Zettelkasten Forum


What content-coding convention do you use in the naming?

I am a newbie. Please be gentle.
I came to The Achieve via How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning, and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers by Sönke Ahrens. Highly recommended. Here he talks about 4 types of notes. Spot notes, Reference Notes, Literature Notes, and Formal Notes.

  1. Spot notes - Quick jots on any old scrap of paper. Usually rewritten as Formal notes and/or trashed
  2. Reference Notes - biographical data of sources
  3. Literature Notes - Quotes (copied)
  4. Formal notes - these are the meat of the Zelletkasten (original ideas)

How do you handle these distinct types of notes? In titles or via tags? Single DB or multiple DBs? Putting a signifier in front of a note's title? Do you use a content-coding convention with the names? This way or some other way?

Comments

  • edited November 13

    I don't (yet?) completely follow this system, so I'm unsure how these processes will develop in the future. At present, my system is a bit like this:

    1. Spot notes, journal entries, free-writing sessions. These are stored in my Archive, with date-stamp "zettel IDs", but no other filenames. This makes them sort of a "invisible background" to my more refined data.
    2. Reference/Capture notes. This is a mix of bibliographic data from books and so forth, with the quotes, references, and ideas I pulled out of them. For these, I use zettel IDs, followed by a set of "prepend tags", and then an actual title. The prepend tags are like "book", "movie", "lecture", and so forth, to indicate the sort of thing I'm taking notes from.
    3. Concept notes. These are where I develop high-level concepts, and connect them to each other. These notes have zettel IDs and titles.

    An example of each kind:

    201811131045.txt ......................................... (Spot note)
    201811131045 book David Deutsch Fabric of Reality.txt .... (Reference/Capture note)
    201811131045 Beginning of Infinity.txt ................... (Concept note)
    

    So the main area for what you are talking about is with #2, and the prepend tags I use for capture notes. The main way I determine these is how they work in searches, and how they look in a list. Prepend tags like "book" actually work well for me, while "meeting" does not. I just use that word too often for it to be a good search term, I guess.

    So in cases like that, I develop a "code". In this case "meetx" is my prepend tag for notes from meetings. And it's fairly ideal. It's short (I try to aim for 5 characters), it's not used in anything else, and it's still fairly semantic.

    My rationale for this approach is that I am trying to develop layers. I don't want spot notes cluttering up my visual space, by I do want access to them, if I need to dig deeper into things. Similarly, I don't want book references to appear as "first-order" notes, and so I "demote" them with prepend tags.

    At the same time, using prepend tags like this allows me to quickly scan over every book I've got in my system.

    This is not what Christian and Sasha would do. My impression is that they keep the first 3 kinds of notes you identified in other systems entirely. So the concept notes (or "Formal Notes") are really the main thing they have in their Zettelkasten.

    At present, this does not make sense to me. Experimenting, learning their rationale for things (and struggling against it :smile:) is part of my process for integrating useful insights.

  • @micahredding, thank you for your well thought out response. I’m grateful you have taken the time to share your system. I like the notion of keeping Reference and Literary info together and prepending the title with a “venue” tag. (book, lecture, article). This along with just zettel IDs for Spot notes makes the index neat and the note titles easily sortable. Esthetically pleasing.

    Thinking a bit more about it, I feel this goes against what I understand is the notion of one note, one idea practiced by Niklas Luhmann. By placing all the Reference/Capture data in a single note it makes it hard to intermingle individual ideas captured from each ‘venue’ with various other Formal/Concept notes. I get the sense that this intermingling or the mental and physical attempts at intermingling are key to getting the most value out of the Zettelkasten and finding hidden surprises.

    "I don't want book references to appear as "first-order" notes, and so I "demote" them with prepend tags.”

    Great! This is an idea worth stealing! Only I think I’ll break up my notes from a book, for example, into many notes, maybe with the same title (the book title) and different zettel IDs. What would happen if I had 50 notes, taken from the same book, all with the same title but different zettel IDs? To find a specific thing about the book, I’d have to use the search function in The Archive and serendipitously other notes/ideas from other reference/formal/concept notes could pop up and be linked increasing the overall value of the Zettelkasten.

    Thanks again @micahredding.

  • edited November 14

    When I started using the Zettelkasten Method I had a couple of methods to distinguish between note types. I encountered them when I read Umberto Ecos How to Write a Thesis. I went quite crazy with different conventions in the title of the note, tags and different techniques.

    After a couple of years of heavily relying on the Zettelkasten Method, only one distinction withstood the test of time and practice: The difference between structure notes and content notes.

    In the aftermath, there is quite a simple reason for that: The only thing that matters is how you use notes. Not: How you conceptualise notes. This is my reason to orientate myself to the practice and not the theory of note taking.

    This is not what Christian and Sasha would do. My impression is that they keep the first 3 kinds of notes you identified in other systems entirely. So the concept notes (or "Formal Notes") are really the main thing they have in their Zettelkasten.

