This post could just as easily have gone in the Workflows category, but I ultimately thought it would live better here.
I have been debating about the use of so-called "literature notes" for a while now (actually, since I first learned of them). The definition seemed a bit nebulous. Reading Ahrens's book, I got the impression that literature notes were more or less bibliographic entries. They had references to some pages along with keywords and key ideas, but were mostly used for reference. And, being so, they were stored. They were permanent.
Then, reading here, I got the impression from Christian and many others that literature notes were literally notes taken on the literature (or in a notebook): marginalia, brief comments, reminders, etc. Their goal under this view is to be processed and either discarded or converted into permanent notes. Being so, they are thrown away after processing. They are temporary.
I was confused at such different uses of the same term. My confusion was compounded by how I instinctively thought of literature notes: as notes concerning the literature. This would include the bibliographic information, summaries of the book, main ideas, and outlines where appropriate. This, I suppose, is a combination of both the above views, and is probably the reason I got so confused: I thought everyone was talking about the same thing, and I tried to reconcile it, when really they were two different views. To make things even worse, the view of literature notes I found in Christian and others was basically how I thought of fleeting notes. So, now there was confusion between fleeting notes and literature notes, too.
Seeing all the confusion around this term, I have decided to ditch it entirely. I am now using the (I think) more descriptive term "bibliographic notes." These notes have a clear purpose in my system. They contain bibliographic information as well as a description of the source. This description includes, at minimum:
- A one-sentence summary (to jolt the memory when reviewing. This also tests my understanding of the book as a whole)
- Key topics and ideas
- Related sources and zettels
- An evaluation (Did it meet its stated goals? Is it useful or insightful? Would I recommend it to someone? Would I read it again?)
This minimum can be expanded as necessary. Denser books will have more than just a sentence -- maybe even a few paragraphs. Some might even warrant an outline.
Now, I have pretty clear-cut categories for my different kinds of notes. Fleeting notes (or just notes) are temporary, and are processed into permanent notes (or zettels). Bibliographic notes serve as references, yet another way to link ideas together, and as containers for my own understanding of different sources (useful for creating annotated bibliographies later on, which I am fond of -- and have need of, as a student!).
Of course, there are many more types of notes you could classify, but these are the essentials for me. If you really wanted to, you could classify bibliographic notes as a kind of permanent note, and just have two types: those within the ZK, and those without; processed and unprocessed; zettels and notes. However, I like having some other conventions for my own structuring.
I thought this insight was worth sharing -- hopefully you gained something out of it! I am also open for any suggestions for improvement or questions.
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