How do you distinguish summary of source material from your thoughts on it?

One of my main uses of Obsidian is taking notes on videos, articles, etc. These notes usually consist mainly of summary, but here and there I interject my own thoughts – questions, examples from my life, etc. – and I still haven’t found a good way to keep these cleanly distinguished from each other. I’m interested in seeing other users’ approaches to this.

I’ve considered using full prose, so that plain old natural language makes the distinction (“Bradley says…”, “I think…”). The problem with this is that most of the media I take notes on are audio or audiovisual; I have to take abbreviated notes in order to keep up, and it seems like a lot of effort for little gain to rewrite it afterward into full prose.

I’m just getting started, so this isn’t tried-and-tested, but I’m thinking to use a digital equivalent of the way I do it when I’m taking notes on paper: put my own observations in a text box.

Hi, @Malnormalulo!

I simply add my thoughts inside square brackets, and seem to work perfectly fine for me, no confusion [these is how it would look inside a literature/reference note]. I do these only as a reminder, since my deep though occurs in my “permanent” (“evergreen”, “personal”) notes, but it’s useful for not changing to much my kind of work or attention when making literature notes. I don’t bother erasing those thoughts later when I’ve used the literature note in my personal notes. Have you tried something like that?

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@Dangax


Assume this is a line in a literature note, and you have already processed it into a section named How I Take Notes inside a note named My Writing Techniques. [Now this is the actual thought where you considered the possible benefits of converting the single brackets into double. You know that it isn’t realistic to have note names with such unwieldy length and wordiness, but you also don’t want to modify your literature note. Instead you want to keep this thought as it is and simply adapt it so that it is a link to the How I Take Notes heading in your note named My Writing Techniques]. So for clarity, below I show this line of the note as it would appear after adaptation. It serves as a helpful link. It also gets link styling while in Reading Mode which distinguishes it as a thought. Hope this wasn’t too confusing. It helped me. Thanks!


Assume this is a line in a literature note, and you have already processed it into a section named How I Take Notes inside a note named My Writing Techniques. [[My Writing Techniques#How I Take Notes|Now this is the actual thought where you considered the possible benefits of converting the single brackets into double. You know that it isn’t realistic to have note names with such unwieldy length and wordiness, but you also don’t want to modify your literature note. Instead you want to keep this thought as it is and simply adapt it so that it is a link to the How I Take Notes heading in your note named My Writing Techniques]]. So for clarity, below I show this line of the note as it would appear after adaptation. It serves as a helpful link. It also gets link styling while in Reading Mode which distinguishes it as a thought. Hope this wasn’t too confusing. It helped me. Thanks!


Does this make any sense?

I’m surprised that no-one seems to use the comment syntax.

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The Callouts feature might be useful.
Use callouts - Obsidian Help

Like:

[!IDEA] add an idea
[!QUESTION] add a question

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I use > blockquotes for the quotes and then my thoughts are normal text:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

A pretty good opening

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I use block quotes for direct quotes

piece of information that is directly quoted from elsewhere (Author, Year).

If I am paraphrasing then I just use the standard APA format (Author, Year). Typically I will have a bibliography entry for the source material. I have a bibliography folder in my vault that has files named in the (Author, Year) format. If I don’t have a file for the Bib entry than I will just add a footnote to the bottom of the page with the official bibliography information.

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This is one of the core questions of PKM and there are established methods to solve it. Since no-one’s mentioned it yet, I’ll mention Zettelkasten. The Zettelkasten method is one way to store your thoughts on literature and link it so that the value of your notes compounds over time.

If you use this method - you won’t quote the author verbatim, you’ll write the gist of what they were saying in your ‘literature notes’. Keeping the source material in your reference manager.

The abbreviated notes you are taking are better than re-writing verbatim because the aim with Zettelkasten is reinterpreting the gist in your own words. The effort to reinterpret and explicitly write out what they’re saying are central to understanding and remembering it. This is the trap of copy-paste. You don’t really engage with the text this way and therefore don’t retain it.
Learning is work. You can make the work more effective, but it cannot be skipped.

The easiest introduction is watching a video. The best introduction is reading the first section of a book.

Zettelkasten is powerful, but what most videos don’t tell you is:
Zettelkasten requires changing your entire workflow to realise its benefits.

It’s not just a tool. It’s your whole workflow and environment that need to be aligned.
This is the crucial piece many people miss. Trying to add it on top of what you do already won’t work well. It’s an enormous commitment.

