Recently I have developed a reading note-taking process with ConnectedText that follows the Zettelkasten method more closely and is an alternative to the note-taking process with Freeplane that I have described earlier. The main difference is that the earlier method with Freeplane produced one large mind map that contained all the reading notes in a single document and which tried to capture the inherent outline (logical hierarchy) of a book’s argument, while this new method produces many small index cards with quotes and notes, which nonetheless can be assembled into an overall outline at the end, to reproduce the overarching flow of the original text’s argument. The main advantage of this latter process is that it results in bite-size chunks of texts that can be connected and reassembled in many other ways, thus providing more versatility and ease of use during the analysis and synthesis stage, and throughout the life the Zettelkasten.
Here is my process flow (when reading a book in PDF format):
- I read the PDF document.
- I copy and paste interesting passages into NoteTab (plain text editor) to fix the line breaks with CTRL+J and use CT’s markup to preserve formatting (mainly italics and superscript for footnotes), if required.
- I paste in the quote into a new “date topic” in CT. Date topics are CT documents with some special properties. E.g. they are prefixed automatically with the date and time of the creation of the topic and allow the topics to be listed in chronological order in the “Topic list” pane. Before starting to take notes for a section of the book (e.g. a chapter), I create a dedicated template (a plain text document) for that section. CT remembers the last template used, which means that whenever I create a new topic, I don’t need to worry about selecting the template again. The template contains all the major fields of a reading note you’d expect, such headings for “Quote,” “My comment,” “Bibliographic reference,” link to page in the PDF file, and “Categories.” The reference is already marked up with CT’s “attribute” tags, which allows for automatically gathering topics with the same attributes. In the “Categories” I would include any labels (tags) that will pertain to all the notes within that particular chapter (including the chapter’s title and the author’s name). I also set up a phrase with the “author date” format in PhraseExpander, so that when I create a new topic, I won’t need to retype that bit again. Here is the sub-process for creating a new date topic in CT:
- click on the “new topic” button in CT.
- click on the “add current date/time” icon in the “new topic” dialog box.
- start typing author’s name and select phrase from PhraseExpander’s pop-up, e.g. “Smith 2013”
- type a descriptive title for the quote. The final topic title will look something like this:
29/04/2014 10:34 Smith 2013 definition of scientific method
- click “OK” to create new CT date topic.
- paste in the quote from NoteTab.
- Add any comments, such as interpretations or ideas triggered by the quote.
- Use yellow and pink colour to highlight any crucial sentences in the quote (optional).
- Add the page number for the PDF page link (to be able to go back to the source page with one click).
- Add labels (tags) in the Categories section to characterise and categorise the quote.
- After having finished reading a chapter, I drag and drop all the newly created date topics into a CT outline file (.cto) I created for the whole book, and organise them into a hierarchical structure, thus recreating the underlying logical structure for the chapter’s argument (and gradually for the whole book). This is the process and mechanism that replaces the single Freeplane mind map with the previously described method. Should I still wish to see this outline as a mind map, I can export it into Freeplane, where each outline item would be a node, and each node would have a link that leads to the quote in CT, thus acting as a virtual dual-pane mind map/outliner.