Table level angle of a small, light brown wooden card index. It has a fine metal relief placard that reads "Remington Rand Library Bureau Div. made in USA". The box has several manilla 1/5 cut 3x5" card dividers inside. Outside of the box on the table in front of it are a typewritten index card and a black metal Rotring 800 0.5mm mechanical pencil. In the background is a white ceramic bowl full of lemons.

A quick survey of academics, teachers, and researchers blogging about note taking practices and zettelkasten-based methods

Frequently newcomers to the note taking space or one of the many tools used within it are curious to see others who are using these methods and writing or blogging about them in public. Because many are students (often undergraduates, masters, or Ph.D.) looking for practical advice, tips, or even public examples which they might follow, I thought I’d put together a quick list focusing on academic use-cases from my own notes.

Individuals

Dan Allosso is a history professor at Bemidji State University who has used Obsidian in his courses in the past. He frequently writes about reading, writing, and research process on his Substack channels or in videos archived on his YouTube channel. In addition to this, Dan has a book on note taking and writing which focuses on using a card index or zettelkasten centric process. Much of his personal use is grounded both in index cards as well as Obsidian.

Shawn Graham has both a blog as well as a prior course on the history of the internet using Obsidian. In the course materials he has compiled significant details and suggestions for setting up an Obsidian vault for students interested in using the tool.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick has a significant blog which covers a variety of topics centered around her work and research. Her current course Peculiar Genres of Academic Writing (2024) focuses on writing, note taking (including Zettelkasten) and encourages students to try out Obsidian, which she’s been using herself. A syllabus for an earlier version of the course includes some big name bloggers in academia whose sites might serve as examples of academic writing in the public. The syllabus also includes a section on being an academic blogger and creating platform as a public intellectual.

Morganeua is a Ph.D. candidate who has a popular YouTube channel on note taking within the academic setting (broadly using Obsidian, though she does touch on other tools from time to time).

Chris Aldrich is independent research who does work at the intersection of intellectual history and note taking methods and practices. He’s got an active website along with a large collection of note taking, zettelkasten, commonplace books, and sense-making related articles. His personal practice is a hybrid one using both analog and digital methods including Obsidian, Hypothes.is, and his own website.

Bob Doto is a teacher and independent researcher who focuses on Luhmann-artig zettelkasten practice and writing. He uses Obsidian and also operates a private Discord server focused on general Zettelkasten practice.

Manfred Kuehn, a professor of philosophy at Boston University, had an influential blog on note taking practices and culture from 2007 to 2018 on Blogspot. While he’s taken the site down, the majority of his work there can be found on the Internet Archive.

Andy Matuschak is an independent researcher who is working at the intersection of learning, knowledge management, reading and related topics. He’s got a PatreonYouTube Channel and a self- built public card-based note collection.

Broader community-based efforts

Here are some tool-specific as well as tool-agnostic web-based fora, chat rooms, etc. which are focused on academic-related note taking and will have a variety of people to follow and interact with.

Obsidian runs a large and diverse Discord server. In addition to many others, they have channels for #Academia and #Academic-tools as well as #Knowledge-management and #zettelkasten.

Tinderbox hosts regular meetups (see their forum for details on upcoming events and how to join). While their events are often product-focused (ways to use it, Q&A, etc.), frequently they’ve got invited speakers who talk about their work, processes, and methods of working. Past recorded sessions can be found on YouTube. While this is tool-specific, much of what is discussed in their meetups can broadly be applied to any tool set. Because Tinderbox has been around since the early 00s and heavily focused on academic use, the majority of participants in the community are highly tech literate academics whose age skews to the over 40 set.

A variety of Zettelkasten practitioners including several current and retired academicians using a variety of platforms can be found at https://forum.zettelkasten.de/.

Boris Mann and others held Tools for Thought meetups which had been regularly held through 2023. They may have some interesting archived material for perusal on both theory, practice, and a wide variety of tools.

Others?

I’ve tried to quickly “tip out” my own zettelkasten on this topic with a focus on larger repositories of active publicly available web-based material with an academic use-case focus. Surely there is a much wider variety of people and resources not listed here, but it should be a reasonable primer for beginners. Feel free to reply with additional suggestions and resources of which you may be aware.

Useful books, articles, and miscellaneous manuals

While many may come to the space by way of Sönke Ahrens’ 2017 book, we should all acknowledge that many of these methods go back centuries, so there is obviously lots of prior art to look at for hints and tricks. There is enough that for many students, you may be able to find a note taking guide written by a famous luminary in your own chosen field of study (especially if you’re in the humanities and studying history, anthropology, or sociology.)

Recommended reading

To help students get up to speed most quickly, based on my own experience and reading I often recommend reading the following (roughly in order) along with one or more of the note taking manuals below (of which I personally most appreciate Umberto Eco, Gerald Weinberg, Jacques Goutor, John Locke, Dan Allosso and S.F. Allosso, and Antonin Sertillanges.)

  • Adler, Mortimer J. “How to Mark a Book.” Saturday Review of Literature, July 6, 1940. https://www.unz.com/print/SaturdayRev-1940jul06-00011/
  • Adler, Mortimer J., and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book: The Classical Guide to Intelligent Reading. Revised and Updated ed. edition. 1940. Reprint, Touchstone, 2011.
  • Thomas, Keith. “Diary: Working Methods.” London Review of Books, June 10, 2010. https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v32/n11/keith-thomas/diary
  • Mills, C. Wright. “On Intellectual Craftsmanship (1952).” Society 17, no. 2 (January 1, 1980): 63–70. doi.org/10.1007/BF02700062
  • “They Say / I Say”: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. 3rd ed. 2006. Reprint, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.

Bibliography of Note Taking Manuals

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Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, IndieWeb, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

25 thoughts on “A quick survey of academics, teachers, and researchers blogging about note taking practices and zettelkasten-based methods”

  1. Giovani di Gesu says:

    I suggest, at your discretion, adding a link to the following essay by N Luhmann.

    Communicating with Slip Boxes by Niklas Luhmann, An Empirical Account

  2. @chrisaldrich wow, what a comprehensive summary. And very timely! Because I’ve got a question about Obsidian as it relates to publishing online, whether as a blog or more ambitiously, a digital garden interconnected with tags. Is that a thing at all?

    Just this Wednesday at the Homebrew zoom, I was wondering out loud about it and @gregorlove.com mentioned “common space books”, something I’d never heard before and saw in your post as well.

  3. I prefer the term ‘note-making’ to ‘note-taking’. ‘Note-taking’ implies a one-step process; most of my notes evolve over several iterations. I don’t blog specifically about note-making, but I find myself doing it in passing with unplanned frequency: http://richardcarter.com/tag/note-making/

  4. Dan Allosso says:

    Thanks for the shoutout, Chris. And the bibliography!

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