Make good notes. But how?

Today I counted my notes from Zettelkasten. Some of them where defined as “Good Notes”. And I got a number: 12,6%. Is it a good number? What do you believe?

In order to automatically identify my so-called “Good Notes” with Dataview, I chose a few formal criteria:

  1. Notes in predefined folder “Permanent Notes”
  2. Timestamp “created” in properties section
  3. Timestamp “modified” in properties section
  4. Lead paragraph (a short description of the idea) in properties section
  5. Link to the source (outgoing link) provided
  6. Mandatory tag #type used
  7. Mandatory tag #theme used

However, these criteria only evaluate formal aspects of my notes. What could be better criteria to classify the content of my notes?

More about the 12 Principles For Using Zettelkasten


Here are the filters for DataviewJS that I used:

// === Count Good Notes ===
var count_good_notes = dv
	.pages('"3_Permanent Notes"')
	.where(y => y.modified != null) 
	.where(y => y.created != null)
	.where(y => y.lead != null)
	.where(y => y.file.outlinks.length != 0)
	.where(y => y.file.tags.length != 0)
	.where(y => y.file.tags.includes('#type'))
	.where(y => y.file.tags.includes('#theme'))

This is an interesting criterion to me. I am new to the PKM and Obsidian literature. Is there a reason this ought to be in properties rather than down below in the ‘free text’ (or whatever you’d call it) main section? How is that advantageous?

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Looking into your other links, I believe I found where you previously had answered my question:

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Yes @rje , you‘ve found it. Is it useful for you? What are your criteria for "good notes“?

The inverted pyramid is a metaphor used by journalists and other writers to illustrate how information should be prioritized and structured.

Important information must be at the beginning, according to the basic idea of ​​the pyramid concept [1]. My idea now is to use this concept for notes as well. The pyramid therefore begins with a title and continues with four logical elements:


  • Clear and descriptive.


  • Lead paragraph (1-3 sentences) with most essential info.
  • Focused on 5W+1H: who, what, when, where, why + how.


  • Main details.


  • Background info or other supporting content.

Back matter

  • Source, tasks, questions, terms and references.

The benefit from this inverted pyramid: You can stop reading at any time. Working with notes in my Zettelkasten becomes easier. The ideas are easier to grasp and to connect with other thoughts.

A similar concept is also known as Progressive Summarization by Tiago Forte [2] to make “what I’m consuming right now easily discoverable for my future self.

What is your concept for making good notes?

[1] Minto, Barbara. The pyramid principle: logic in writing and thinking. Rev. ed, Financial Times Prentice Hall, 2009.
[2] Forte, Tiago. ‘Progressive Summarization: A Practical Technique for Designing Discoverable Notes’. Forte Labs, 27 December 2017.


What I do is deconstruct the text. I start first with skimming, then I deconstruct the text using mind maps. After that, I put the interesting points from the mind map through a filter of questions.

Before even taking a book or any other type of information in my hands, I begin by asking questions that are a mixture of different aspects of SQ3R, SOAR, and KWL. After that, I reflect heavily on the ideas that the authors are speculating about, and by the end, I have a note. Let me show you an example of such work.

The highlight from Socratic Method by Farnsworth:

Highlights from the book

Annotation 1

« It is that; but the reason the Socratic method is useful in the classroom is that it’s a style of thought better than the one we tend to apply naturally to important things. » (Page 7)

Annotation 2

« But I want to focus on applied aspects of the method. The book is for those coming to philosophy the way Socrates did—as the everyday activity of making sense out of life and how to live it—and who want to know what he said about doing that better » (Page 10)

Annotation 3

« The networks were a marvel. But many of the pipes were made of lead, and the water carried the lead along with it.
One school of thought regards this as part of the reason for the decline and fall of Rome: lead poisoning gradually took its toll, impairing the thought and judgment of many Romans, especially at the top. The theory is much disputed; perhaps it contains no truth. But as a metaphor it is irresistible.
We have built networks for the delivery of information—the internet, and especially social media. These networks, too, are a marvel. But they also carry a kind of poison with them. The mind fed from those sources learns to subsist happily on quick reactions, easy certainties, one-liners, and rage. It craves confirmation and resents contradiction. Attention spans collapse; imbecility propagates, then seems normal, then is celebrated. The capacity for rational discourse between people who disagree gradually rots. I have a good deal more confidence in the lead-pipe theory of the internet, and its effect on our culture, than in the lead-pipe theory of the fall of Rome. »
(Page 11)

Notes in the vault

Why invite Socrates into the classroom?

