(help) Note taking for students

I have been taking my notes into obsidian for some time now, but the workflow still isn’t as smooth I thought it will be. Please hear me out and suggest what should I do or not do.

I am mostly studying varied topics for an exam, but do take random reads or videos as well. I keep them all in my vault. I changed my note storing structure quite sometimes.initially I liked the idea of keeping everything in one folder, but once my notes were large, it was hard finding them and remembering them if I even had them. So, I decided to keep an index, which became tiresome as well. At last I ended up with PARA system and it served my needs well, long term. But soon I realised there are problems with it too, since the file links are often not neat. By neat I mean, it needs to have an alias everytime (using relative naming) else it doesn’t look good and breaks flow. Why I need relative naming system is another point altogether. So, currently I have a system with basically 2 main folders – one for my exam and one for my general reads (resonance?) – and a few more like for journal, templates and imports. This system seems okay to me right now.

As far as I learned now, I think using tags is effective for managing files. The only thing that bothers me is when I know I have a topic which is part of a subject A, the topic itself has more and more notes (atomic?), which then have the same tag to the subject.

How to manage the thing? How to study later then? Or how to publish if I want to later on?

Other than this, I have problems involving devices. Since, I don’t have access of my laptop all the time, I use ipad for most of my readings. I keep the documents synced using Google Drive and Documents app on Ipad. Whatever I edit there, will sync when I see the file on laptop. But I can’t actively take notes in ipad. I don’t want to purchase 1writer or Notebook 10 (?) there. Any other option requires a lot of copying and pasting stuff. Plus I don’t know what files I have in my system.

I used tiddlywiki 5 for publishing my notes (so that I can read them even if I am not on laptop) via github pages, it worked fine but with folder system it fails.

Basically I would like to know about:

  1. As a student with multiple subjects to study, with defined syllabus and a lot of sources (and a lot to cover), how should I manage my vault structure?
  2. Should I take long notes or short? Since I have the topics aligned. I want to go for short as of now. It feels better.
  3. How to work cross platform? (free maybe)
  4. How to publish content? (not obsidian publish as of now). I tried many options like notenote.link, couldn’t really made it to work. Something or the other (obsidian syntaxes). I have my vault on github and Google drive though.

I was actually thinking of a workflow where I can read a pdf, annotate it, take my small notes inside it with Markdown style and then somehow export them as md files (all with a separate file). That way we don’t even need a text editor everywhere. If I am reading a topic, I can keep taking notes in pdf (on any device) and possibly link them as we go in plain text (since we know we are on a topic and we can go on making notes on subtopics). Then, when the reading is over, we can just extract the .md or txt files with file names as the first line of the note?

I tried zotero, exported all the notes, but it’s too clumsy. I mean, say I have a 1500 page document or a 500 page book, how will I manage annotations from it in a single doc? Also, it doesn’t take the context like Google Play Book does (for epubs though, sadly).

I think I wrote a lot here and too many things. I just wanted to discuss what should be done. And seeking suggestion from all of you fellow users.

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I’m pretty new here but have been liking Obsidian a lot. Here are a few things that may help (I’m not a student but work in academia so do have a lot of notes of various topics and projects).

  1. I keep a lot of literature notes in Obsidian, as well as various notes related to research projects, etc. Sometimes these are just standalone notes. But most of the time I have a “structure note” for the projects I work on – which directs me to the individual notes of the project. Making such a structure note may seem tedious, but I have found that the process helps me think about the main issues, the connections between them, etc. – so you can treat it as time thinking about the subject. So, to your question 1, maybe you could have a structure note for each class, which would then point to all the individual notes connected to that class (and the appropriate readings, etc.) – kind of like a syllabus with links. (Alternatively, different folders or perhaps even different vaults per class may also work.)

  2. Your question 2 seems to be a much-debated subject. This will be probably frowned upon, but I usually keep 1 note for each article I read (and more than 1 for books; usually 1 per chapter). I like seeing the structure of a paper in my note, and I found this better than chopping it up. And this way I can also just name my note by the bibtex citekey of the paper in question (if you happen to use such). The disadvantage of course is that with less atomicity, there will be less structure in the connection between the notes. Overall, this is really a matter of preference, and you will develop a sense for it.

