In Structuring Knowledge with the Concept/Descriptor Framework, we explored what the CDF is and how it helps you learn efficiently. In this article, we’ll discuss the mechanics of creating and working with Concepts and Descriptors.
You might also be interested in general information about creating flashcards in RemNote.
As a reminder, Concepts represent a specific thing, whether an object or an abstract idea. They are shown in bold type.
In many cases, you’ll want to give a Concept a single concise definition, which can produce up to two flashcards: one showing the name of the Concept and asking for the definition, and one showing the definition and asking for the name of the Concept. However, a definition isn’t always necessary; sometimes the Concept may be adequately defined by whatever Descriptors you give it.
There are two main ways to create a Concept as you type:
Press Ctrl+Alt+C (Cmd+Opt+C on a Mac) to convert the current Rem into a Concept. This method is convenient if you don’t want to add a definition. (If you make a mistake, use Ctrl+Alt+Q – or Cmd+Opt+Q on a Mac – to turn it back into a normal Rem.)
::between the front and back side of a flashcard. This method is convenient if you plan to add a definition; you can type the name of the concept, then
::, then a definition, and you’ll simultaneously create a flashcard and turn the Rem into a Concept.
If you want to create flashcards in only one direction, use
:>for a forward-only card (show name and ask for definition) or
:<for a backward-only card (show definition and ask for name).
The back sides (definitions) of Concepts, unlike those of Basic cards and Descriptors, are hidden when viewing other flashcards, to keep the flashcards simple and avoid giving away the answer. For instance, in this example, the back of Mitochondria is not shown:
As a reminder, Descriptors represent some property of or question about a Concept. They are shown in italics, and should be indented underneath the Concept they describe.
There are two main ways to create a Descriptor as you type. These work very similarly to Concepts:
Press Ctrl+Alt+D (Cmd+Opt+D on a Mac) to convert the current Rem into a Descriptor.
;;between the front and back side of a flashcard. Note that Descriptors, like Basic cards but unlike Concepts, are forward-only by default.
Sometimes it’s useful to add a Descriptor without creating any flashcards. For instance, you might not want to memorize who the author of some Concept is, but still want to have it in your notes in case you need to do more research later. You can type
==in between the front and the back in this case to create a descriptor with a back side but not generate flashcards. (Of course, you can always enable the flashcard later if you change your mind.)
There is one big – and perhaps unexpected – difference in the flashcards generated from Descriptors compared to those for Concepts: backwards cards show the back side of the Descriptor, but test you on the Concept, rather than the Descriptor itself. To see how this works and why it’s useful, suppose you want to make a Descriptor describing the common abbreviation for a Concept:
It wouldn’t be very useful to show the context of Personal Computer and the back side of PC on a flashcard and ask you to explain that PC is the abbreviation of Personal Computer – that’s not something you’ll ever be tested on in real life! But it’s quite useful to show that PC is an abbreviation of something, and ask you what that something is, so that’s what RemNote does here:
Templates and Universal Descriptors
It’s common to use the same descriptors over and over again – either for many different kinds of Concepts (e.g., abbreviation, purpose, or example), or for Concepts that are all the same kind of thing (e.g., if you’re learning about diseases, symptoms, first-line treatment, or prognosis).
In such cases, to save typing, make it easier to see patterns and cross-reference related information, and make your notes more consistent, consider using Universal Descriptors (for the first case) and Templates (for the second case).
Secondary effects of adding Concepts and Descriptors
The main purpose of marking things as Concepts or Descriptors is to organize your notes and make them look and behave properly on flashcards. However, RemNote does use this information in a few other ways as well.
Concepts are prioritized in searches, especially when what you type is an exact match for the name of a concept. In addition, you’ll see a distinguishing lightbulb icon to the left of each result showing that it's a concept.
Descriptors are always accompanied by their Concept in searches and Rem References, because they usually don’t make sense without it. Seeing just abbreviation or purpose or weight isn’t very enlightening; seeing Personal Computer > abbreviation or Concept/Descriptor Framework > purpose or Mouse > weight is much more useful. Descriptors also get an upward arrow icon in searches.