  • As I’ve speculated before, the modern classroom is often poorly designed. What if we could improve it by tweaking the learning process a bit?
    • We can shift from frontal teaching, which most of us are all too familiar with, to group discussions. As I recall, discussions often begin with questions, and the more intriguing or paradoxical the question, the more engaged the students become.
    • Recently, I had an engaging discussion with medical students when I asked them about what qualifies as a living organism.
    • Their answers were predictable: it can replicate, breed, and be irritable.
      • Naturally, the next question arose: can a computer virus be considered a living organism since it exhibits all of the aforementioned qualities?
      • From there, we delved into Harari’s idea about the source code of civilization and AI bots. Soon after, the lesson concluded.
      • The students were both shocked and amazed, highlighting the importance of a well-structured questioning framework. I believe such a framework can be found within Plato’s Dialogues, though an interpreter is essential.
    • The Socratic method is an excellent way to introduce problematic or even paradoxical situations. Its value lies precisely in this.
      • It fosters a specific mindset that is invaluable when grappling with complex problems or significant issues.
      • The challenge is determining how to integrate it into daily activities, helping make sense of life’s complexities and better understanding the actions one considers taking.

@Rustamaga - Thank you for sharing your process of making notes together with a vivid example. And it leads me to a question: What do you think about atomic notes? Are they less useful for your work? What are the disadvantages and benefits compared with your own method?

@Edmund thank you for your reply.

The definition of an ‘atomic note’ can vary. Is it a note of a specific length, one that contains a single idea, or a note stripped of non-essential elements?

I previously wrote atomic notes and compiled long lists of MOCs, TOCs, and similar items, but I found that this approach, rather than clarifying, actually muddled my thinking process. I then shifted to reflecting on ideas from books and realized that it’s not the atomic note that’s important, but rather the atomic thought.

I have a note about building a mental map or model of an idea that I can share. However, if we discuss the disadvantages of atomic notes, one significant drawback is the lack of reflection. In my view, reflection is crucial for cultivating knowledge and constructing meaning. This holds especially true if we define an ‘atomic note’ as a single idea, devoid of broader context or deeper analysis.

Mental Models (Thinking Maps)

  • When I talk about reading, I don’t mean the mechanical process of decoding letters from paper and creating comprehensive sentences from them.
    • For me, reading is something bigger; it’s like popping the hood of a muscle car, which contains many things aside from cogs and wheels.
    • Merely contemplating the beauty of someone else’s ideas, I consider a waste of time.
  • The framework consists of overlapping frames of reference and the behavior of a person or a group of people.
    • Mental models are representations of a person’s beliefs and expectations, according to the points to which he is referencing.
    • Imagine a person who has just read any kind of book, e.g., let’s stick to something related to productivity and efficiency.
    • If the process of reading stopped at the stage of merely copying the author’s ideas:
      • A wake-up call awaits the reader ahead.
      • Without reflection on the ideas, the reader blindly traverses the length of the book, touching the wall and sliding his hand over the surface. If the wall changes and he doesn’t perceive the change or anticipate what lies ahead, he is heading, if not to disaster, then definitely to disappointment.
    • Reading is the process of interpreting and reinterpreting information, reflecting, and comparing ideas with experience and background knowledge.
    • In short, it’s a process of building mental models that lead the reader to certain actions.
      • The final step, which embodies understanding, is taking action in accordance with the new understanding. Actions leave tracks.
      • If a person wishes to know the level of understanding he has obtained, the only sane advice is: observe yourself.
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Thank you. Your note about “Mental Models” helps me to get some clearer view about this concept. While taking notes my tool for compehension is always a sketchnote. It seems to be a visual representation of my mental model. But I need both: a verbal and a visual representation. Here’s why:

