Note-naming, books and chapters

Hello there!

As a university teacher I like to have a good idea about all the literature I stumble upon. That is what all the chapters contain, keywords, index and some meta-comments about in what course the book or chapter can be used.

Therefore, I think I need to have 1 note for the book as-a-whole with links to all the chapters. But what do we name these chapters-notes? Do we name them (book title - chapter title) or do you have any good ideas?

For some reasons, I sometimes feel that the Zettelkasten-method doesn`t work that well if you really care about wanting to know everything about the source. It is just not possible to keep it atomic or focused on developing ideas as everything I read or stumble upon could theoretically be used for teaching. I therefore need to have some kind of structure note for the books so that I know in which book I can find something about a specific subject.

Please, I wan’t to hear your thoughts on this?

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My gut feeling says go for a “naming structure” like

  • Author - Book Title (the book)
  • Author - Book Title - C1 (chapter 1)
  • Author - Book Title - C1 - P87 (chapter 1, page 87)
  • Author - Book Title - C1 - P87-89 (chapter 1, pages 87–89)
  • Author - Book Title - L42455 (reference counter for eBooks)

The only problem with this is

  • Author’s names can be long (especially multiple authors)
  • Book titles can be enormously long

That’s why I haven’t yet decided on a final system. Since I use bibtex anyway, I might go for the bibtex key instead of the long “Author - Book Title” part. (Maybe something like @Adams2001a - C1 - P87, but that’s not thought out yet.)

Rethinking this, the chapter and page# “codes” could even be shorter, like

  • Author - Book Title - C1 P87-89, or
  • @bibtexkey - C1 P87-89
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This is very good. Thank you! Of course it takes a lot of typing but by using Note Refractor it should be possible to do some automation I guess. So creating a book note with the Citations plugin and then start typing headers for chapters and then finally let Note Refractor do its job.

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I sometimes feel that the Zettelkasten-method doesn`t work that well if you really care about wanting to know everything about the source. It is just not possible to keep it atomic or focused on developing ideas as everything I read or stumble upon could theoretically be used for teaching. I therefore need to have some kind of structure note for the books so that I know in which book I can find something about a specific subject.

This is not true at all and reflects a misunderstanding of the ZK method. There is nothing in the modern, digital ZK method that says not to use a structure note – in fact the term structure note aka hub note is widely used in ZK circles.

What I recommend however is not focusing on chapters but rather focusing on ideas. Your notes build up a mental schema regarding how concepts fit together, and you can either build up a collection of chapters and then have to rummage through them to piece the ideas together, or you can focus on the ideas that wind through the chapters and make the ideas the organizing structure in your book note.

In my notes I create a single file for each source I process and take rough notes (text/images) directly in that source file. These are typically bullets that I jot down as I process the source. Those rough notes are often divided under chapter/section headings so they are tied to the sections where I read them. Then as I start to identify the same ideas showing up in different chapters I chunk those rough notes together so they are grouped together, with lots of whitespace between these chunks. As they flesh out I start to refine the chunks by rewriting pieces of them. Then when I feel a chunk is ready to become its own atomic note I give it a meaningful title by placing a single line above the chunk, usually in propositional-title form. Then I highlight the title + chunk and run the note refactor plugin. Now I have an atomic note, whose title is the first line of that chunk, and the note is linked to & from the source note.

Repeat until complete.

Doing this also allows me to link between the ideas as they are forming, since they often reference each other.

The point is to focus on the idea architecture not the chapter structure. Use the chapters as an initial structuring method but when you are done you should have an outline of mostly links in the source note.

You can look in my post history to see some examples of outline notes that I take. Longer sources typically look like that when I’m done processing them.

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Thank you for the elaborate workflow! I will look into this.
But I must say that as a teacher I actually do need to have some notes that focus on what to find in what book or chapter. Therefore, I think it’s a balance between focusing on ideas and on structure. I guess one idea could be to have one structure note, and then let the rest of the notes connected to the source be notes focusing on ideas.

I will add that I also use Zotero and DevonThink. Thanks to Ryan Murphy (I don’t know how to call out people) I have a workflow where one folder is connected to all three apps. So I guess I could use DevonThink for scanning, OCR’ing the index and table of contents of the book so that keywords and the like is searchable.

I’ll return when I have thought some more about it. Keep it coming with ideas! I’m all ears.

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I’m in a similar position. I work in the history of philosophy, which means that sometimes my research/teaching focuses on ideas, but sometimes it focuses on texts and passages. Having a lot of connected ideas on “the soul” isn’t helpful if what I really need are my notes on John Philoponus’ commentary on a few chapters of book 3 of Aristotle’s On the Soul.

