Hey there,

I’m an Australian academic in the field of education. I read the How to take smart notes book and a couple of Luhmann’s articles which were translated into English. I also would recommend looking at the writing of Andy Matuschak on how to label your notes, what to include in them, and so on. Here’s the process I’ve come up with (which continues to evolve):

  1. Initial highlighting: Read journal article via Zotero. Highlight the parts that are relevant to you using the default PDF viewer on your computer. Use Zotfile to extract the highlights (and any notes) in Zotero, then paste them into Obsidian in a new note. I have a template I copy and paste to start each new highlight note with relevant details like the author names, date of publication and so on before the highlights.

  2. Refine highlights: Look through your highlights from the article and use the Obsidian highlighting feature (like this) to pinpoint what’s valuable in each highlight. This makes it easier to complete the next step, particularly if it’s a long paper or you have to come back to it. Skip if necessary.

  3. Process highlights into literature notes: Summarise the highlights into your own words. Add any personal insights. Each literature note should relate to one idea. I do this directly above the highlight notes using bullet points and a L - for literature notes and a H - for highlight notes. Try to write the literature note as if it was part of a journal article.

  4. Add a label to each literature note: Above each literature note, I add a label, which should be the briefest possible summary of the literature note. Have this label inside double square brackets. Avoid labels like “Definition of X”. Instead, write “X is y and z”. Try to be specific. I mainly use the bracket links in this way. An example label might be E - X is y and z. I use E - because it will soon be an evergreen note.

  5. Add each label to an index: The index will be a long list of all your literature note labels. Categorise the labels in a logical manner.

  6. Create evergreen notes: Click the label (which is a link to a new note) and copy/paste the literature note text (which will be quite short) into this new evergreen note. Add connections to other notes categorised in the same place in your index plus any other relevant evergreen notes. Add relevant tags. The index may not be overly important in the long run, but it definitely helps at this point with connection making. I also add the reference details at the bottom of each evergreen note. Next it’s time to create your paper.

7a. (Top down approach) Create journal article outline: Create an outline for your article, chapter, application, or whatever you’re working on. You can make a quick template with the relevant stages of the genre (e.g. introduction, literature review, and so on). Then, drag relevant evergreen notes into the sections. You’ll need to massage the gaps between notes to make it cohesive. If you use a note, add a tag to say so. You’ll need to reword the note if you use it again in another paper to avoid self-plagiarism.

7b. (Bottom up approach) Add evergreen notes to papers: Instead of starting with a paper outline, you might look at your notes in the index and consider what kind of interesting questions they might help you answer, then build your paper from there.

I hope someone out there finds all this useful. One of the best things I’ve done is create a note called master production line which includes these numbered steps as headings, and then I can add my highlight notes as they’re created and move them down the production line as they’re processed. I also organise them in certain steps (like 2 and 3) as high, medium and low priority. It means you never lose track of notes and there’s always something you could be working on. The bit I’m still figuring out is the last step: how to go from evergreen notes to paper drafts as efficiently as possible. I’m a little old fashioned, so I’ll probably so the final edit in Word once everything else is done in Obsidian. The multiple window support in Obsidian is great, but still a bit janky, and this method requires multiple windows to be open at a time. Hopefully a future update keeps the windows in the one spot.

Anyway, take care everyone and good luck.