Zettelkasten Forum


Which books/thoughts enter your slip box?

Hi! New guy here. :) I'm about to start my own zettelkasten, but I'm not entirely sure what kind of notes should go into it. I read a lot of non-fiction, but it has mostly been pop-sci and the like. I'm not sure that's the kind of information I want to use in my zettelkasten.

On the other hand, I'm curious about a lot of things and would like some storage of explanations about philosophy, psychology etc. -- a personal wiki I guess.

What kind of notes do you guys store and from where?

Comments

  • edited August 18

    The most useful and freeing aspect of the ZK method for me (and for many, I'm sure) is that you don't have to decide what is important before you start creating and collecting notes. If you are reading something and you are interested in it, you have already decided that it is important.

    And, since you are taking the time to read it, you might as well take a tiny bit of extra time (or a lot) to make a note or two on its key points, or even just a key quote. You might, someday, find those notes to be useful. You might even eventually be surprised by them. (And I can tell you, it's a great feeling, finding past work unexpectedly coming to the surface again.) In the mean time, though, it's not like those notes will be in the way! They'll just be there, somewhere, waiting for you to rediscover them.

    I am currently writing a PhD dissertation in American literature, so I make notes on all kinds of books and articles and put them into my ZK archive. Some of them end up being useful for the chapters I write. Some of them don't. But it would be impossible for me to know at the outset what kind of information will be useful later on. So, I take notes on all of it, with the knowledge that I will do the work of selecting the useful notes later on, when I have a better idea of what argument my chapter will be making.

    A key benefit of the ZK method, too, is that any of those unused notes might turn out to be useful later---whether for an as-yet-unconcieved project or for revisions of the same project. Again, in the meantime, they'll just be waiting there for me to find them.

    Also, more practically, the ZK method ensures that all the notes I take are always in one place. (And, equally beneficially, they are interconnected to some extent and always easily searchable.) When the time comes for me to put together my chapter outlines, imagine my relief when I don't have to gather up all the notebooks, stray sheets of paper, assorted PDFs, and books full of underlines and stars in the margins. Everything I have read has already been processed into the ZK archive. It is all literally at my fingertips.

    But, those notes also sit right alongside notes on totally different subjects and for totally different projects---notes on books, articles, films, short stories, stray ideas, journal entries, etc, that have nothing to do with my dissertation. And they are all really happy to be in the same place! Even if they are not in contact with each other now, they could someday connect with each other, in ways that I have yet to imagine.

    Finally, a key realization for me was that my ZK archive is not (at least for me) an end in itself. I am not trying to build the most complete, most elegant, most bulletproof archive possible. For me, the ZK method is a means to an end. It is a beautiful and elegant means to an end, certainly, but the point of it all is the output it helps me produce (and the stress it saves me from in the meantime)---whether the output is a blog post, a story, a novel, an article, a dissertation, a book, or several books. The ZK is a place for me to put all sorts of (nearly) raw materials, that I can assemble into something better later.

    Throw anything you want in there. Maybe you will never see it again---but if you don't throw it in in the first place, you definitely won't see it again.

    What do you think? Have you stopped reading this drivel and started making notes yet? :)

  • Everything. I concentrate on ideas. Dune by Frank Herbert for example has some of the finest ideas on consciousness I encountered. Why would I dismiss it? Because it is considered fiction? I do philosophy which is basically a more sophisticated version of fiction. :smile:

  • edited August 26

    As I understand the ZK method, ZK notes are intended to be able to be useful many years in the future. So a ZK note needs to be able to stand on its own as a self-explanatory piece of useful information. Notes that are highly context dependent such as brief notes that you made during reading, or project-tracking notes, are not a good fit for a ZK in my experience. (I view brief reading notes not really as notes, but as todos that remind me to process the book properly into the archive.) I don't agree with all of Sönke Ahrens methods in How to Take Smart Notes, but he has some very good advice about what he calls fleeting notes vs project notes vs permanent notes, which really helped me figure out how to structure my ZK in a way that works for me.