    Yes. And a bit more: I recommend to have not literature notes at all because just having collected just a quote is a case of Collector's Fallacy. (Great article by Christian)

    From my experience, those distinctions are interesting from a theoretical perspective but don't translate into practice. But I won't go into deep criticising Ahrens concept because it is disgraceful to criticise someone other than face to face when you are working in the same field.

    Anyways: Welcome aboard, @Will.

  • @sfast said:
    Yes. And a bit more: I recommend to have not literature notes at all because just having collected just a quote is a case of Collector's Fallacy. (Great article by Christian)

    I suspect I'm using quotes in a slightly different way.

    I will often quote them literally in talks, social media posts, essays, etc. So my collection of quotes is not an "unprocessed body of texts", but a set of highly refined outputs of my system.

    (For example, I often maintain multiple copies of the same quote, excerpted in slightly different ways, for different media.)

    I'm also often interested in the poetry of how something was said. So I may hold on to a turn of phrase, or way of explaining something, that may be useful as inspiration.

    @Will said:
    By placing all the Reference/Capture data in a single note it makes it hard to intermingle individual ideas captured from each ‘venue’ with various other Formal/Concept notes. I get the sense that this intermingling or the mental and physical attempts at intermingling are key to getting the most value out of the Zettelkasten and finding hidden surprises.

    I don't leave the reference/capture data confined to a single note. As I process, I copy them out into different concept notes. So I think this is a both/and approach to what you're describing.

    I am biased towards maintaining a copy of my original thought-process, that I had upon first encountering a work. So this is what I (mostly) leave in the Reference/Capture Note. But the developed concepts live in their own notes, interacting and intermingling with everything else.

    Thanks guys!

  • @sfast Thanks for your description of Structure and Content notes. Do I understand you recommend only 2 types of notes, content, and table of contents? I can't imagine all your content notes are of the same format. Maybe you just don't treat them differently. I’m getting that the structure comes out of the content, not the other way around - the way folders, projects and reconfiguring tags force the content to follow the structure. This is so hard to let go of though, coming from an Evernote background. I feel like I should have some structure in advance because I fear the as the archive grows, creating some structure later in the future will be an onerous task and appear as an afterthought.

    … I recommend to have not literature notes at all because just having collected just a quote is a case of Collector's Fallacy. (Great article by Christian)

    Yes, a great article by Christian. You say in the above quote “… just having collected just a quote …”, by, that I hope you don’t mean never ever put a quote in a note. I think I understand the Collector’s Fallacy. And attribution is important. I would think the better strategy would not to just collect but collect (for attribution) and synthesize.

  • Regarding titling. Apart from a type of note, I'm wondering about what descriptive titles to give. Some notes I have are declarative statements that are basically the note content itself. For example, here is a note I took from a medical paper:

    20181101171301.6 Objective diagnosis of small fiber neuropathy is carried out using intraepidermal nerve fiber density and quantitative sudomotor axon reflex testing (QSART)

    That note title is a declarative sentence that is the information of the note.

    A lot of times, however, it makes more sense to make a title that says some about the content, but isn't the actual content itself. Here is an example:

    20181117220344.2 Previous strategies to identify orphan T-Cell Receptors

    The content of this note is this:

    A number of strategies have been used to determine the specificity of ‘‘orphan’’ TCRs (Birnbaum et al., 2012). Mass spectrometry can provide an unbiased method of antigen isola- tion (Abelin et al., 2017), but requires large cell numbers, typically 107 to 109 cells. Most studies of T cell antigen specificities involve testing candidate antigens empirically. For example, studies of anti-tumor T cell specificities have shown productive T cell responses toward neo-antigens. Such studies entail sequencing tumors to identify mutations, using epitope prediction algorithms to predict immunogenic mutant peptides and testing for T cell responses directed at these mutant peptides (Kreiter et al., 2015; Rajasagi et al., 2014; Tran et al., 2014). Other strategies query established T cell specificities in patients by using pHLA multimers (Bentzen et al., 2016; Newell et al., 2013).

    Here, my title indicates what I will find in this note, but it's not the content itself. It's a description, but not the actual idea. In this case, there is too much information to capture it in the title. It's more of a "pointer-to" than the thing itself.

    I find times where I want both kinds of titles.

    What do you all think?

  • @Will No, of course you can have quotes. But they should be processed.

    @micahredding If they are processed they are processed. :smile:

  • @achamess

    I would use a list for such a note and name it : Methods to identify orphan T-Cell Receptors. I'd ditch the "previous" because there are just methods and there value. Time is not a appropriate vector to align methods like that.

    From here the list could be in different forms:

    1. Subheadlines. For every method one sub headline.
    2. Just a list. Then every item should begin with a bold hint of the content of the item.
    3. A note per method. Then you would end up with a structure note.

    Combination of all three are possible. The note you quoted is a text which becomes a bit clunky when working with the note. I prefer lists and a more dense style.

Sign In or Register to comment.