Zettelkasten Forum


Literature Note Care and Feeding

I've been debating with myself lately about where Literature Notes fit within the Zettelkasten System. From what I gather of Luhmann's original system, the Reading/Literature Notes he kept, the notes of interesting bits he found while reading during the day. Then later, he's process those into Zettelkasten, and afterwards they either were kept in a separate system for references, or weren't kept at all. This seems similar to some other advice I've seen on here from making marks in books, to using slips of paper for it to keep it external.

However, I've seen some other people that use their Zettelkasten as a store for Literature Notes themselves. Be it the infant-stage of Structure Notes, or (as in Roam and similar setups), a "Daily Notes" setup (similar to the Bullet Journal system that Roam based it off of), and true Zettel notes are created from these, but the Literature Notes are still in the system (can be searched, linked to, etc.)

I'm arguing with myself about which approach is "better". I can see the benefit of daily writing, of keeping an actual log of what happens/what I think, and it gives me a practiced place to write any information I come across, including what I read. Even if not daily writing, putting those Literature notes there gives me a built-in reference system.

But then, I also see where polluting your "second brain" with other thoughts, or even just half-finished thoughts, can lead to it being less helpful, and confused. A Zettelkasten is supposed to be just your thoughts, with quotes only being there "if needed", not as a default thing. Daily Notes seem to fit that bill, but then they are not typically ideas to keep in a Zettelkasten either, or they are not always "fully formed" in the way Zettels need to be.

Seeing some people on here using both systems, I figured I would ask around to see what all people liked or didn't like about each setup, and what they've thought about the other side. I've not found a "deal breaker" on how it should be, so it may just come down to personal preference and how to mitigate some of the issues with each side. I'm still building both the Zettelkasten itself, supporting systems, and the habits that actually keep the whole thing running, so I may play with some of each (if I can think through a way to do so without making swapping setups later incredibly tedious).

What do others think? Literature Notes as a separate record, or not kept at all? Or ok to put in the Zettelkasten, as another source of thoughts?

Comments

  • I am new and just learning about all of this (a bit of a late bloomer here)- so I might be off the mark. I have been thinking about something similar and after reading through posts and the blog came up with an idea.

    My thought is that until you decide which way is better for you, you can use the same tool for all 1, just use specific tags to have saved searches to separate each of them #dailynotes #zettel #literaturenotes #structurenotes, etc..

    That way, you can change it up when you need or decide to combine them. Want to look at your zettel notes only? You can. Need to add your daily notes to the search? Make a saved search with #dailynotes #zettel and access them all quickly.

    Also, if at a later time you want to keep them separate, you can easily find the notes to take out and place where you want them or delete them.

    This idea comes from the post using the # qqq as a placeholder from the Emulate Automatic Link Suggestions in Your Note-Taking App and The Archive and the posts about Why Categories for Your Note Archive are a Bad Idea

    I think I am going to do it this way for a while until I have a more massive archive, and the organic part of this develops a bit more for me.

    Best,

    Reid


    1. I am trying to simplify using so many apps, and find a process that is not dependent on a tool or app. I am not there yet, but am working on it. ↩︎

  • @mleo2003 said:
    ... interesting bits he found while reading during the day. Then later, he's process those into Zettelkasten, and afterward, they either were kept in a separate system for references or weren't kept at all.

    What you are calling Literature Notes I'd consider mere first drafts. Notes, scribbles, capturing of the detritus of knowledge work, mostly reading. This then would want/need revision/editing/reframing/arguments/questioning as it was taken from "making marks in books, to using slips of paper" incorporating it into your Zettelkasten.

    This is what it means to develop in your Zettelkasten.

    However, I've seen some other people that use their Zettelkasten as a store for Literature Notes themselves. Be it the infant-stage of Structure Notes, or (as in Roam and similar setups), a "Daily Notes" setup (similar to the Bullet Journal system that Roam based it off of), and true Zettel notes are created from these, but the Literature Notes are still in the system (can be searched, linked to, etc.)

