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I am considering to create a wiki/blog for most of my study notes that I have made or taken digitally.

Also, for the handwritten and rough ones I am thinking about storing them in my GitHub repository.

Is this a good idea? How do professionals in academia and PhD students organise their notes?

Also, should I keep my notes publicly available?

Edit: The main purpose of keeping my notes public is to have them readily available and searchable of myself and my immediate peers in college. If that benefits someone else, I will be more than glad to have helped.

Update regarding having a blog/wiki: I was thinking about having stuff regarding my take on a certain topic or similar rather than just straightaway putting mugged up lecture notes. (as I mentioned in a comment)

So basically, as I go along a certain topic whatever interesting I find, I post it. Also I will put in links to papers, books and other interesting literature on the topic that might be helpful while studying the topic. This seems easier to deal with and also serves as a way to track my current interests and/or workflow.

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    Who are you? Why would someone want your notes in particular? – Azor Ahai -- he him Apr 27 at 13:50
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    @AzorAhai I am not inclined to discover who will want my notes in particular nor am I inclined to do so for any sake of profit. I want my notes to be readily available and accessible to me, anytime I want. If that ends up benefiting someone, well I will be more than glad to have helped. – Alapan Chaudhuri Apr 27 at 16:32
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    Sure, but are you a professor or grad student with a lot of knowledge who can produce really good notes (e.g. with LaTeX, if applicable). Are you an undergraduate? – Azor Ahai -- he him Apr 27 at 16:59
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    I think you should put these commends in your question: "I don't care who read my notes and seek no profit. I want my notes to be readily available to me anytime I want. If that ends up benefiting someone, I'll be more than glad. I am an undergraduate." – Henrique Apr 27 at 19:39
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    "I don't care" would not be what I meant in my comment. I certainly care if someone finds them to be helpful. But the main purpose is for my own-self and for my immediate peers in college. Please don't misinterpret. – Alapan Chaudhuri Apr 27 at 21:21

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Is this a good idea? How do professionals in academia and PhD students organise their notes?

Personally, I think this is a great idea. More routes for the sharing of knowledge do good for society as a whole. Often, notes taken by students become the definitive resource for other students.

Academics who have extensive material typed up in notes tend to present it in a low-tech way. In lieu of elaborate web design or a flashy interface, there's usually just a list of PDF files written in LaTeX, often on a site made from bare HTML. Here are some physics examples for inspiration:

  • Ian Lim has graduate Cambridge physics notes
  • Jeff Dror has particle physics notes
  • Flip Tanedo also has particle physics notes
  • my personal site has general physics notes (hosted on Github, with the increasingly common Hugo Academic theme)

And for math:

All of these notes were taken as undergrad or grad students.

Also, should I keep my notes publicly available?

I don't see a reason why not. There are occasionally people who express fears that, if it becomes known that they made a single typo while an undergrad, their scientific career will be over. These fears are just ridiculous!

Most people who see your notes won't read them, most of those who read them won't do so in enough detail to spot typos, most of those who spot typos won't be evaluating your career, and in the absurdly tiny chance that a professor thought it was worth their time to comb your personal notes for mistakes, any they found would be completely understandable.


Edit: I feel like I should address some of the objections posted.

The first is the notion that a student will just be adding "noise" unless their lecture notes are better than all others available. This is an impossible standard to meet, and not a useful one. More takes on a given subject can be useful, because they'll be pitched at different levels and from different perspectives. To see how unrealistic this standard is, note that you could apply the exact same reasoning to professors: why should they be permitted to teach anything at all, when better, publicly available notes, lecture videos, and books by other professors certainly already exist?

The second is that public notes could reveal secret information of military value, such as on "rocket navigation". While it's certainly true that secret information exists, it obviously isn't going to be taught in university classes!

The third is, in full, "Who are you?" I don't understand the content of this objection.

