How I Take Notes of Papers

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This is work in progress. I still don't have a clear process on how to take good notes on papers that can be used in the long term.

From marginalia to a permanent note, this is normally the strategy I try to follow when reading papers or books:

  • The first set of happens on paper, in the margins of whatever I read. Sometimes notes take the form of underlining, not of actual writing.
    • Underlining allows me to quickly skim through the text to find the bits that were more interesting to remember.
    • Notes on the margins are normally pointers to things that are not written. For example, if something does not make sense I would mark it with a ? , if something is a conclusion, I would mark it with a ! .
    • I also try to draw on figures to make the link between the explanation and the data. Or if there's anything interesting not mentioned in the text, etc.
    • I have to force myself to remember that what I write in the margins is meant to be forgotten rather quickly. If I grab the same article a month later, most likely I will not remember why I underlined what I underlined, etc.
  • The real work starts after reading the paper, when I create notes in my digital garden . I have been struggling with the flow, trying to follow different advices. In the end, what works best for me is to create literature notes :
    • Literature notes are created from a single reference. In order to lower the friction, the title starts with an autogenerated string (based on date and time), and sometimes a concept-based title if it's fitting.
      • I try to keep notes concept-oriented, which means that each conclusion gets its own note.
      • I struggle with the idea of making connections with different literature notes. Most likely the connection will happen through a more general note in which I use the literature note.
    • Note : I am still experimenting, and I'm not sure what is that works best for me in the long term.
  • I use Zotero to keep an archive of papers, theses, books, etc. However, I don't use it's capacity to take notes or add related papers. I mostly use it to generate keys based on the first user that I can embed within my notes.
  • I read papers on real paper . After I'm done, I put them in a binder organized by the last author's last-name. I found that in this way I can quickly discover previous work that I may not have valued enough at the moment of reading.
  • For digital notes, I use Obsidian and Zettlr (see: essays/choosing between zettlr and obsidian ).


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Aquiles Carattino
Aquiles Carattino
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