    Some notes get more 'processing' than others for a variety of reasons. Time, energy, domain knowledge, other opportunity costs. I strive to create notes in my own words, and with my own ideas but some times the universe conspires to make this difficult but I try not to let it stop me from capturing what I can of the ideas that strick me interesting. Even if they are sloppy.

    Remember the perfect is the enemy of the good.

    I'm arguing with myself about which approach is "better". I can see the benefit of daily writing, of keeping an actual log of what happens/what I think, and it gives me a practiced place to write any information I come across, including what I read. Even if not daily writing, putting those Literature notes there gives me a built-in reference system.

    No need to argue. The answer is both. I keep my daily writing (journal) in Evernote but there are lots of great tools for daily writing. I'm old enough to have dozens of filled handwritten journals in the closet. I keep this type of writing separate though. A daily stream of consciousness writing doesn't seem like it is a good fit into my Zettelkasten. I reserve my Zettelkasten for ideas that originate outside of me that I find interesting rather than the things internal to me that only I find interesting to me.

    But then, I also see where polluting your "second brain" with other thoughts, or even just half-finished thoughts, can lead to it being less helpful, and confused.

    Polluting your brain is pretty strong language.

    A Zettelkasten is supposed to be just your thoughts, with quotes only being there "if needed", not as a default thing.

    Who says? Is there really such a thing as an original thought? Or is every idea a modification, an advancement of someone else's prior thought. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

    Now I'm not advocating a mere collection of other people's ideas. You have to make a contribution to the conversation of ideas. This is a spectrum though, from sometimes just a quote that sparks something internal to a full-blown argument with the author.

    Seeing some people on here using both systems, I figured I would ask around to see what all people liked or didn't like about each setup, and what they've thought about the other side.

    Nice move to ask me to consider "the other side". Others handle their Zettelkasten differently from me and I think that is great. I'm all for nonconformity when it works. I can see where using my Zettekasten for "daily writing" might work, especially if I used one of the more graphical apps for my Zettelkasten. With modern search algorithms, I could keep internal stream of consciousness writing separate from PKM personal knowledge management.

    What do others think? Literature Notes as a separate record, or not kept at all?

    I personally make it a ritual to recycle the first drafts of my notes. If on paper they ceremoniously go in the recycling bin. If they are marginalia, in all but a few cases, I donate the books to my local library for their annual book sale.

    How this helps. It is just my feeble attempt to keep a Zettelkasten. I'm growing and learning as time progresses. I started mostly collecting ideas and have learned over time to create my notes to be in the form of a conversation with interesting ideas. I use and recommend the "Bar-Bell Method" but not exclusively for absolutely every single note.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • I think it is more precise to not focus on the actual note at all. You could frame it that Luhmann did take literature notes. I think it is more clear when you refer to what Luhmann intended: To capture the thought of others or the context of the thought he had during the lecture.

    To me, it seems that you are thinking about the structure of your Zettelkasten. But the concept of "literature note" seems more appropriately used in the context of the workflow.

    I do not distinguish between such notes (like "literature notes") structually and functionally. And to me, it makes not sense to asign different labels to captured thoughts relative to their positions in the workflow.

    I am a Zettler

  • For some years, I have divided my “Zettelkasten” into three parts. I do this by having three "types" of zettel:

    • zettel – these are the ones mainly discussed on this website
    • note – these are for literature notes, lecture notes, meeting notes, ideas, sketches, … (basically everything I write down when I do not have time to do proper “verzetteln”)
    • journal – these are for my daily journal entries

    The three types of zettels differ in their ID, each zettel starts with one character that identifies its type: z, n, or j. For example:

    • z202003091418
    • j202003091418
    • n202003091418

    This allows for easy identification what type of zettel I have at hand. It also allows for easy filtering/search when working with zettels.

    When taking notes during a meeting/lecture, while reading a book, etc. I produce note-style zettels. At a later point of time I may create one or several zettel-style zettels from it, work it into existing zettel, etc. Note-style zettels are a ‘source’ (as in primary source) for the zettel-style zettels and I regularly refer to them. I may delete unlinked and irrelevant note-style zettels at some point in the future. Linked note-style zettels, however, are kept in my Zettelkasten alongside my zettel-style zettels. Sometimes I look at them to see in which context some information came to me.

