Notetaking to Understand and Create

This post is a companion to the demonstration I offered during the “CRITICAL
MINI – CONFERENCE,” on February 9, 2023
about using Zotero and Obsidian.

Why? I was in search of a way to efficiently capture notes that would help me think about what I read and make connections between ideas. I needed a personal knowledge management system, or PKM. I had been using OneNote for my notes, but felt limited by the hierarchical structure. OneNote has a search function but the way things are organized made it more difficult to make connections between ideas.

The Zettlekasten method, created by a German sociologist Niklaus Luhman, provides a workflow for taking in information and making connections between your ideas. The Zettlekasten means slip boxes. The zettlekasten workflow consists of taking fleeting notes, putting those into your own words as literature notes, and then taking those and turning them into new ideas as permanent notes. Luhman used a system of numbered cards to catalog his thoughts and ideas. It was this system that helped him be very prolific, publishing more than 70 books and 400 scholarly articles.

The system that Luhman created is made easier to implement now that we have computers. We have the ability to take what were physical cards (Luhman had roughly 90,000) and store them easily in a digital file system. There are a number of tools to do this, of which Obsidian is one. Obsidian is a non-linear notetaking system allowing you to make and see (important) connections between ideas. Obsidian uses markdown to efficiently format your notes. Using markdown makes it easy to link between notes. Entering two square brackets allows me to easily link to other pages. Obsidian shows me the links between items so that I can follow my train of thought.


  1. Gather Fleeting Notes
  2. Process Fleeting notes into permanent notes and MAKE CONNECTIONS!

Moving Notes from Zotero to Obsidian

  1. Collect items/PDFs in Zotero – web clipper, DOI, etc.
  2. Read and annotate in Zotero (Fleeting notes)
  3. Right-Click on the item title in Zotero and Extract Annotations. Hide colors, hide citations.
  4. Copy item title.
  5. Right-click on note and export the note. Select Markdown format. Select “Include Zotero links.” Save in Obsidian Vault (paste in item title and date into file name.)
  6. Think about notes and make connections in Obsidian (Permanent Notes)

Capturing webpages as PDFs into Zotero

  1. Install Zutilo Zotero add-on.
  2. Add keyboard shortcut for attaching a new file. CTRL+P recommended.
  3. Open browser to page you want to collect.
  4. Press CTRL+P to Save as PDF.
  5. Navigate to and select item in Zotero.
  6. Press CTRL+P to attach PDF to item.



PKM – personal knowledge management


Obsidian – non-linear/heirarchical notetaking tool
Zotero – Citation manager, reading and annotation tool


First video: The FUN and EFFICIENT note-taking System:
How the Zotero 6 update changed my workflow:
Zettelkasten Smart Notes: Step by Step with Obsidian:


How to capture webpages as PDFs into Zotero:
Zettlekasten – ;
Niklas Luhman –
Linking Your Thinking – Nick Milo

IDC03 – Taking Notes: Interview with Julie Haurykiewicz

Listen to ID Corner:
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All Episodes|Music provided by Kimiko Ishizaka


I had the pleasure to sit down with Julie Haurykiewicz, an Associate Dean of Academic Success in the Center for Academic Success, or CAS, at Lawrence University. In her current role, Julie teaches Freshman Studies during winter term, works in a number of different summer programs including the Summer Institute program, and oversees many parts of the tutoring program at Lawrence. Due to the work that Julie does she has unique insight into the topic of note taking, the current picture of note-taking on our campus, the challenges students face, and some of the ways in which faculty have and can approach note-taking. Part of our conversation focused on each of these things as well as strategies for instructors and for students to encourage note-taking and to take better notes. I will share some of the key points from the interview below.

One thing that came out of the interview is that it seems like fewer students are coming to college having learned specific note-taking strategies. Students are challenged by figuring out how to take notes for for different classes and within different contexts e.g. notes for lecture vs. notes for class discussion vs. notes for a class reading. Some common pitfalls that students fall into related to note taking are that they are overwhelmed by trying to capture everything and know what to prioritize as they take notes. This is compounded by the fact that some instructors assume that students have had instruction in note-taking previous to coming to university.

If students are not coming to college having had instruction in note-taking, how can an instructor encourage the students to take notes?  Should they provide that instruction to them?

Julie mentions four reasons for taking notes.

  1. To maintain concentration or focus
  2. To make sense of concepts
  3. To recall material later
  4. To serve as a reference or backup

She then shares a number of recommendations for instructors about things they can do to support student note-taking. These include:

  • talking with students about when, why, and how notes are important in their own discipline
  • sharing research about the impact of various note-taking practices
  • sharing PowerPoint slides with students in Moodle
    • teaching students to annotate [the slides] or use them as flashcards
  • using scaffold-ed or guided notes where professors provide an outline for students with part of the notes filled in for their course       
  • using verbal cues such as, “Be sure to add this to your notes” or, “This will be on the test.”
  • Leveraging a grade for notes

I then asked Julie about note taking strategies that she recommends for students. Her response mirrors the same advice for instructors. She shares that student should think about the purpose of the notes. they should ask themselves, “Why am I taking these notes?” and “What do I hope to gain from the notes?” Below are some of the strategies that Julie shared for students

  • Outline or bullet notes
  • Cornell notes
  • Reading with a Purpose – read with a question in mind. Answer the question as you read.
  • Note cards
  • Sketch-noting, visuals, diagrams, color, timelines
  • Review the notes
    • At the time when they’re taken to add parts you may have missed but can still recall
    • Review repeatedly, over a period of time to help move the information to long term memory (distributed cognition)

Below are some helpful note-taking apps/programs, and strategies.


Carter, Susan Payne. “The Impact of Computer Usage on Academic Performance: Evidence from a Randomized Trial at the United States Military Academy.” Economics of Education Review 56 (2017): 118-132.

Mueller, Pam A. “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.” Psychological Science. 25, no. 6 (2014): 1159-1168.

Cult of Pedagogy – Notetaking: A Research Roundup

Cult of Pedagogy – Power Lesson: Notetaking Stations

Lifehacker: Use The Medium Method to Combine Digital Note-Taking With Pen and Paper

Want to be more productive? Don’t go paperless.
Read this before ditching pen and paper.