Taxonomy of note types

::TODO: flesh this out; write a note for each note type; etc::

For me, the practice of writing and revising notes is, at its core, about trying to move up the following rough ladder:

Note types outside this ladder:

  • Proper noun notes
    • “Literature notes”, titled after a single work and meant primarily as linkages to other more durable notes, and as targets for backlinks. I write these roughly as “outline notes,” except for someone else’s ideas. For example: Miller - The magical number seven, plus or minus two
    • Likewise, but less commonly, I also have “person notes” (e.g. Anand Agarawala) and “business notes” (e.g. Confluent)
    • These note types are weakly evergreen. I may add to them over time, but because they aren’t concept-oriented (Evergreen notes should be concept-oriented), they’re not as useful to build on as an evergreen note. Non-trivial writing about proper nouns typically gets factored into separate evergreen notes which can be used in multiple places.
  • “Log” notes, which accumulate ephemeral observations about a specific practice, system, or project over time. They’re akin to a Daily working log, but sliced by some topic of interest rather than by date. e.g. personal mnemonic medium
    • With better transclusion or support for Contextual backlinks, such notes could be written directly in one’s Daily working log, and “log” notes could be defined as a query over such notes.

Tactically speaking, I usually denote a note’s “type” with a tag.

Don’t over-obsess or over-formalize this stuff. Remember: “Better note-taking” misses the point; what matters is “better thinking”.

Daily working log

Each day, I start a note titled with that day’s date; e.g. 2020-03-12. It captures ephemera throughout the day: reflections, scratch work, etc. It’s an intentional dumping ground, a release valve so that there’s always “a place to put that thing.”

In the Taxonomy of note types, this is the lowest-fidelity layer, ephemeral by design. But as scratch thoughts look like they might have legs, they get extracted into a note in my writing inbox (A writing inbox for transient and incomplete notes). Sometimes I’ll use the daily working log as a drafting space, and I can extract sections roughly-as-is into Evergreen notes.

For me, the important bits are:

  1. This is a space where I can put anything and feel zero friction. (Close open loops)
  2. I feel a natural pressure to extract anything which wants to “outlive the day”—to move up the Taxonomy of note types.

Because the daily working log is also a live note, it also functions as a useful stub for Contextual backlinks: Backlinks can be used to implicitly define nodes in knowledge management systems.