    I do the same with my journal-style zettels (but much less frequent, they usually reside unlinked in my Zettelkasten). I recently listened to the Übercast podcast episode where Sascha/Christian talked about Verzettelung of journal entries, and I now try to work with journal entries more frequently.

  • Well, I got the concept of "Literature Notes" from Sönke Ahrens' book:

    1. Make literature notes. Whenever you read something, make notes about the content. Write down what you don’t want to forget or think you might use in your own thinking or writing. Keep it very short, be extremely selective, and use your own words. Be extra selective with quotes – don’t copy them to skip the step of really understanding what they mean. Keep these notes together with the bibliographic details in one place – your reference system.

    I saw others doing similar things, but we may all call them differently.

    @Will I did use polluting your "second brain" as strong, but then, I had in mind how bad the Collector's Fallacy is generally viewed, and if you make it too easy to dump quotes into there, then you can easily end up doing nothing but that, which would be more like "pollution" than anything else I could think of.

    It seems we agree on that, but I was curious on more how people tended to manage those style notes vs others, if they were just as much "Zettels" as everything else, or if people tried to keep the difference between more precise, and their thinking around why for each.

    You seem to go on the side of "don't keep the specific literature note at all".

    @sfast It is mainly a structure-type question, with implications on how that could affect the workflow. That people collect notes from what they read, is a given (via Barbell Method, "read with a pen in hand", or however people label it). I was more wondering about what happens with said reading notes afterward, what role they were to play in the "Care and Feeding" of a Zettelkasten System afterwards. Are these notes to be used directly via linking in a Zettelkasten, or just as a reference link (or do those distinctions blur as well, as a link is a link, but where the link-target is stored can affect other areas)?

    @rhubarb Thanks, yours is the "keep everything in the same Archive" method I've seen people using more lately, and you have been doing it for a lot longer. Have you found keeping everything within the same system to make things easier when it comes to tracing where a thought came from, and finding links? Have you had any challenges with possibly having too many links when you are searching for something specific?

    Thanks to everyone for the responses, just trying to gain "wisdom from the crowd" on each approach for now. I intend on trying things out for myself as well, but having cheat notes from others on things to keep in mind sounded like a good way to go.

  • @mleo2003 said:
    @Will I did use polluting your "second brain" as strong, but then, I had in mind how bad the Collector's Fallacy is generally viewed, and if you make it too easy to dump quotes into there, then you can easily end up doing nothing but that, which would be more like "pollution" than anything else I could think of.

    It seems we agree on that, but I was curious on more how people tended to manage those style notes vs others, if they were just as much "Zettels" as everything else, or if people tried to keep the difference between more precise, and their thinking around why for each.

    If I end up becoming lazy and do nothing but dump quotes, it is me that has a problem and not the workflow.

    All notes are not equal. I'm in search of a way to quantify the value of the note and one way is to see how much time you spend working/processing (attention) a note. Another way is to view the linkage to ideas in current work. How deeply embedded in your Zettelkasten it is. If a rating was 0-10, a 0 would be a quote and 10 might be a fully integrated structure note. Notes move from one rating to another as they are worked with, a quote starting as a 0 and moving up as you add context and descriptive meaning to it, integrating it with other notes.

    I'm not dogmatic about the completeness of a note. No note is ever the "final word". I'm all in on an iterating workflow. It doesn't exclude shooting for accuracy and completeness, I realize notions of complete and final are unattainable. I'm Bayesian in my approach. As my knowledge of the world improves, my notes will improve.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @Will said:
    If I end up becoming lazy and do nothing but dump quotes, it is me that has a problem and not the workflow.

    While you are right, of course, a workflow can support your good intentions.

    I am still new to the Zettelkasten but I decided to apply the method Ahrens describes, i.e. literature notes in Zotero and only atomic Zettel in my Zettelkasten, because I am more a black-or-white guy than shades-of-grey. Taking literature notes in Zotero helps me focus on noting down their statements, whereas in Zettlr I focus on my own thoughts and ideas.

