starting point for thought streams. It makes my life much simpler.

  • My "Literature Notes" are references in Zotero, a digital source reference manager. Any notes that refer to the source go in a Zettel with a Pandoc citation. Luhmann did not benefit from a digital citation database and maintained his citations manually in a separate card index. Hence the term "Literature Note," which I believe was coined by Sönke Ahrens. You might keep source notes or literature notes in a paper Zettelkasten, or in a digital Zettelkasten without a digital reference manager. Or you might prefer to follow Sönke Ahrens.

    I have a few note categories (Zettel, Index Note, Structure Note), but like @GeoEng51 I try to keep the categories to a minimum.

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0. Problems worthy of attack / prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

  • Thank you, everyone for your insights. It's much appreciated!

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