  3. I use an app called Highlights on both my computer and iPad, for annotating pdfs. (On my Mac I also use Skim, which is open source.) It is not free, and not perfect, but there is a crucial thing it does, it automatically saves your pdf highlights in a markdown file with reference links. You don’t even have to do “export” or anything; just press save, that’s it. It also has an iPad version, which works the same way; you can then export/share the md file.
    As for editing/viewing the md on iPad, I use PreText. Don’t remember why exactly I got that, or when, or how expensive it was, but it works great, and, if you store your notes in iCloud, you can edit and save them directly from there.

  4. I don’t publish notes so am no help here. Any specific reason for wanting to publish them?

Well, a long-winded reply and I’m sure there are some grounds for disagreement here :).

2 Likes

Thanks for the reply @atiz. I will try to discuss wrt to your points.

I still am doing this. I have folders as per my different papers (same exam, multiple papers). But the papers aren’t really one subject. Some topics are beyond boundaries – can be linked in two or three subjetcs. So, I am keeping the record about the paper syllabus wise and I am tagging each file with subject tags. I think I have got this part pwrking fo rme right now. I am mostly doing this for ability to navigate when I plan to revise a particular subject or paper.

Yes, I agree. I am currently having a file foe a main topic and keep writing as I am reading. If the readings are from one source itself, and the topic is short. I keep it in one file. Else, I refactor it according to header levels.

Regarding the sync and ipad, for a long time I have prefered Google Drive over iCloud since I already all my files in drive and easy for me when using with Android is required. For highlighting I use Documents app which syncs with drive. The problem I face is with taking notes there. I had pretext and MarkdownPro, but both don’t support writing a file into google drive. I can edit existing file though (and create a file via drive/files and then edit).

Anyway, as I said at the last, I think taking notes directly into PDF then exporting the, once I have completed a chapter or something can solve my troubles. And, using Zotero I think I will be able to do exactly that. I will have the highlights and the will write my notes into the comment-notes. I can alwars use markdown there in plain text. And start with ‘###’ then next note within it with ‘####’. That way I can preserve the note structure as well. Upin the second read I can fix and finalise the drafts. So far so good tonight. Will see how it works out. Main reason for me to try that out is because PDF annotation is universal, plus I will have links back to books in case I miss out on the topic.

The publishing I wanted to have to make it easier for me to read while I am on iPad or phone or anywhere. AS I told, my PC is not always available to me. Reading from raw text is a bit difficult when there is linking as well. TiddlyWiki5 had backlinking and everything (search, [[ ]], Sliding Panes, even the graphs (but not recommended)) which kind of allows me to have Obsidian out of PC.

So in short.

  1. I needed a structure to keep my notes. --> This is confusing at times with new files.
  2. I needed a way to read and make drafts cross platform. --> Now I kind of have it with Zotero, MDNotes.
  3. Publish or something to read or refer while reading something related. -> Crude Level
  4. ANKI --> Which is working well.
4 Likes

Hey, I am a student using Obsidian as my main note-taking tool too and I have the same problem :D. I can’t figure out if I should write a new note for every major idea break, or just insert them into one note under a particular lecture [[Subcjet of the lecture, Date]].

I find that writing everything under 1 lecture note is easier to manage, but more difficult to get back to these ideas later on - because then 1 note is like 12k words long and it’s just difficult to filter it (even if I use an outline).

So I have a question to you - what is your method of taking lecture notes? Do you use # Headlines to separate them into sections or rather [[New notes]] for each new and important idea?

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When I reading a book or a topic from one source (the main source: book or lecture), I tend to keep notes in one file and use # to strucutre them. Later when I reread it, or when I am moving on to next source, I split them as and when required. The reason for being on one page initially is to avoid the menial job of closing, opening or creating template insertions.

With Note Refactor plugin I can easily define a template to add on top of every factored note. And, I can factor based on # level or just the selected content. I don’t have to manually apply YAML or common things with template. It just does it for me along with a link to the main topic.

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I came here to second the use of the Note Refactor tool. I find that my mental workflow is very “all in one file, with subheadings added either during or after, then split it all up later for better atomic-ness if that seems valuable, and not if not” and it’s working pretty well for me.

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Its the same for me :slight_smile:

Still struglging for a workflow though

I am also a student,

I have the same need like yours, so I thought to request a plugin which can solve that, nobody seemed interested then, and even now…
My idea was Obsidian App can can itself serve content over internet, yes it is possible if electron has that API which Chrome has which allow us to serve content from local storage to the Internet.
This way we can access our notes in LAN, provided PC is switched on😅.

Another good thing will be when if Obsidian is available as a lightweight webapp too, so that we can connect GoogleDrive or simply upload vault folder etc to read notes in any browser any device…