The fourth is that taking notes could be stealing intellectual property. Of course, this could be a real possibility depending on the context, but in the fields I'm familiar with, it would be implausible. For example, suppose you learned Einstein's "train" thought experiment from a professor, establishing the relativity of simultaneity. There is no reasonable way one can call this the "property" of the professor. It's a simple and beautiful argument that has been passed down by oral tradition essentially unchanged since Einstein gave it. Again, one can see how ridiculous this argument is by repeating it: if you're stealing from the professor by learning and repeating the argument, then the professor is stealing from whoever taught them in undergrad! The only person one could plausibly say "owns" Einstein's thought experiment is Einstein himself, and we do acknowledge that ownership, because we refer to it by his name.

In fact, usually a professor's own lecture notes will themselves be "stolen" from a variety of sources. For example, they could use notes from previous versions of the course as a base. Very often, they will follow an existing textbook and only slightly condense the presentation. This is fine: if everybody lecturing on relativity had to create their own novel explanations from scratch, universities would grind to a halt -- and the explanations would overall be much worse, too.

Admittedly, the concept of intellectual property could apply to specific novel things. For example, the professor may draw a diagram in a particular way, so perhaps a lawyer could say the professor "owns" the reproductions the students make. I've never seen a case where legal force has been applied this way. Feynman didn't copyright his diagrams, he showed their utility by demonstration. He gained in reputation by people learning and using his methods, not by suing anybody who tried.

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    I don't know the others, but Tong's notes are quite polished, and I wouldn't put them at the same level of student's study notes, at least for my view of study notes (mine were barely understandable by anyone but me, and sometimes not even by me...). – Massimo Ortolano Apr 27 at 7:02
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    I used to derive a "clean copy" from my live notes, in which I slightly reorganized stuff and took care to write in a legible way. These I would have considered polished enough to hand them out to my peers. – lighthouse keeper Apr 27 at 10:25
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    Otherwise great answer but I can’t get over the fact that you’re describing LaTeX as “low tech”. – Konrad Rudolph Apr 27 at 12:21
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    @AlapanChaudhuri My impression is that handwritten notes are of far less interest to most people than typed notes. I personally often won't bother looking at notes if they're handwritten. – Kimball Apr 28 at 1:07
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    @KonradRudolph he means low-tech from the consumer perspective. I.e. no convoluted registration or fancy interfaces. All you need is a browser and a few minutes. – jiggunjer Apr 29 at 9:41
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A note of caution: There may be intellectual-property issues regarding whether you have the rights to publish your notes based on the lectures, notes, or presentations of the professor.

See for instance Is it okay to publish my personal notes from a lecture?

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    this is a comment not an answer – jiggunjer Apr 29 at 9:57
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I definitely think this is a great idea and encourage you to do this. Sharing your knowledge not only helps others, but also provides even greater learning opportunities to you as well.

You can create a powerful combination of a Git repository (for your handwritten notes, files such as docs and PPTs etc.) + blog using GitHub pages (check this out if you have not already done so). Make use of mobile apps to turn your hand written notes to PDF documents, or create digital content for topics you can.

And to answer your question about organizing notes - as a professional programmer, I use a combination of OneNote + internal wiki pages, to organize my work related notes. Sometimes I also use OneDrive to store notes in the form of Word docs. I usually maintain a OneNote Notebook for each area of my work, and organize the topics using 'Sections' and further subtopics as 'Pages' within each section. For personal learning (outside of work) I again tend to use the same approach - one OneNote notebook per topic of interest. This is similar to having separate notebook for every subject, just that now I have a digital notebook which I can keep adding content to, and is accessible online.

I guess others would also have a similar approach to organizing their learning - storing related pieces of information together.

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There are a couple drawbacks worth highlighting. I should preface by saying that in many situations I am against taking the kinds of notes you refer to in the first place, for reasons that will be clear.

  1. It's bad to publish notes that are of low quality in the sense of being incomplete, having typos or mathematical errors, poor writing or formatting, etc. It can mislead or confuse people who read it, and would not reflect well on you. So notes should meet some reasonably high standards to be published. This imposes a high burden, because...

