Obsidian Zettelkasten for academics - how do you distinguish your thoughts from others'?

Hello. New to Obsidian, new to Zettelkasten. One of the first things I’ve run into is how to clearly distinguish “atomic” notes that are others’ thoughts - so notes that are part of a literature note - from “atomic” notes that are my thoughts, whether linked to other notes or not. (Since the idea is to get everything to the smallest standalone “thought”.)

I’d be curious to hear how others go about this - do you use tags? Do you divide into different folders? Some plugin?

I am aware that, ultimately, to make good use of Zettelkasten, you always have to put ideas in your own words. Nevertheless, for my uses that is often still very different from “new” ideas I have, even if they are linked to other sources.


I don’t think you can really claim an idea, but you can claim having written and thought about an idea. To that effect, my atomic notes aren’t distinguished by the originator of the idea (unless that is important for the particular idea). But, when writing literature notes, I make sure to distinguish between my own thoughts and thoughts of the author of the source (using first-person statements). That would help for seeing where the idea came from. That may not be the most helpful for academia, so perhaps I would contextualize the author’s contributions in the body of the atomic note when linking back to the literature note.

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I use one of the several Zotero plugins to quickly insert citations using the markdown footnote syntax, similar to regular academic writing. If I’m wikilinking to another note, and that note has a citation on it, that is OK too.

A literature note isn’t really about your thoughts or someone else’s. It’s just a long-note with short references to what you found interesting in a book (or other media) separated by page number or timestamp, etc (see Ahrens, Luhmann, Schmidt, et al). Main notes (what some call “permanent notes” or “atomic notes”) are created off of the references mentioned in the lit note. A typical lit note might look like this:

## Smith, J. (2007) _How to Surf_. Cool Dude Publishing. 

25 - Interesting thoughts about popping up
27 - to leash or not to leash 
36 - don't drop in on people
45 - cold water wax for cold water

Now, if after reading, some of these references remained interesting to me, I’d make individual main notes for each one. If the idea came directly from the book, I’d either drop the quote from the book into the note and explain it’s relevance to my thinking, citing the source. Or, I could simply state my thinking and refer back to the lit note (or just cite the source without dropping in the full quote). If after making this main note I had other ideas of my own, not referring back to the source/book, I’d create a new main note in the same way without mentioning the book.

It’s in this way that main note developed off of someone else’s ideas and main notes coming from your own head are distinguished. One references a source, the other does not.

Others’ thoughts are linked to a reference note, or just a URL or reference jotted on the note itself; my own thoughts are not.

It is a bit of a misnomer though as there are no truly original ideas, just mashed together ideas you’ve experienced in the past.