Xzerpt: a framework for clustering research notes


Xzerpt uses idea clustering and source management to bring structure to your research notes and keep track of what ideas you found where.

Record your ideas in a online interface and then create printable Xzerpt cards you can cluster into stacks on your desk.

Xzerpt is hosted at xzerpt.com.


1. Data collection

  • Conduct research and fill out Xzerpt templates:


    • The template contains the following fields:

      • Type: quote, paraphrase, or own opinion
      • Source: unique name or nickname you keep source details saved under (wherever)
      • Page: page number in source (0 for without pages i.e. website)
      • Topic: brief summary of idea
      • Statement: the idea itself
    • Source details should contain the name/nickname used in the csv and a way to find the source (URL, book title, ISBN, etc):
    • Pressing Cache Card will add the card to temporary storage. When you’re done caching cards, click Download and Clear Cache to get your CSV file.

    • Caveat: The | symbol is the delimiter and using one in the template will break the CSV creation. Substitute them with some other character.

2. Card generation

  • Click the Create Cards from CSV button on the homepage to open the card creator.
  • Drag and drop Xzerpt CSVs into the field, and press Create Cards:


  • Sample output:


  • Print the website using the browser to get your cards
    • Print to A4-size PDF and then print the PDF two-to-a-page for A6 index cards.
    • On A4 size without headers, the cards print two-to-a-page

3. Card clustering

  • Create a coordinate system on your desk with 1, 2, 3, 4 on one axis and A, B, C, D, E on the other. Make it big enough to put one Xzerpt card in each cell.
  • Cluster similar Xzerpt cards together. Once two or three cards are in one stack, name the stack. Write down its name on this chart (pdf link):


  • Rename stacks as often as you like! The point is to have an appropriate name at the end. You may also want to merge or split stacks as you go.
  • When you are finished, you have stacks that represent the low-level structure of your information, like this:


4. Stack clustering

  • Once you have a set of named stacks on your table, label each stack with a post-it according to your names in the chart.
  • Now we’re going to cluster the clusters to create a structure for our research!
  • Repeat step 3. with a blank chart, this time clustering stacks instead of individual cards and naming these superstacks instead of the stacks.

5. Sequentialization

  • For each superstack, put its stacks in a logical order. The resulting sequence represents the high-level structure of the information you collected.
  • Optional: For each stack, put its cards in a logical order. This is your low-level structure.
  • You should now have one big heap of cards containing ordered superstacks which contain ordered stacks which contain individual cards.
  • This is your table of contents!

6. Composition

  • The final step of the framework is to weave your superstacks, stacks and cards into a new composition.
  • Use ordered superstacks and stacks to write table of contents.
  • Put the heap of ordered stacks and superstacks on your desk, and integrate the cards’ contents one by one into your paper, presentation or speech.

Background: Excerpting

The system behind Xzerpt is a type of academic note-taking called excerpting (German: Exzerpieren)