On making notes
I've been writing notes extensively for the past few years and, more importantly, have been consulting, referencing and tweaking them frequently.
My aim is to build a digital commonplace book that grows with me.
Favor curation over accumulation.
Write notes with my own words to enhance learning.
Look for connections between ideas.
I currently use Obsidian to write my notes. Main reasons are:
It's future-proof. I own my data, and it's stored on a plain-text format (a modified version of Markdown) I can parse myself if needed.
It has a very fast search. Unlike some similar apps, Obsidian's search works well, and works fast.
If you want to get started with a setup similar to mine, you can download a pre-configured Obsidian vault I prepared.
Types of notes
These are the bulk of my content. I write them with my own words and contain pieces of knowledge I want to preserve, ideas, reflections, etc.
Are atomic, in the sense of limiting them to a single idea or concept.
I generate them out of my own thoughts or via a synthesis of multiple sources (see next point about "literature notes").
Are densely connected with links and references to other notes in my system.
Are written with my own words.
Are always a work in progress (hence the name). To categorize the "development status" and to help resurface via searches the notes that need more work, I use tags.
Note titles (and filenames) are statements instead of nouns expressions. Think of "Lexing is the process of chunking a stream of characters into tokens" vs. just "Lexing". This helps with both searchability and to keep notes atomic.
Here's an example of one of my notes:
Notes about a book, a course, a video, etc. These often contain literal words by their authors.
For books, I tend to read in an ebook and then I import the highlights that I made. After a bit of curation, I try to think if some of the highlights remind me of something or are related to some evergreen notes, or other sources, and then I link them.
I put a section at the top of the note with the 3-5 main key points I want to remember this source for.
After a while I revisit the note with the aim of maybe extracting some seeds for evergreen notes.
Maps of content
Also known as MOC's, these are gateways to a topic. Think of them as an index or a table of contents, but tweaked and adapted to you, evolving with time, instead of something rigid.
I tend to create them when I have a bunch of notes related to the same topic and in the beginning it might be just a bullet list with links to those notes. And then, as more and more notes are added, and the MOC grows and shapeshifts.
In order to differentiate them from regular notes, and to locate them easily in the sidebar, I like to prefix them with an emoji that makes reference to their topic.
Here's an example of my Map of content about Japanese:
Lists, like the books I read in a year (or want to read).
Ideas for side projects, a videogame mechanic, a character for a story, etc.
Dated notes are tied to a particular moment in time. From a journal entry, to notes for a podcast I'm participating or a checklist for a trip. I often do this on pen & paper, though.
- Video on How to create MOCs
- The Zettlekasten method website
- A Brief History & Ethos of the Digital Garden article