    So what I don't keep in my archive are notes that are either (1) likely to change very quickly, (2) highly dependent on context (either temporal or topical) in order to be useful or (3) unlikely to provide interesting connections to other notes. Things I don't keep meeting notes in my archive:

    • Project-tracking notes (likely to change quickly and highly dependent on context)
    • Shopping lists (likely to change quickly and highly dependent on context)
    • Journal entries (highly dependent on context)
    • Meeting notes (highly dependent on context)
    • Lists of books I want to read (likely to change quickly)
    • Personal reference material such as tax information (unlikely to provide interesting connections to other notes)

    A ZK isn't so much a reference tool as a thinking tool. There's nothing wrong with using it as a reference tool (this is one of the places where I disagree with Ahrens, who argues that literature notes should not be kept in a ZK), but it comes into its own when you use it as a place to explore and evolve your own thinking.

    I keep a set of context-dependent notes such as project notes, daily scratch files, and todo lists in a second collection, using the same Zettel ID linking structure, but with a much lower barrier to entry. The barrier to entry for this collection is extremely low, and its understood that it's going to be somewhat messy. But I don't have to think about where a new note goes, and my real ZK stays neat this way.

  • What of the book do you disagree with the most? Just a brief pointer would be hugely helpful, also any comments on why, many thanks!

  • Thank you, a metric tonne. @argonsnorts & @galen
    Great discussion around zettelkasten philosophy.
    @argonsnorts said

    Finally, a key realization for me was that my ZK archive is not (at least for me) an end in itself. I am not trying to build the most complete, most elegant, most bulletproof archive possible. For me, the ZK method is a means to an end. It is a beautiful and elegant means to an end, certainly, but the point of it all is the output it helps me produce (and the stress it saves me from in the meantime)---whether the output is a blog post, a story, a novel, an article, a dissertation, a book, or several books. The ZK is a place for me to put all sorts of (nearly) raw materials, that I can assemble into something better later.

    I find this helpful in that I now feel I don't have to have a perfect system in order to start. ZK archive is the means to work not the end in itself. Wonderful.

    @galen said

    A ZK isn't so much a reference tool as a thinking tool.

    Yes. I consider thoughts just "mind weather". Thoughts only become thinking when written. Written as a note. Exposed to the light of day. Can be examined.
    Great discussion.

  • Hello @galen may I ask where do you store your other context related notes? I'm struggling to find a system to keep these (context/rapid-changing notes) organized but out of the ZK.

    @galen said:

    So what I don't keep in my archive are notes that are either (1) likely to change very quickly, (2) highly dependent on context (either temporal or topical) in order to be useful or (3) unlikely to provide interesting connections to other notes.


    Also, hi everyone! Any thoughts on lecture notes? Does it make sense to store them as permanent notes in the ZK?

    Many thanks!

  • @hdanielv12 said:
    Hello @galen may I ask where do you store your other context related notes? I'm struggling to find a system to keep these (context/rapid-changing notes) organized but out of the ZK.

    I mark interesting passages with post-its on my first read through. I'll then go back through the text and process the interesting passages into some kind of outlining software like org mode, OmniOutliner, or Tinderbox. The outline typically follows the structure of the text, but may also have branches for major themes that I'm tracking or whatever. Each of the notes in the outline has a reference to the page it comes from. I'll then take the outline and push the notes around until they coalesce into an interesting set of themes and ideas, and I create the finished zettels from that. Once the zettels are in the archive, the outline can be deleted.

    Because the outline is temporary it doesn't matter all that much which software you use. OmniOutliner is probably the most aesthetically pleasing, but it doesn't support split view or any other way to look at more than one place in a single outline at a time, which makes it pretty much unusable for an outline of any appreciable size. Tinderbox is great, but it's very expensive. Org mode is great if you have the discipline to not try to customize it — otherwise it will take over your life for weeks at a time. Taskpaper 3 also makes quite a capable outliner.

    Hope that's helpful!

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