  2. If my student were taking such detailed notes that they are good enough to post, I'd be concerned they don't have enough attention to actually follow and deeply understand points made in lecture. They would also need to spend time outside class polishing the formatting and presentation of the notes rather than actually studying. This is a big opportunity cost. And for many classes (especially in my field of Computer Science), it seem like mostly wasted effort and redundant, because...

  3. If you publish something, it should have some advantage other resources. What is the advantage here? The answer depends on the context. Many classes teach directly from book chapters or notes that are already available to most students. (Of course books are expensive so if it is not freely available -- and in CS it often is -- this might reduce to simply publishing a summary of part of a book, which is a bit questionable.) For example, publishing notes in one of Tim Roughgarden's excellent algorithms classes seems silly, given he publishes detailed high-quality notes already. And this is assuming the class lectures follow a book format, which is often untrue because...

  4. Many classes are designed to complement a rigorous written resource (i.e. book or existing notes), not replace it. The professor may be using class time to highlight difficult concepts, develop examples, answer questions, work exercises, etc. So lecture may not be self-contained (making the usefulness of the notes unclear) nor coherent without the context of the assigned readings or so on. Similarly, the best use of taking notes is probably to write down ideas, thoughts, or comments arising in discussion that can't be found in a textbook. This proposal encourages the opposite.

There can be circumstances where I think it's good to make your notes publicly available - the above don't apply. Perhaps the professor follows an unusual progression through the subject, not used in any one book, and the student is unusually gifted at note-taking. But I think the professor should always try to provide resources to make such notes redundant.

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  • I was thinking about having stuff regarding my take on a certain topic or similar rather than straightaway putting mugged up lecture notes. So basically, as I go along a certain topic whatever interesting I find, I post it. Also I will put in links to papers, books and other interesting literature on the topic that might be helpful while studying the topic. – Alapan Chaudhuri Apr 27 at 16:27
  • @AlapanChaudhuri, thanks for this clarification. It may help to edit your question to give some more details. – usul Apr 27 at 20:41
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IMHO Write notes about lectures, and more generally speaking about something to study, is a matter of personal habits.

Usually I do it if I haven't a text book to follow covering most of the course materials. In such a cases, I find write, elaborate, and, why not, publish my notes very useful. Both to learn and to review the material on the fly.

For sure is a lot of time to accomplish the task, and when I have some good material to follow, I avoid it.

Just another note about the intellectual property issues. To be effective, notes cannot be a cut and paste work. They must have some form of reworking, so I think it's easy do not break copyright rights. Of course a lot depends on the professor's point of view, but in my past experiences usually the reaction of teachers was good.

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Is this a good idea?

Depends. It's certainly* not a bad idea. The only drawback is that it takes some effort to get your notes online (only you know how little or much). So the question is: is it worth it to invest that effort to help other students? That depends on factors such as:

  • How intelligible are your notes?
  • How many other people study that subject (often just that particular course)?
  • Are they going to find your lecture notes?
  • Are there better online sources on the topic of the lecture?
  • Can you expect a reward? I.e. you can earn a good reputation that way.
  • Do you care about your fellow students?

To give you an example how students share notes you could check out aerostudents.com. This websites is where students of my Alma Mater (including me) share their lecture notes.

*There are always exceptions to any rule. For instance, if the content of the lecture is secret for some reason (such as in university lectures on rocket navigation and control), you shouldn't post your notes on the internet.

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My research area is in algebraic combinatorics, and I put useful things on wikipedia for a while. But sometimes, I want to save my own research, or add my personal comments. Moreover, wikipedia is not very convenient for LaTeX, and compatibility with bibtex.

So, I put my notes together in a cleaned-up manner on my own web-page, which is now mainly a Catalog of symmetric functions. It has a few pages related to algebraic combinatorics, which I expand as I work on related projects. It is useful to direct coworkers there, rather than having to explain things several times.