  • @mleo2003 wrote:
    @sfast It is mainly a structure-type question, with implications on how that could affect the workflow. That people collect notes from what they read, is a given (via Barbell Method, "read with a pen in hand", or however people label it). I was more wondering about what happens with said reading notes afterward, what role they were to play in the "Care and Feeding" of a Zettelkasten System afterwards. Are these notes to be used directly via linking in a Zettelkasten, or just as a reference link (or do those distinctions blur as well, as a link is a link, but where the link-target is stored can affect other areas)?

    I think that is the problem. Literature notes, as Ahrens and Eco use the term, are a result of modeling the process on a surface level. The deeper level is to not think that you are taking notes but collecting thoughts and ideas.

    Did you watch Christian's Videos on Range? Perhaps, the issue is solved there?

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast I did watch his videos, I rather liked them. He follows the same thing he'd written about before in Processing those notes: that of using scraps of paper to jot the ideas down, and then put them into piles to sort out and make actual Zettel from, which is what I figure @Will is doing to some extent (possibly not with the scraps themselves). Whether he actually kept the scraps or not isn't said (or how), and why he would or wouldn't either.

    That's where I see people using the "don't keep Literature Notes" part I said some did, but others (like @rhubarb and @nistude above) are keeping them, but some inside the Zettelkasten, some in an external reference system, etc. I know of the other ideas, my main thing I was asking about was what reasons for or against each one had people considered. Or was all of this simply down to personal preference, and all that really mattered was "pick something and get busy". :smile:

    To be sure, I don't think of "Literature Notes" as proper "Zettel Notes", and even Ahrens and others make this distinction (Ahrens calls those "Permanent Notes"). I know that the process is not completed there, and that Literature Notes are more a "means to an end" in producing actual Zettel Notes... at least, for some. Part of the question was around these new tools coming out, like Roam and others, that are somewhat blurring those lines again, and encouraging people to put all things like that into the one system (I can link to videos with people suggesting copy/pasting reading highlights from your Kindle straight into Roam.research, and then adding comments/linking to the comments directly). I was curious if, in doing so, they had found such combination to be useful for some reasons (that I'd like to know), and how people had worked around putting things into your Zettelkasten that normally wouldn't be stored there if at all (like @rhubarb solution of marking the notes differently via name). And same for others if they had thought about doing so, but found the idea of keeping those notes wasn't worth it (which seems to be @sfast conclusion), or that keeping them should be done in some other system to keep a distinction they felt was importing ( like @nistude eludes to).

  • @sfast said:
    Literature notes, as Ahrens and Eco use the term, are a result of modeling the process on a surface level. The deeper level is to not think that you are taking notes but collecting thoughts and ideas.

    Could you please elaborate on this statement? I don't understand how one is "surface level" and the other "deeper level".

  • I will give my take and some arguments for Literature Notes.

    It necessitates a detour into part of my workflow.
    When I run into new (academic) papers on subjects I research, I often scan abstract and conclusion and decide whether it merits any further attention at all. I then print it (sorry trees, but I do recycle responsibly) and instantly note at the bottom of the printed paper what current projects (in the ZK: outlines) this source could prove useful for.

    I then read it and make marginalia marks or just some doodles depending on it's contents. Some papers are only superficially treated, others are given a proper dusting off and argumentative dissection. However, any and all will somehow end up like the one in the following picture which was done very recently. This is the first stage of a Literature Note so to speak.

    On the written note, I either/or jot down what sorts of topics I run into in the paper (which corresponds what Luhmann did on his paper literature notes) or on which Zettels I think I can create or expand from it's materials. This latter way of treating a paper is only a very recent insight I had which sort of pushes the whole idea of 'writing towards your own Zettels' further forward into my process and already before anything hits the Zettelkasten at all.

    Obviously, this source is also in my reference manager of choice, Bookends.

    Next comes the 'verzetteln' stage of the Literature Note, where I might do something idiosyncratic of my own. I might backup on this later, but for now I make two Zettels for each source.

    The first is the Bibliographic entry.
    This is the anchor point for this unique source in the whole Zettelkasten which is reflected in both the naming and the contents of this Zettel. In the heading metadata: process & workflow I have proactively for each source made room to backlink.

