How do you read & process material

Hi all,

I’m in the process of thinking out my workflow for reading → highlighting → processing content and was wondering what tools & your process looks like.

My main goals are:

  • Read & highlight on Desktop (Mac) & mobile (iOS)
  • Transfer highlights & brief reading notes to Obsidian

I thought that the above would be really simple, but it seems a bit more complex than anticipated. I looked through a whole host of options incl. APIs & IFTTTs and came up with the following:

Books: Kindle → Readwise → Obsidian
Articles: Instapaper → Readwise → Obsidian

I see a lot of people here on the forums tend to clip whole articles to Markdown and then process them further. This seems like it has quite the overhead and not an easy way to read & highlight on mobile either.

The above process will work, but I do wonder what other options there are, that could also be cheaper (not needing a subscription for both Instapaper & Readwise = $7,5pm). As soon as Readwise’s Reader app has been launched, this could be the solution for me.

I am interested in this subject as well. And, I am also using Instapaper + Readwise.
I am eagerly awaiting Readwise’s Reader app as it will surely be a game-changer.

for now, I am all ears for alternatives!

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Yeah, the topic in theory is simple, but not so much in reality.

I completely agree, from what it sounds their app will be a game changer, especially as the syncing of highlights would be builtin

Readwise can pull in highlights from Kindle and Apple Books as well as article highlights from Instapaper (and maybe Pocket?.

Highlight where you read and add notes where you read.

I use the Readwise plugin to import only my highlights and notes into Obsidian. That creates a literature note for each work.

Once there, I process each highlight/note into atomic notes (new or added to existing) and make sure each note cites the source. As I process a highlight or note, I remove it from the literature note, until finally the lit note is empty, and I know I’m done.

(If you want to track how influential a source is, link from your atomic notes back to the lit note. If you don’t care about that, or aren’t sure you do, then don’t link back. You can always search later to find all the notes with a given citation and link them.)

Important process points:

  • as you read, you learn, so you don’t need to highlight ideas you’ve already highlighted unless they sum the idea up better
  • highlight only what you want to find later. I like to highlight good stories authors use as examples, because that’s what I’d quote when writing something. Stories are the best way to communicate somethg
  • when you process, your earlier notes and highlights will be less useful/necessary as your later notes and highlights will encompass the earlier thoughts/learnings as well… so delete liberally
  • know your goal for a given highlight: are you trying to learn something, or do you want to be able to quote something (almost) verbatim?
  • when processing, rewrite in your own words because it’ll make more sense to you later than the authors words
  • when processing quotes, trim them down to the core thought or idea. “Most authors… aren’t very succinct. Their writing… ends up having lots of cruft you can remove and still retain the meaning.”

Most important, just start with a way, and look for parts of your process with friction, and try and remove it. Continually, until there’s no friction left. And stay aimed at your goal. If your goal is to learn, then removing the friction to create literature notes may not really reduce the friction in learning.

9 Likes

I use Zotero for reference material (scientific articles and PDF’s). When I read such a PDF I open it from within Zotero (which then launches the regular Preview app on my Mac). I highlight and comment in Preview and save. With the Zotero plugins MDNotes and Zutilo I can pull those highlights and comments into Obsidian with links to the location within the original PDF.

Articles I highlight/remark upon on my Nova Boox2 e-ink device I also move to Zotero and from there to Obsdian.

Books that I read on Kindle, I use the Obsidian Kindle plugin to directly pull highlights and remarks into Obisidian

Webpages I clip from the browser in markdown into Obsidian directly, adding a few lines about why I think it’s interesting before clipping.

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Thanks so much for the detailed reply! So it seems Readwise + Instapaper might be the easiest solution then … with the least friction and least amount of tinkering

The process that you have described is very much what I have in mind. The one change though is that instead of processing the lit note until empty, I keep all the highlights in the note as an “original”. I then open all these highlights in Scapple and re-arrange them into clusters, from which I make my “permanent notes” (atomic notes).

Thanks so much for the processing tips! Really solid advice that I will take to heart.

Do you use Zotero at all in your process? I’m thinking of setting it up just as a raw reference manager (without any PDFs or other content) together with the Citations plugin.

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Hey @ton, thanks for the info on your process.

Articles I highlight/remark upon on my Nova Boox2 e-ink device I also move to Zotero and from there to Obsdian.

How do you get web article onto your e-ink device? Do you clip them to PDF and then transfer the PDF to Zotero?

Books that I read on Kindle, I use the Obsidian Kindle plugin to directly pull highlights and remarks into Obisidian

Which plugin is that exactly?

I am one of those people who cut and pastes the whole thing into Obsidian. In fact, I’ve cut and pasted whole academic books into it to read and process. My main reason is that I struggle reading anything online in eReaders or even just PDFs. I tried the past two years for my Masters and my eyes literally just glide over everything taking nothing in. I spent so much time rereading it was painful. Is the way I work now faster, more efficient? I doubt it is for most people, but even if it is slower, I am taking much more in.

