Field Report #6: The Zettelkasten Method Works for PhD Students Very Well!

This is a guest post by Jeannel King (@jeannelking on our forums), a follow up to her Zettelkasten use in class from 2 years ago. Enjoy!

Update now that I’m three years in to my PhD program and am about to start on my lit reviews and dissertation research…

Holy Forking Shirtballs, am I glad I started my ZK back in 2020!!!

  • I cannot tell you how often I’ve used it to write my course papers.
  • I cannot tell you how often I’ve had it open during class discussions to back up my points.
  • I cannot tell you how lazy I’ve gotten with some of my entries (copying and pasting text instead of reworking it into my own words), and how much I wish I had taken the time to translate those entries for myself. (Comment by Sascha: Yes! Laziness of your past self is something you will always loath. So be nice to your future self.)

It is, hands down, one of the best things I have ever done as a PhD student and scholar/practitioner.

  • I did end up migrating away from doing paper and digital Zettels, because who has the time to sustain that? Apparently, not me. I’ve been operating 100% digital for a long time now and have zero regrets. It’s so much easier to find what I’m looking for by using the search function in Archive. (Comment by Sascha: This is a recurring experience. My personal recommendation is to use paper to assist thinking and store everything digital.)

  • I also moved away from taking notes then reworking them into Zettels. Again, too much time. Now, I do much of my reading online (Kindle and other resources) and have The Archive open at the same time. As I read or think of things, I do my Zettels in the moment. (Comment by Sascha: Ha! Death to literature notes!)

  • I also have been including the author and year citations in my ZK titles, so that if I’m looking for items from that 2012 article by Joan Smith, I can do a search for (Smith, 2012) and they’ll all pop up. VERY handy! (Comment by Sascha: If you use the MultiMarkdown syntax for citation, the cite key is treated as a tag by The Archive. One click and you gather all notes referring to the source.)

As I approach my literature review, I have – goodness – 890 Zettels in my system. All of them are related to my studies, although not all of them may be relevant to my research as its focus has refined over the years.

Hoping this update is helpful!

Jeannel (three PhD years down, two to go!)

Sascha’s Comment: This invokes fond memories of my own moments of insight. Happy Zetteling!

Christian’s Comment: The examples and little tips from practitioners are always a treat to read! I would’ve loved to have a working Zettelkasten during class to come up with interesting ideas in discussions :)