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If you find this idea in anyway intriguing, then maybe the next set of notes might be useful to you

Three Tools of Decomposition and Knowledge Construction Embody Three Different Processes

  • Recent books demonstrate that reading alone is not sufficient to build personal understanding.
    • It’s not even the start of the process.
    • The real story begins the moment we construct knowledge from the text.
    • Mind maps are merely a tool we can use to secure this concept.
    • The actual list extends further, breaking down into four categories, three of which are, in my opinion, useful.
      • Brainstorming webs.
        • Useful for fostering individual and group creativity.
        • Unlike every other tool, this one facilitates thinking outside the box.
        • Every other organizer below is mostly structured to support learners analytically, in short, they help with thinking inside the box.
      • Graphic organizers.
        • Aid in fostering basic skills and content learning.
        • The Decomposition stage is crucial for content learning.
        • This is the tool that allows to organize the content of the book/article/post/video or any other material that the reader requires the need to understand.
      • Conceptual mapping.
        • Helps in fostering critical thinking and cognitive development.
        • The Paraphrasing stage is vital for reflecting on and thinking about the content learned.
      • Mental models (thinking maps).
        • A combined toolbox of all eight thinking maps and various frameworks.
        • I believe it’s the final stage, where the note is born. A unique hammer that everyone designs for themselves.

8 Thinking maps and frameworks


Because of your sketches I am trying my hand in sketching. The results are awful, but slowly progressing.

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Thank you for sharing this nuggets. :grinning: :+1: Here’s my first Thinking Map to describe a Circle Map:

And there are seven more visual tools to "play with”.

Hyerle, D., Costa, A. L., & Marzano, R. J. (2009). Visual tools for transforming information into knowledge (Second edi). Corwin Press.

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Good notes are high quality notes. But what are the most useful dimensions of note quality? Here is a first overview:

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Without judging the content of this overview, it is quite a complex overview.

Maybe some choices need to be made here? What are for example the 3 or 4 most important dimensions that make a good note? Maybe other dimensions are part of these? Like sub dimensions.

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Thank you for your feedback. It’s really a confusing diagram. So here is an updated version after adapting some of the proposed “Note Quality Improvement Measures”:

We now have three main quality improvement categories with three subcategories each:

  1. Content Quality:
  • Relevance: Focus on relevant information that directly contribute to your research objectives. Avoid details that may clutter your Zettelkasten.
  • Accuracy: Verify sources and cross-reference information.
  • Completeness: Include predefined sections for various types of information to ensure that all relevant aspects of the topic are covered.
  1. Structure Quality
  • Organization: Ensure that notes are easily navigable and interconnected for efficient retrieval and exploration.
  • Consistency: Use standardized conventions for labeling, tagging, and organizing your notes.
  • Usability: Use intuitive organization schemes, clear headings, and effective metadata to facilitate ease of use and retrieval.
  1. Communication Quality:
  • Clarity: Use clear and concise language, organizing information logically, and providing sufficient context.
  • Conciseness: Condense information to its essential components while retaining clarity and coherence.
  • Contextualization: Situate notes within broader conceptual frameworks or historical contexts to enhance understanding and relevance.

My goal was to raise the Communication Quality by improving Clarity. Therefor I tried to use a clear and concise visual language, organizing information logically, and providing sufficient context.

What about the result? Is it helpful for better comprehension?

Today I refined my own causal loop for notes. It’s based on the diagram above, but with reduced details:

It uses three different paths to improve note quality:

  • Content Quality

  • Structural Quality

  • Communication Quality

How does your personal strategy looks like, to improve all your incredible notes in your Zettelkasten in the long run?