Zettelkasten and Academic Research

Using ZK and OneNote to synthesize new understanding

After capturing notes with an eye towards Zettelkasten concepts, the utility of my notes is definitely increasing dramatically.  One thing that has helped was Shu Omi’s video.  The video gave a good look at his research flow using ZK.  There is a lot to unpack in the video, so it required pausing and rewinding several times to catch all of the important points.

OneNote continues to serve as my ZK system of choice. ZK-dedicated applications exist, but I did not see a particular ROI on the time and, in some cases, monetary costs.  Since OneNote is a Microsoft application, it should be around for a long time.  Both versions, ON16 and ONW10 have their have advantages and disadvantages.  For ON16, the ability to CTRL+k and then quickly search for pages to link makes cross-referencing easier than ONW10.  For ONW10, the ability to search directly for a specific tag helps find related content quickly.

For actual notetaking, two templates seem to serve my needs. Riffing on Omi’s flow, here is my approach to reviewing research papers.  The process begins with a PDF version of the paper, which allows highlighting passages as they appear relevant and interesting.  After reading through the paper once, I open a custom Literature Note (LitNote) template.  Going through the highlighted passages, I capture these points – brief bullet points – within the LitNote body.  Afterwards, I fill out the LitNote header, which includes information I have found helpful for future reference (paper title, author, year, and a link to an accessible copy of the paper).  Having these in the header allows me to review these points at a glance.

If the LitNote contains any particularly interesting ideas, I open a different  template – a Permanent Note (PermNote).  The PermNote captures the idea in fully developed sentences.  The header of the PermNote template allows capturing a link to the original LitNote as well as links to other relevant pages.

That is the big picture of my research method.  The details are still in a state of continuous tweaking. What I am finding confirms the primary treatise of Zettelkasten – curating connections instead of collecting ideas makes a definite difference in my ability to synthesize my research into new understanding.