My process:

  1. Copy and paste the contents of the article/book into my literature note. If it is in a foreign language then I use DeepL paragraph by paragraph to generate a translation (which I usually make a copy of to keep separately).
  2. Format the copy. Because academic books are often in columns, I need to format the lines to be run-on. This takes a lot of time BUT, this is also my first pass at reading the book so to speak. I have both Obsidian and the PDF open, fix the lines, add in the page numbers (very important to my discipline), screenshot images and insert them into Obsidian in the right place, add footnotes closer to their relevant paragraphs.
  3. Deep reading. This is when I start processing. I’ll pick out quotes (adding their citation then and there), rewrite sections with proper citations to condense whole paragraphs etc, I’ll also put references into relevant future lit note files (for example, if this book says: For the use of mythology on Roman sarcophagi, Holly 2007: 28-29. I’ll paste that into the Holly 2007 file so that when I come to read it I know what I am looking for and which author sent me here).
  4. Write a summary. Refract quotes/notes into relevant topics.

As I said before, this is certainly not the easiest or most efficient way to read digital documents but as I am not in any rush with my PhD, it is the only way I can deeply process what I am reading. Just an alternative view in favour of processing in markdown.

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For PDFs/epubs editing (80% of the time) I use MarginNote (MN). From MN I can markup, study content, and take notes.

When it comes to importing to Obsidian, I use (cmd shift c) that then copies the link from MN where I can paste it into Obsidian. If I wanted to I could make that MN link into its own page where I could then use it around Obsidian.

It’s been working for me so far (as a researcher and student). But I also use Readwise for kindle and other books too.

What do you do for web articles? Do you convert them to PDF too?

Very interesting and thanks for sharing. Do you do any readying on mobile?

I don’t because I dont have Obsidian sync otherwise I would.

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Depending on the article I may do that. Otherwise I use the app called “drafts”. I’ll go ahead and send the article link to drafts and write up what I think or important points that I want to remember. From there I’ll import it to obsidian (if I deem it worthwhile).

I’m excited for Readwise to come out with their new app (kinda like pocket), it’ll make this process a lot easier (I hope).

I don’t read webarticles on e-ink, only PDF articles (scientific publications, reports etc)

W.r.t. Obsidian Kindle plugin, it’s called Kindle Highlights (GitHub - hadynz/obsidian-kindle-plugin: Sync your Kindle notes and highlights directly into your Obsidian vault for source code). If you go to settings in Obsidian, then community plugins / browse and search for Kindle you’ll find it.

Thanks all for your replies! For now I think I’ll stick with Readwise + Instapaper until Readwise’s reader app is released.

Starting with one vector is a good plan.

When you’re ready, Readwise can pull your Kindle highlights in as well. Not sure about feature comparisons between Readwise and the other Kindle plugin.

Readwise can pull in highlights from Kindle and Apple Books as well as article highlights from Instapaper (and maybe Pocket?.

Highlight where you read and add notes where you read.

I use the Readwise plugin to import only my highlights and notes into Obsidian.

That creates a literature note for each work.

Once there, I process each highlight/note into atomic notes (new or added to existing) and make sure each note cites the source.

As I process a highlight or note, I remove it from the literature note, until finally the lit note is empty, and I know I’m done.

(If you want to track how influential a source is, link from your atomic notes back to the lit note.

If you don’t care about that, or aren’t sure you do, then don’t link back.

You can always search later to find all the notes with a given citation and link them.)

Important process points:

  • as you read, you learn, so you don’t need to highlight ideas you’ve already highlighted unless they sum the idea up better
  • highlight only what you want to find later. I like to highlight good stories authors use as examples, because that’s what I’d quote when writing something. Stories are the best way to communicate somethg
  • when you process, your earlier notes and highlights will be less useful/necessary as your later notes and highlights will encompass the earlier thoughts/learnings as well… so delete liberally
  • know your goal for a given highlight: are you trying to learn something, or do you want to be able to quote something (almost) verbatim?
  • when processing, rewrite in your own words because it’ll make more sense to you later than the authors words
  • when processing quotes, trim them down to the core thought or idea. “Most authors… aren’t very succinct. Their writing… ends up having lots of cruft you can remove and still retain the meaning.”

Most important, just start with a way, and look for parts of your process with friction, and try and remove it.

Continually, until there’s no friction left.

And stay aimed at your goal.

If your goal is to learn, then removing the friction to create literature notes may not really reduce the friction in learning.


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I recently started using Matter and their Obsidian plugin for any kind of article / web page. I’ve been super happy with it. The app is beautiful and no frills, the plug-in just works.

It’s probably limited in use case but the simplicity has been great. Highlights and notes get synced and I can then reference them in daily notes, subject summaries etc.

There are various alternatives for syncing. You can try git-based or cloud-based.
if you want it for android, everything literally works.
I use git since it sets up nicely on ipad as well.

This is very true. Before the Readwise plugin, any article in InstaPaper that I’d highlighted and wanted to process, I would just hit the export notes in Markdown, copy, and paste that into Obsidian.

It was easy, gorgeous, and free.

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