Ahrens, S. (2017). How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers.
A core book on §Note-writing systems practice. Sönke focuses largely on the benefits of a Zettelkasten for the academic writing process. One of the core ideas here is that creative writing can become relatively closed-form and actionable; it can be made executable, GTD-style, through a series of steps drawing on a densely-connected note system.
Keywords should be sparse and tightly curated. They’re meant mostly as a “jumping-off” point: the connections between notes will be the primary navigational device. Indexed references vs. tags Tags are an ineffective association structure
We should beware automatic linkages. Prefer explicit associations to inferred associations
In the future, you’re likely to be thinking about “the impact of X on Y,” not a specific book which had a point about that topic. By using Evergreen notes should be concept-oriented, you can build an organizational structure which reflects the future contexts in which you’d likely want to see the ideas you’ve distilled.
The important thing about project notes seems to be that they be separated from the durable notes.
No need to treat every subject exhaustively: just write down what seems likely to help you think about the topics you’re pondering.
Flashcards need to be elaborated and embedded in a context.
Evergreen note maintenance approximates spaced repetition, but in a more natural context.
Limitations of memory
Writing while we read is a great way to monitor understanding: it’s hard to summarize something you don’t understand. The additional step of making associations and integrating that writing with prior notes makes this effect even more powerful. Writing forces sharper understanding
Zettelkasten is more epistemologically honest, likely to find contrarian truths Evergreen notes are a safe place to develop wild ideas Writing forces sharper understanding
It’s hard to see what’s not said in a text. By integrating our reading observations with prior notes, we’re naturally confronted with rocks the author may have left unturned. Writing forces sharper understanding
Most people are bad at writing notes, and they don’t know it, because the feedback is indirect and delayed. Note-writing practices are generally ineffective
Writing notes feels like a huge time imposition, but that’s in comparison to an imaginary baseline: reading without writing notes is often all lost time. Evergreen note-writing helps reading efforts accumulate
People fixate on writing books and papers, but those things don’t emerge fully formed: they’re the synthesis of lots of detailed thinking on those topics.
Brainstorming is a crutch…
The note archive is a safe place for unjustified inklings to grow.
Note-taking practices can turn writing into a predictable, actionable process (“start from abundance”). Executable strategy for writing
Zettelkasten is a great release valve for editing. Material which isn’t essential for a particular piece can become a durable note, providing value later. Or, flipping this around, if the writing began with the note archive, then there’s no harm in deleting manuscript material, since it lives on elsewhere. Evergreen notes lower the emotional stakes in editing manuscripts
Notes are a way to focus on “inputs, not outputs” that isn’t just about time. Executable strategy for writing Evergreen note-writing as fundamental unit of knowledge work
sense of ease
Litmus test: all that matters is writing. All activities should lead to writing
Abstraction is also the key to analyse and compare concepts, to make analogies and to combine ideas; this is especially true when it comes to interdisciplinary work (Goldstone and Wilensky 2008). Being able to abstract and re-specify ideas is, again, only one side of the equation. It is not good for anything if we don’t have a system in place that allows us to put this into practice. Here, it is the concrete standardization of notes in just one format that enables us to literally shuffle them around, to add one idea to multiple contexts and to compare and combine them in a creative way without losing sight of what they truly contain.
We don’t need to worry about the question of what to write about because we have answered the question already – many times on a daily basis. Every time we read something, we make a decision on what is worth writing down and what is not.
It is the one decision in the beginning, to make writing the mean and the end of the whole intellectual endeavour, that changed the role of topic-finding completely. It is now less about finding a topic to write about and more about working on the questions we generated by writing.
That is why we need to elaborate on it. But elaboration is nothing more than connecting information to other information in a meaningful way. The first step of elaboration is to think enough about a piece of information so we are able to write about it. The second step is to think about what it means for other contexts as well.