PKM with handwritten notes?

So when I hear people raving about personal knowledge systems, it seems like most people are taking notes in Markdown which makes products like Obsidian a natural fit.

However, I’ve never used Markdown or plain text notes. Instead, my notes tend to either be annotations on pdf files, Word documents, or handwritten notes in Notability (which lets me use my iPad in place of the ubiquitous legal pads most lawyers use).

Is there any PKM solution that easily integrates this mix of inputs? Anyone have a good workflow for integrating handwritten notes into PKM?

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I’d want to convert to editable text first. That opens up so many possibilities.

If you insist on handwriting something like GoodNotes would be a good place to start. (I don’t know if you can scan to it and then lasso the text in a scanned piece of paper.)


It kind of depends on your goal.
If you want a record of something, and don’t need to develop it further with more thought, then some sort of OCR would probably be the way to go. See arrodick’s post about Prizmo Go, which I haven’t tried.

If you need to think about your notes further, develop ideas, arguments, etc. then I would suggest rewriting them into something like Obsidian yourself, thinking about them and forming more complete thoughts. This will give you another exposure to the material and help with (your) retention, creating new ideas and making connections.
Bryan Jenks has good videos on using Obsidian, but the concepts could be applied to other tools.


I think your needs are directed towards “literature notes” and “project notes” (in the terms from the helpful “Smart Notes” book). I tend to use Obsidan for “permanent notes” - those ideas/small chunks of text that I will return to and mull over in a number of projects. For the lit notes and project notes that I think you are talking about, it seems like Devonthink would be the product you are looking for. It is a heavier program than obsidian (and $$), but is so flexible. It will search anything that is searchable, and if you use GoodNotes as suggested above, your annotations could be ocr’d and easily indexed (or imported by Hazel). I tend to have a very eclectic mix in DT (PDFs, word documents, quick back of the napkin handwritten notes, etc.). But when they are worked on (as suggested by @JohnAtl), they get revisited with keywords, links, etc, in Obsidian.


Are you meaning this when you say the “Smart Notes” book?


Yep! I found much of use in it.

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I prefer taking notes with my iPad and pencil- markdown isn’t relevant to me. I am currently using GoodNotes but getting tasks out of there is just too manual for me and ‘joyless”
I started playing around with Drafts using scribble to benefit from the automations and I see that it has potential. I need to learn how to use it.
I’ve recently purchased DevonThink which will be my storage cabinet.
I’m hoping this works


When you get more experienced with Drafts I think your opinion of Markdown will change.

Challenge accepted :joy: (with additional characters)

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@MartinPacker How are you using Markdown? There’s a lot of info when I search, would you recommend any specific resources or people to learn more?

As with so many things, I’d just start writing. Preferably something with lists or headings in. That way you’ll see how easy (and similar to normal text) it is. Whether you use Drafts, Daring Fireball Web Dingus as a friend of mine does, or some other Markdown processor is up to you.

There’s actually nothing scary about it, it’s much easier than HTML, and so many places take it.

There was this MPU podcast on Markdown

David Sparks has a markdown book.

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The book is from 2013- is it still relevant in 2021?

Not sure. Maybe ask the author David Sparks

The basics of Markdown stay the same and are well supported. The different flavors aren’t necessarily as well supported in different programs. Meaning, the book holds up.

BTW: my new favorite markdown thing is the Obsidian table making plug-in. It autosizes the columns. Brilliant and beautiful. Can’t wait for it to come to iPad.


Would you mind posting a sample of the table markdown it produces? I want to check if md2pptx handles it correctly. Thanks!

I can’t attach a video file here, or I’d show it in action, but here’s a table I made. It will lengthen each cell to make the text fit in there keeping things nice and tidy.

| Test 1                | Test 2          | Test 3                   |
| --------------------- | --------------- | ------------------------ |
| Now it does this      | And it moves    | the columns out to match |
| Hitting return        |                 |                          |
| Goes to the next line | Tab to the next | column                   |
| I'm sure there's      | more I haven't  | figured out              |
|                       |                 |                          |

I wish there was a way to embed images in the text with Obsidian, but that gets rid of the whole text file thing. I think you can link it somehow, but it doesn’t appear in the document, only the preview. My priority is that it’s text that I can always read and not proprietary (Evernote, Notion, etc).

@DavidBeck, I’m sorry I got so distracted with all the other shiny things in this thread that I never replied to your initial post. First I’ll also recommend Sönke Ahren’s foundational “How to Take Smart Notes.”

I also have hundreds of pages of handwritten notes trapped in notebooks and Notability that I’d like to incorporate into the zettelkasten/PKM. Many have diagrams and schematics that would be lost if transcribed to text. Those have value and I’d like to preserve them. Here’s how I’m hoping to get them all in my PKM/ZK.

  1. Digitize them: Use Scanner Pro to turn the notebooks into PDF’s and export the .note files from Notability into PDFs.
  2. Organize them into a hierarchical folder in folders system. I have notes on the same topic spread across several notebooks. Since I can’t really link them, I can at least put them in the same folder so at least “like is next to like.”
  3. Tag them. I can title the file something descriptive then put text annotation within the PDF that (hopefully) are searchable.

Now these reference/literature notes can be searched and feed into idea/project notes in the ZK/PKM.

I’ll let you know how it goes. If anyone has any tweaks to this system I’m all ears.

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I will be curious to hear how it goes!