At the same time, since I’m a historian and a philosopher, sometimes I need my notes to pull double duty. And this is where a heavily organized (not just linked) atomic note system can really shine. My workflow is very similar to davecan’s. It’s a very young workflow, so I can’t guarantee you that it works, but for the past year or so it’s been great. Here’s what it looks like:

  1. For a text I’m going to make extensive use on (i.e. not just any journal article), I set up a folder.
  2. I use the Folder Note plugin to turn that folder into a note. All notes in the folder have a link to the folder, as do notes in any other folder that I think are relevant to the topic. This turns the folder into an automated MOC / hub note.
  3. Within that note, I make notes on the text, in the order of the text (notes on chapter 1, notes on chapter 2, etc.). So suppose I notice in chapter 12 Xunzi says something interesting about the relation between ritual and argument. I make a line for it in the main Xunzi note.
  4. If any of those lines get longer than a sentence or two, I refractor them into their own note, but leave a link in the main note. This means that my main note contains my complete commentary on the text.
  5. Now I can link that standalone note to any other folder-note that it’s relevant to. So, e.g., a note on a given text can also be linked to an idea-based folder.
  6. If a number of passages in a given text relate to an idea I want to track in the text, I can make a secondary hub note for that text/topic, and reference my standalone notes and notes in the main folder-note there.

Here’s a specific case:

  1. I’m reading the Xunzi right now. I make a folder for the book.
  2. I turn the folder into a source note.
  3. In a certain chapter, I find something interesting about the relation between ritual and argument. I quickly jot it down in the source note.
  4. I come back to my ritual/argument note, and add to it. Now it’s a couple paragraphs. I refractor that note and leave a link on the source note.
  5. I’m interested in the relation between ritual and argument in general, so I create a folder-note for that topic. I link the Xunzi ritual/argument note to it. Now that note effectively lives in two folders at once (it won’t show up on the left pane—would LOVE to see a plugin for that—but I can see it in the backlinks for both notes).
  6. I find there are a number of passages in the Xunzi on ritual and argument, but I have enough to say about each of them that they each deserve their own atomic note. I make these and also make a hub note listing all of them, besides also listing them in the source note, ordered by location in the text rather than topic. All of these hub and atomic notes are interlinked through heading-specific links.

At this point, my notes are doing double/triple duty. If I want to write a paper about a specific chapter in the Xunzi, I have all my notes on a given chapter in one place (in the source note). If I want to write about “ritual and argument in the Xunzi,” I have a hub note for that. If I want to write about ritual and argument in general, using the Xunzi but making my own original claims, I have a hub note for that, too. And my notes on ritual and argument in the Xunzi appear in all three places—so I don’t have to go hunting around for them.

Addendum on secondary lit: any secondary lit on the Xunzi also gets listed in the source note, after my own line-by-line commentary. My rule is the same for passages: a source or passage has to earn the right to its own atomic note, but even once it’s reached that level, there’s always a link to it back in the source note.

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But I must say that as a teacher I actually do need to have some notes that focus on what to find in what book or chapter. Therefore, I think it’s a balance between focusing on ideas and on structure. I guess one idea could be to have one structure note, and then let the rest of the notes connected to the source be notes focusing on ideas.

Sure, absolutely, there’s nothing wrong with that idea at all. I just wanted to contradict the point about ZK not being appropriate “if you really care about wanting to know everything about the source” since it is precisely about decomposing and digesting the information in the source in a way that is meaningful to you.

I use structure notes frequently for similar reasons. In my case I don’t need to have things tied to chapters so my structure represents the idea structure rather than any physical structure, but there’s no reason you can’t build around physical structure.

In fact, you can do both.

Here’s a detailed walkthrough of what I mean:

  • Start with each book and create a structure note linking to a specific chapter note for each chapter
  • In that chapter maintain your notes, which will be a bit longer
  • As you identify common ideas across chapters/books, extract them into a new more atomic note (not necessarily entirely atomic, just more atomic) and link to that new common idea-focused note from the chapters/books you find it in (note refactor plugin helps here)
  • Ensure each of those atomic notes links back to the chapter notes/book notes where they came from, so you can keep the connections intact
  • As you gradually decompose into these idea-focused notes you will identify themes tying ideas together regardless of source, so make another structure note on the nature of that theme or collection of ideas, linking to those atomic notes
  • You now have:
    • structured book notes that contain links to individual chapter notes
    • chapter notes that contain your own text notes along with some links to ideas that span chapters/books
    • atomic(-ish) idea-focused notes that link back to the books/chapters/whatever from which they cam
    • new idea-focused structure notes/outlines that capture the themes of ideas spanning across multiple books/chapters

Congratulations you now have a ZK. :slight_smile:

Edit: With a few minor differences (e.g. use of Folder Notes plugin) this is essentially the same general approach also described by @JAndrews2 !

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Yeah, and the folder note part is a bit of a redundancy for this use. I find folders easier to work with than a wall of notes on the left pane, but that’s personal preference. If I got rid of folders and did it full on zettelkasten style, the backlinks on the former folder notes would still form a navigable network of MOCs for my whole vault.

I am very thankful for your responses. They been very helpful!