How Are You Taking Notes?

Curious question for some folks who are studying~

When taking notes, do you organize information using the concept-descriptor framework during your study session? Or do you take messy notes and then reorganize the information afterwards into concept-descriptor format?

Benefits of concept-descriptor of course

  1. Organized information
  2. Concepts broken down to simplest parts

I ask because lately a lot of my study material from science papers or research articles have been difficult to organize into concept-descriptor format. And reorganizing them takes a lot of time, especially since many ideas in medicine are so interlinked. Considering whether cloze cards might be another possible solution

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I do not even use the Framework concept-descriptor. The Top Publication of this forum is titled “Concept-descriptor Framework Putting Users in A Box?”. This publication seems to show again that this is the case. The Flexible Flash Cards System that I proposed in the feature request category has received a lot of support from users And we would like to have a response yours too, my friend. With all kindness, I sincerely appreciate the amazing software you are doing, but please, do not limit us to a specific framework. For your publication, it seems that just like me and many others, you are also realizing that the descriptor concept framework is very limiting on many occasions. I agree that the Clozes have a lot of possibilities to adapt to any information organization. That’s why I would like you to pass through my post and give it an opportunity. Thank you very much!


I’m a heavy user of the concept-descriptor framework. I mostly take notes on blog posts and books that I read. For a blog post that I’ve saved in Instapaper, my process is:

  1. Highlight as I read on my iPad.
  2. Export the highlights as Markdown to the clipboard.
  3. Paste the highlights into the day’s daily note.
  4. Structure the highlights into an outline–applying the concept-descriptor framework as appropriate.
  5. Move the outline into its own document, leaving a portal in the daily note.

Using templates, the automatically add power-up, and universal descriptors makes this efficient. The new keyboard shortcuts make outlining even easier.

For books, I’ll usually outline the chapters of the book first, read a chapter at a time, and turn my highlights into notes periodically.

While I’m not a student, I do use the spaced repetition to improve my retention of what I read. This plays nicely with the concept-descriptor framework, in my opinion.

I also find that the concept-descriptor framework actually accelerates my note-taking in many cases. Since many structures recur in my notes, and those structures have scaffolds in my templates and universal descriptors, once I recognize the structure, building it with a scaffold is easy.

In combination with highlighting and CSS, the templates and descriptors also make my notes easier to revisit. At one glance, I know whether something is a term, an example, a procedure, etc.


Probably best to separate the broad outliner format (parent-child, groups created and destroyed on the fly) from a specific way to categorise rem that have been outlined (Capitals for concepts, lowercase for descriptors). The former is a pretty flexible and efficient way to structure and reorganise information, the latter works well in very specific cases that are probably best handled using templates (shameless plug for my feature request to add outlining from template).

Hopefully, as more features shown here and aliases are implemented, the Concept-descriptor framework will naturally become an option like tagging rather than the intended way to format all rem. Flashcards are the main limiting factor here, I assume.

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I agree with you @Umnik that Remnote has to allow any kind of framework. However, I don’t think the solution is to define syntax for new frameworks. From what I’ve read in the documentation, the only difference between a concept and a descriptor is the way they are treated in flashcard generation. Therefore, what we need is a way to personalize the flashcards to suit each user. If anyone likes the concept-descriptor framework that’s fine, but I think organizing their notes is a task that should fall on the user, and developers shouldn’t waste their valuable time and lines of code teaching the program to identify things like what is a concept and what is a descriptor. My humble opinion.

Thing is, if RemNote were open source, there would be a way for users to hack together whatever they wish, but it isn’t and there isn’t. I assume the framework works pretty well for some use cases the founders deemed their focus, and so it serves as the introduction to the program. But going by the interview with Martin, he is willing to adapt if given enough reason to do so. And since he is one of the two programmers at the moment, I hope these discussions have given him cause to either expand the API to bring in Hannes’ suggestions or devote a few tutorial pages to a more broad, “parent-child-group-link” way of doing things. Basically, as I’ve linked before, this

(link to full slides)

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I made an effort here to define a flexible system that allows each user “hack whatever they wish on their flashcards”.

I also like Hannes’s proposal, but I think it focuses on the possibilities of visualizing content, not on how flashcards are created. Why am I talking “only” about flashcards if we are discussing frameworks and ways to organize notes? Well, I repeat what I said earlier: the only difference between a descriptor and a concept is how the flashcards are displayed.

Remnote already allows you to organize your knowledge in any way each user can think of (in fact, almost any note manager does). The point here, I think, is to find a way to reconcile spaced repetition with any kind of note organization. After all, that is the essence that Remnote was created for.

By definition, flashcards are separated to back and (relatively short) front, while notes can be of any length and congruence. Not even Martin himself turns every rem into a flashcard. In my estimation, the correct way to integrate note taking and flashcards is to first teach people to take proper notes, then turn some of them into flashcards. Otherwise it would just be Anki with fewer card fields, but better deck organisation. Happily, RemNote is robust enough to accommodate both, but perhaps not simultaneously, as the concept-descriptor framework encourages.

no one is talking about each rem being a flashcard.

Wow, I couldn’t disagree more! Sorry, life is too short to teach me the “right way” to take notes. In fact, I don’t think that even exists. If it were that simple, all textbooks would be structured as concepts and descriptors, or in any other way. Knowledge has the peculiarity of being tremendously complex. The point of an infinite outliner with two-way links is to take notes as our brain thinks. Honestly, I still haven’t gone from onenote to remnote. I’m waiting for them to allow me to create flashcards as I please. Without having to format my notes as someone thinks is best. Even if there was a better way to take notes, why force users who think differently?

