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Several universities have guidelines on how to write papers following a top-down approach, starting with a research topic and going downwards until the student can decide what to read and finally write about. Ahrens1 argues that this is not a good approach because:

  1. It lacks to acknowledge that students have pre-existing ideas that they are carrying with them (things they already studied or experienced)
  2. It creates a linearity in the process that does not represent how people normally think

To solve these caveats, he proposes to use The Luhmann method of storing notes. He claims that if we can collect notes in such a way that they create low friction when retrieving them and, potentially, show links that were not apparent at first sight, then we could generate new insight even if we didn't plan for it initially.

In the section underlying principles, however, he lacks any mention to the fact that people have to start somewhere. If you are starting to take notes, you don't have a preexisting slip-box, and therefore any kind of insight will be limited to the few books/papers you can read and create notes about. Over time this may grow, but for most people not pursuing an academic/writing career it will become useless. It is not clear how the process would fit into a project with deadlines.

He also misses the discussion on how to decide what to read when you are starting. Even though we may not build a research plan from top to bottom, we may still have a clear path that we would like to explore. The topic of the paper a student must write may be determined by a professor. Without a guiding train of thought we risk the consumption of content without any form of mindfulness.

Especially in today's world, where links and algorithms can bring us to paths

  1. We didn't anticipate
  2. But are algorithmically determined to optimize engagement

We can end up consuming content, and not actually building knowledge.

Tags: #note-taking, #Zettelkasten, #Luhmann-method

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Aquiles Carattino
Aquiles Carattino
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