I have gotten some nice response from the community, and also this motivates me to keep up with the current research - all relevant arxiv preprints are added to a todo list, and gradually incorporated.

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I do not publish my handwritten notes, but I always typeset them.

The result is the English part of the following document (starting on page 2361): http://laurent.claessens-donadello.eu/pdf/giulietta.pdf

Some parts are better than others ... I leave you judge if it is interesting or not.

I want to stress some advantages I see.

  1. I always have everything under my hand.

  2. It brings some mathematical knowledge outside the university. Well ... when one is not affiliated to an university, the famous "books" in which one can find everything are not available.

  3. This document is math "as understood by the guy who learns it for the first time". So it does not contain any abuse of notations which are frequently used by "people who are fluent". It is quite explicit about everything and contains many checks that are not usually done in textbooks.

As far as I know, this is the only document[1] in which there is a full proof of the fact that one can derive the Lie algebra of a matrix Lie group just by differentiating the Lie group matrices componentwise (page 2551, permalink NORMooHZGKooJEiamo). This fact is quite intuitively obvious for people who know Lie groups/Lie algebras. But when you learn it for the first time, it's not clear. Thus I checked it and I wrote it.

Once again, I leave you judge if these "small checks" that you do when learning worth be published somewhere.

[1] To be completely honest, I'm not affiliated with an university anymore, so that I do not have access to a library. Thus when I say "the only document", I mean "the only document available on the internet".

EDIT : the LaTeX of my notes are published as well: https://github.com/LaurentClaessens/mazhe (the stars, forks and other contributors are for the French part, not the one we are speaking here)

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Is this a good idea?

In general, keeping digital notes is good practice. Paper notes are less accessible, less legible, and more vulnerable to loss. As for the execution: using a blog, wiki or cloud git repository are all viable options, but there are other options too.

How do professionals in academia and PhD students organise their notes?

One other option that is very popular is Microsoft OneNote. You can keep categorized rich text notes in the cloud, and students may have a free license. Another alternative to MS OneNote is Evernote.

Compared to websites this option also gives you finer control over who has access to what notes, as note sharing typically uses email.

Personally I migrated a collection of cloud word documents to a private wiki for improved structure. I prefer (media)wiki over Onenote because of ease of access, all I need is a bookmark and the site loads instantly. Plus, setup on your own server is relatively painless nowadays using Docker.

Also, should I keep my notes publicly available?

That's a highly subjective matter. If yes, then this might factor into your choice of note taking method. Or conversely, your choice of note taking method might determine how much effort it would take to make them publicly available. Based on your comments I think the later situation is applicable here.

Consider:

  • Is the same information available elsewhere in the same language?
  • If yes, are your notes higher quality than those sources?
  • If yes, is it worth the personal additional time/effort to make them public?
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This is maybe not a full answer, but I have some thoughts on that topic.

I never really published my handwritten notes that I took in class. My handwriting is quite good but I do not think that anyone would really look for those because they most likely contain flaws (not in mine specifically but in handwritten notes on the internet in general) and moreover, you usually cannot do any in-doc searches for some buzzwords, which is certainly something that students would like to have; this is at least a part in my usual worflow.

However, as a TA, I always put in a lot of effort to TeX all material with further examples and student-friendly explanations. I really enjoy doing this because I love working with LaTeX and TikZ and I feel there is really some demand for that. Textbooks can be quite expensive for students and often are not that well written. I think it also helps you, the writer, understanding the covered topics better when you try to explain them to others. In hindsight, I think it might have been valuable to turn my handwritten notes into LaTeX PDFs but this is of course very time-consuming.

Finally, I want to stress that I am in favor of publishing lecture notes as a free download but even then (as free material) they should satisfy certain minimal requirements, regarding quality. It is obvious that there always will be some flaws and this is absolutely fine as pointed out in knzhou's answer (who by the way posted perfect examples of nicely written lecture notes). But uploading blurry photos of your notes with aweful letter spacing and with no baseline to find is not going to help anyone.

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