    The second Zettel I create is a buffer note.
    This has more or less the same content as that written down on the sticky note accompanying the printed paper, however I have often elaborated my scribbles into fuller and more articulate sentences that give more direction to processing the buffer note further.

    And now to some responding to others in this discussion so far.

    @mleo2003 said:
    my main thing I was asking about was what reasons for or against each one had people considered.

    Well, for me, having the Literature/Biblio Zettel inside of my ZK is great.

    • I do not store notes in Bookends, my reference manager because I do not like using yet another silo to store textual notes in, that are difficult to link to or retrieve from.
    • By extending it a bit with relevant metadata for my process/workflow I also have insights that I do not have in Bookends, nor when I would not store this Biblio Zettel in my ZK.
    • Finally, b/c I keep the Biblio with it's Luhmann-esque contents of pagenumber/idea separately I can always refer again to it in the way Luhmann also did for his bibliographic ZK. These files do not clutter because you can easily filter them out by #tag and making your own saved searches for the omnibar.

    I am a Zettler, ie 'one who zettles'
    research: pragmatism, 4e cognitive science, metaphor | you can't be neutral on a moving train

  • @John Thanks for sharing your workflow. I have to say it is exactly like mine except my reference manager is BibloDesk. And I call "Literature Notes" just notes and marginalia. And I skip the buffer note step and go right from notes and marginalia directly to Zettels using a structure note format as a guide. And I don't keep my bibliographic info in my Zettelkasten. I guess my workflow is really nothing like yours. But hey, your is cool. It looks like it gets the work done.

    We have different Personal Knowledge Management goals but I am open to learning from you and I have. I'd never read and process that particular William James paper and you likely not read and process Robert E. Buswell, and Seong-Uk Kim (2019): A bird in flight leaves no trace: the Zen teachings of Huangbo with a modern commentary, Wisdom Publications - @Subul:2019a

    I can see your progression. It looks well thought out and through. You have given me ideas. Specifically, creating a Bibliographic Zettel within my Zettelkasten. It would allow great customization for a non-academic writer like me who doesn't need the tools in a reference manager. I especially like the section "Metadata: Process and Workflow". This seems like it can provide some indication of the value of the Zettel. How much it is used, referenced and what stage of integration it is at. Yes, these bibliographic Zettel can be marked with a unique tag or special character in the title for sorting with a saved search.

    Great use case! Thanks for sharing.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • (Just want to point out that @ProfMac's reply at the very top was stuck in the Spam queue for a day and now is so far up nobody will notice, so here's a link to it for your collective enjoyment: https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/comment/4613/#Comment_4613 -- sorry for the delay!)

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

  • @nistude said:

    @sfast said:
    Literature notes, as Ahrens and Eco use the term, are a result of modeling the process on a surface level. The deeper level is to not think that you are taking notes but collecting thoughts and ideas.

    Could you please elaborate on this statement? I don't understand how one is "surface level" and the other "deeper level".

    I think I need to write are carefully formulated blog post on this topic. But in brevity:

    You can ask yourself what you are actually doing when you take a note. One could say that you write on a slip. Or are typing some letters. That is what I call surface level. You describe what you see without any knowledge of the inner workings.

    A deeper level of understanding would be the acknowledgment that you capture a thought. This would abstract from medium (paper, pen, keyboard, computer, audio or written), abstract from its position in your workflow ("literature note" or "permanent note").

    If you analyse the workflow you limit yourself to a somewhat superficial level. This is useful if you want to write just on the process in a way that is observable. This is found mostly in texts by people who have limited insights. It is not a critique. It is the reasonable way to write as an outside observer.

    In my opinion, one should peel away those superficial layers and get to the essence of what we are doing. The Zettelkasten Method and The Archive are two extreme points of that scale. The Archive is taylored to mastering the most superficial level: Text and files. The Zettelkasten Method (as I formulate it) aims to get to the deepest level which is routed in the nature of knowledge itself.

    @John Many thanks for that post. Very interesting!

    I am a Zettler

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