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So which is it, no right way or as our brain thinks?.. As far as I know, the latest word on note-taking at the moment is the adaptation of the Zettlekasten method, so, in short, take notes in your own words, link them, and have some kinda entry point so you can get at them and see new connections as they arise. Every step of that process has been proven to be more time-efficient for deeper understanding than other ways. Spaced repetition can be added in the form of flashcards or just looking over and reorganising old notes, either way will ensure retention. I’m getting tired of plugging it, but all this is explained (and supported by references) quite convincingly in “How to Take Smart Notes” by Sonke Ahrens (obviously, there is plenty of other literature, but this book is, in my estimation, entirely devoid of “fat”). Unless you are aware of newer or conflicting information, why not take advantage of decades of research?

thanks @Carlpaul153 and @UMNiK for the thoughtful responses and insight. I personally do like the concept-descriptor framework. I like how it not only breaks things down into simple components, but it streamlines my studying by quizzing me on the most precise and exact details I want to study. I find that the more specific you make the descriptors, the less ambiguity there is for interpretation of your flashcards. However, it is by no means the only way to take notes, and I want to emphasize that I do NOT want us to feel “put in a box”.

A lot of new users and students appreciate some kind of direction when getting started which is why we provide the framework. Giving a blank canvas to a child who has never drawn a picture before isn’t going to amount to much. However give something to trace or an image to copy from and they can get started. And once they become comfortable they can decide if it works or how they want to modify their workflow. I’ve reached this point in studying medicine where certain pathology or disease states have too many unknowns to fit nicely into the concept-descriptor. Even with free form notetaking I would have a hard time organizing the information haha. So i was more wondering how others may have approached very interconnected or abstract studying.

As @UMNiK mentions, I also do not make flashcards for every Rem I create. The only issue for me there is that information won’t resurface when I study, which is why I’ve now started adding clozes. I like how you mentioned the need to learn “proper notetaking”. I’ve been interested in the science behind this as well and Mike and I are actually exploring this.

What additional flexibility did you have in mind? To me, by separating text by :: you have the freedom to make any flashcard you want regardless of the concept descriptor framework.

I will be revisiting those posts you both linked though! thanks for sharing

Maybe I didn’t explain myself well from the beginning. I am not arguing about the best way to take notes. I will try to summarize my position in the following sentence:

“An improved cloze system can be adapted to any note structuring.”

Let me explain. You could make flashcards of a textbook without modifying it at all (although you probably want to do an intermediate step by taking your own notes). The cloze would be the reverse of the flashcard. If the context doesn’t seem appropriate to you as an “input” for the front of the card, you can clue as I suggested in the post I mentioned earlier.

If you are interested, I think you will understand my note taking / study flow at this link; but either way, I repeat, I think we are mixing two discussions in this thread. Mainly Umnik, you are discussing what is the best way to take notes. I’m saying that until clozes are not more flexible and powerful as I suggested in my post, spaced repetition is locking us in a box. Whether that box is good or can be improved is another matter.

Thank you both too.

It is a great way to make flashcards, but flashcards should not be confused with notes. Consider the Universal Descriptor page as presented in the tutorials: is “Why Exists” truly in the same category as “Components”? I would argue that the outliner already presents the opportunity to put notes “behind” other notes, while concept-descriptor just needlessly narrows the field while stretching the word “descriptor” to its absolute breaking point. If people go looking to break down things into objects with properties from the off, they are likely to skip looking for broad connections and the way the things fit into their own thinking, which is the primary benefit of making your own notes rather than copypasting the textbook.

This fits nicely into my argument, since half the descriptors are actually describing backlinks or tags, but the current flashcard system necessitates adding additional lines to cloze or ::. Find some way to integrate the wiki features into flashcard ones (the feature requests subforum is the liveliest one for a reason). Aliases are a must for this, I feel, and can serve as cloze hints.

I feel like a broken record at this point, but Zettelkasten has proved to be good enough to not only study, but create information on a “Theory of Society”, which is about as interconnected and abstract as you can get without needing a supercomputer. The things lacking in RemNote from that perspective are that portals are a bit too cumbersome, both visually and lag-wise, to create many desktops with different hierarchies of notes, and there is a limit of two panes rather than as many as needed, as in Obsidian. Queries from Roam would be nice to find the notes to setup the desktop, but I assume they are harder to implement.

Out of interest, is anyone on the programming team reading any of this? Or do they have their hands full with bugs on github? Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have any lines of communication, but whatever happened to Martin calling people up?

I think I could be forgiven for that, given the title and OP. At any rate, I see an opportunity to reach out to the devs, I take it. Hopefully my reaching out is not getting too persistent.

@mattygrov I have the same kind of problem when using concept-descriptor format, in all of my notes, but usually I just try my best to fit informations to this format. I try not to make messy notes because it requires lots of effort to organize it later.
Personally i find this format quite useful, even though it kinda does “put me in a box”, because our minds need some kind of boundaries, without them I (i think i am not the only one) tend do make too chaotic notes which are hard to revise later

If you can make a note that requires no revision and is formatted to any pre-established standard (be it concept-descriptor or any other) from the off, I can only envy your unerring intuition. For mere mortals, however, it may be necessary to first jot down their thoughts, then organise them into an outline, then check them against other notes they may already have for connections or inconsistencies, then, possibly, format them further (be it into concepts or descriptors or anything else). If you already have a built-up outline of a topic, you could skip the outlining and go for connecting and formatting.

I feel like the crux of the issue here is that outlining is being conflated with concept-descriptor. You can outline any ole shit. But you certainly cannot separate everything into concepts and descriptors.

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