Zettelkasten Forum

Navigating through The ZK - Best Practices

Hey guys,

Was wondering if you could break down your best practices for going into The Archive and finding the Zettel you're looking for, and general design tips you've found for optimum navigation?

Here's some example questions to spark some responses:

Do you search for a structure note first to drill down to a more atomic note, or if you have the note in mind do you search directly for it?
Do you usually start with tags? Or do you type in keywords to pick up on Zettel body text?
Do you keep a tag to mark a Zettel "current" so it's easy to access if you're working on the same one consistently for a while?
What special tagging or markings have been most helpful?

@sfast you have written about going from one end of the Zettel to the other end (figuratively) quickly and easily navigating from one topic to the next. What enables this quick navigation for you?

Additionally, The Archive has saved search functionality. Can you provide some use cases for when this has been most helpful?


  • Although you ask for navigation in general, I'll focus on what comes to mind about entry points in particular.

    • The q-trick. It's the best way I have found so far to digitally leave a bookmark in a note and quickly get back to it. You could just as well use a less throw-away approach and collect notes in temporary sets using a tag like #qq1. I think of this like assigning a shortcut to a group of units in real-time strategy games. Also good to mark unfinished work in the evening and get back to it the next day.
    • Regarding longer breaks and continuing work where you left it, I was considering a "home page" note but haven't gotten around to trying that out. Maybe that's similar to the Emacs Org-Mode/Agenda overview. It's a note I'd open up in the morning and expect to see links to notes that I've thought about the day before. It's supposed to be a reminder like leaving tabs open in your browser, or books on the table.
    • Structure notes are great to refresh your memory about a topic and start somewhere. You can generate ideas for more specific searches.
    • The full text search is an all-purpose entry point. It's useful to browse through your notes. That's a big advantage over paper-based Zettelkasten note archives.

    "Do you use structure notes or (insert something else)?"

    It's hard to say!

    Recently, I was writing notes about programming text editor components. In my search for solutions to specific problems, I came across interesting but unrelated details that I processed into my archive for later use. The notes from this period of late last year are used in up to 3 structure notes.

    • One is about the intricacies of programming text components (think personal documentation),
    • one is about how to approach writing a Markdown editor (think instructional ebook),
    • and one is about a particular set of bugs and pitfalls I encountered (think note to future self, what to do when I encounter these bugs again).

    Each of the three structure notes will be useful in different situations. Will I think about the last one, the collection of pitfalls, when I encounter a drawing bug in a text component in 2020? Maybe not. But I will surely find one of the detail bug explanations. So a full text search might produce the solution, and the backlink will lead me to the structure note. From there I can explore the various pitfalls and bugs again. I could've found the same info top-down, starting from the structure note, too. But I don't have control over what I remember searching for in my archive, so it boils down to making interesting connections more likely through various means and have all of them at your disposal. In this example, discovering the structure note was not part of a plan; but it sure was a happy coincidence!

    So I find it hard to say how I approach all this. I try to use the Zettelkasten in a way that comes natural to me. And when I add new notes, I try to anticipate my modes of accessing information and make it easier to stumble upon cool stuff. Then again, I'm more like a scatterbrain and I'm sure others will approach this differently.

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • http://christiantietze.de/

  • @ctietze Can you say more about structure notes? Do you have a good post?

  • @achamess The best write-up we have right now is in the German 2nd edition of the book, yet unpublished :) The upcoming course will cover the topic, that’s for sure. @sfast might want to chime in since he’s the authority on structure notes of us two.

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • http://christiantietze.de/

  • Christian wrote about most of the techniques. A big factor is plain old practice. Navigating comes along as a skill that needs to be developed.

    The knowledge is one thing but skill is big. You need that muscle memory in place.

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