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A Software Ecosystem for Research, Zettelkasten Note-Taking, and Writing [UNDER DEVELOPMENT]

Guide's purpose

This guide discusses an integrated "ecosystem" of tools and approaches for scholarly research, note-taking, and writing. The guide is a work in progress; watch for new material or edits or corrections as the guide's author gains more experience implementing the system it describes.

If you have any suggestions for additions or changes to the guide's content, or if you just want to swap notes about your own approaches or the tools you use, please contact Brian Simboli (8-5003).

Guide's intended audience:

  • persons who do a lot of academic research and writing projects over a career and are willing to spend lots of time learning how to make efficient of use the entire system, including how its parts interact.
  • people who will find useful for academic purposes some but not necessarily all of the tools and approaches it talks about; the guide might at least provide some ideas or approaches to consider.

Folks who also want to explore how aspects of the note-taking ecosystem can help organize non-academic projects or tasks may want to read Tiago Forte's Building a Second Brain, mentioned elsewhere in this guide.

This guide discusses integrated use of the following tools. You may find ones more suitable for your purposes, but the following should give you ideas about types of tools to build into your own workflows:

  • Obsidian: a "mark-down" language that enables one to create documents (notes), organize them into folders, and link them to other notes in Wiki-like fashion.
  • Literature Review Central (LRC):  a place where in an organized way you can record tasks completed in the stages of your literature search.
  • Zotero:  a citation management software that for Lehigh users provides unlimited storage space. You can create collections of full text documents in it, annotate them, and collect the annotations into notes.
  • AI summarization tools: while you may or may not find these tools in their current form useful for your purposes, developments in this space are worth monitoring.  While no substitute for practicing the human art of summarizing, there are at least three possible uses: for busy researchers to assess whether to read a publication in-depth; to generate text that plays the same role as scholarly journal review articles;  and to generate text that after editing can serve as "literature notes" (see elsewhere in guide). Citation conventions for use of AI are starting to emerge. 

The guide also provides resources related to the "Zettelkasten" (slip-box) note-taking system, which provides one organizational framework for implementing these tools. You can however use tools like those above to implement your own system of note-taking. 

Important: again, using the full system is suitable only for persons who do a lot of research and writing projects over an extended period of time, since implementing it requires lots of time and dedication.  

However, even if you do not implement the entire system, you may find parts of it useful. For example, you can use Obsidian to implement a personal knowledge management system, not just for doing scholarly research but for any project involving lots of information that needs organization in a flexible wiki-like environment.

What the guide does not do:

  • While it links to some documentation about how to use the system's components, it does not do so comprehensively. Search on the internet and youtube for useful resources.
  • The guide does not detail how to search bibliographic databases and other aspects of library research. Contact your subject librarian for assistance.