Tools are secondary to the mindset, workflow and process.
Obsidian lends itself well to zettelkasten. But there are plenty of other tools out there which will suffice - even pen and paper. Most of the work - reading, engaging, reinterpreting, thinking and linking must be done by you. Some people still prefer pen and paper over software because it forces them to do the work.

A much better introduction is part 1 (the first 4 chapters) of Sonke Ahren’s excellent book, How to take smart notes. It’s also an excellent guide if you commit to building your own Zettelkasten.

Many explanations have focused just on the Zettelkasten. Not on its skillful use as part of the workflow. Ahren’s book describes how it worked and why it worked.
So we can emulate and tweak ourselves so we can use for learning, writing and research.

A search of this forum or online for zettelkasten will yield plenty of results with different folks discussing and showing their workflow and implementations.

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Hi @Malnormalulo, I have the same view as @thoughtship. Just a slight emphasis, the notes you take should be in your own words (just as per Sonke Ahren’s book recommend). But if I must quote verbatim, then that’s when blockquotes come handy.

My experience on Zettelkasten isn’t as extensive, but there’s one thing I remember - if Luhmann didn’t feel like it, he didn’t force himself to continue writing on it (he’ll revisit it another day). If you think the subject is sth you want to keep, but not feeling it right now, tag is as #fleetingnote and have a system to review your fleeting notes on weekly basis.

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I’d also argue that a key part of that workflow for Luhmann was the carefully considered placing of each note into his overall sequence of notes. That required conscious and deliberate thinking about the optimal parent-child linking. Also the manual traversing of his notes, considering and making new links as he went. And new notes if necessary.

This process enhanced both memory and thinking.

This might be a key piece (that I’ve been overlooking) - that it’s okay to leave some notes as fleeting notes (especially in a digital system where they aren’t actually “lost” that way). Or to put it another way, not everything has to become a permanent note.

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true but only to certain extent. if u have fleeting notes that have been so for 3 or 4 months. it’s safe to say that it’s not something within your area of interests. keeping it will be a digital hoarding. small amount of hoard may be still okay, but if u allow it to grow too much, u will feel a mental burden subconsciously (like unfinished tasks). my advice is to use GTD approach - you can decide to act on it, delegate it or just simply delete it.

just a note (to avoid confusion), i apply zettlekasten here on topics that require comprehension (in my case, economics, autism in children and statistics).

i also have a section of my obsidian vault that are just references for computer related like reusable code blocks, linux related commands and cooking recipes. because these are things that i don’t really need to make it atomic or in my own words - they are there as my frequently referenced materials. before using obsidian, have it in evernote (and notion). but i make sure there’s a distinction using folders and tags.

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That’s a personal reaction. Some may feel it, but others don’t.

You can think of it as a free library. It’s there, but is no burden. Easily searched if necessary but otherwise unnoticed. It’s not unfinished because it required finishing and you haven’t done it yet, it’s unprocessed because it didn’t need it. But still more easily accessible rather than having to repeat the reading & making a fleeting note again. Three months is nothing, what’s interesting varies over much longer periods than that.

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yeah. i agree that it does depend on each person. i guess in my case, i prefer to close things sooner rather than later - i would prefer to turn it into literature (with my own words a bit) at least for me to “let it go” and leave it as it is…

thanks for the discourse.

I think I find I don’t always need anything more than the fleeting note in order for the notes to do their job.

Case in point: I was entering some literature notes today and came across one where I’d simply jotted down “learned helplessness.” That was all I needed to make a note that it’s connected to another book I read – which isn’t even IN my vault at the moment because I read it probably 15-20 years ago. But not only do I still remember the (older) book; I really didn’t need anything more than the two-word phrase I initially recorded from the newer book in order to recognize the idea and make connections with it.

It seems like if I can find it when I need it, make connections with it when I need it, and link to it in an adequately-atomized form (i.e. it’s a header or a block or something), it may actually be unnecessary work to write out specific literature notes from every item.

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My own system puts initial notes into an inbox. I treat that as having a limited capacity (I’d agree with you that anything you regard as an inbox will become a burden if you let it accumulate beyond your ability to stay on top of it).

From the inbox, notes can be moved to a Processed folder or an Unprocessed Initial Notes folder. Nothing is a burden, but I also don’t lose the value and time given to the reading and making the initial note.

Works well with kindle highlights too. I’ll not often want to do more with them, but they have a value as is and easily accessed by search.

I have a system of highly nested vaults though. Other ways of structuring your vaults could increase (or reduce) the friction in working this way.

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