Zettelkasten Forum


Linking many notes | Hierarchy in index cards/hubs | Islands of knowledge

Hi,

My name is Gertjan and i'm new to the forum, and also to Zettelkasten.
Currently I study computer science at University.
So far in my "career" I have barely made any notes.
Now I have come to a point where I feel I need to start making notes, because my methods simply don't work.
For a simple research project where I had to write a paper I simply bookmarked all interesting papers.
But soon I kept forgetting which parts of papers I wanted to re-read, which gave what insights, etc.
Aside form bookmarks (in a webbrowser I should add) I also use OneNote to jot down things I simply must not forget. These mostly consist of ideas I have for products i.e. something I want to make later on and simply want to not forget. However, I want to transition (more like begining) to a new system and Zettelkasten really sparked my interest. Before I start I have some questions with regards to the method itself and how to adapt it to my needs.

My first concern is creating Islands, islets even, of notes that I will never find again. If for example I take 3 connected notes and don't use these for a year I will simply forget about them. A remedy I see is including 1 of those as an entry note and adding it to an index card. However, this requires everything to be indexed this way. What are remedies for this problem?

Secondly I have some diverse subjects I want to take notes on. In OneNote i'd simply create a new notebook, the comparable thing in Zettelkasten would be an index card that contains a note for this subject. Is it also possible to not only have these relations "Index -> Many Entry Note" but also having a single index that points to many other index cards e.g. "Primary index -> Index on subject -> Many Entry notes". I understand this is possible from a technical point of view, but I'm wondering if this defeats the whole purpose of a Zettelkast. If it does, my first question comes popping up again.

As a last problem I'm facing is that you can't link to 100's or 1000's of other notes from 1 note. I have "challenges" that all have specific solutions (a few overlap), all of these I would take a note off. This means I have between 100-1000 such notes. How should I relate this/make connections between them? I can't have a single note that points to all of these, so my instinct is to have a keyword in each of them so when I want to link these "solutions to challenges" I can simply link a search to the keywords somehow. If this is not clear, an analogy would be the planting of seeds. Let's say the way you plant a seed is different for all plants. This thus requires a note for each way to plant. The amount of notes on seed planting would be huge and too large to index? This same problem will most likely also happen for my "Ideas" notebook I have in OneNote, this one contains about 120 ideas each of which I'd like to note down in my Zettelkast, I'm unsure on how these should be connected.

I hope to get a great benefit out of this, and look forward to being on this forum!

Comments

  • Hi @Gbrouwer and welcome to the forum :smile:

    My first concern is creating Islands [...]

    It is something to be aware of. Especially, when one is taken notes in an area, which is different from what one usually does. I think the solution to this is part technology, part method. Full text search is pretty common in Zettelkasten-like software and I think many find relevant (but unlinked) notes through this (at least I do). Regarding "method", a common advice is to create links and connections when adding notes to the Zettelkasten. If you always do this then "islands"* are completely avoided. Of course, sometimes there just isn't a good place to link and that is okay too.

    * Many refer to these notes as "orphans", maybe that can help you search for other takes on this problem.

    [...] also having a single index that points to many other index cards [...]

    Would say that it is a good approach and it definitely doesn't defeat the purpose of a Zettelkasten. However, I will warn you against thinking too much in pre-determined categories. The spice connections must flow as they will and sometimes it will break conventional groupings. That is good.

    As a last problem I'm facing is that you can't link to 100's or 1000's of other notes from 1 note.

    People generally use tags for this. #like #this.

  • Welcome to the forums.

    @Gbrouwer said:
    My first concern is creating Islands, islets even, of notes that I will never find again. If for example I take 3 connected notes and don't use these for a year I will simply forget about them. A remedy I see is including 1 of those as an entry note and adding it to an index card. However, this requires everything to be indexed this way. What are the remedies for this problem?

    How do I say this nicely? You are predicting the future. Stop. You can't. Take the 3 notes you haven't looked at in a year, and on day 366, an epiphany struck. How sad you saved 30kb of data on your hard drive and backups but lost the ideas. Don't worry about looking at and "using" every note in your zettelkasten every year. When your archive grows to 10,000 notes and beyond, how can you expect to review every note?

    Secondly I have some diverse subjects I want to take notes on. In OneNote I'd simply create a new notebook, the comparable thing in Zettelkasten would be an index card that contains a note for this subject. Is it also possible to not only have these relations "Index -> Many Entry Note" but also having a single index that points to many other index cards e.g. "Primary index -> Index on subject -> Many Entry notes". I understand this is possible from a technical point of view, but I'm wondering if this defeats the whole purpose of a Zettelkast. If it does, my first question comes popping up again.

    Notes gain power through intermingling.

    WARNING
    I've been doing this awhile and sometimes forget what it was like to start.

    My suggestion is to start with one or two "Index Notes" and hang/start your notes from there. I use The Archive, here are a couple of screenshots showing my "Primary Index", which is a function called Saved Search in the application, and the second screenshot of one of my "Index" notes. I hope this gives you some ideas. Let this develop naturally.

    The first 1/4 of 202004020722 • Coding Hub

    As a last problem I'm facing is that you can't link to 100's or 1000's of other notes from 1 note. I have "challenges" that all have specific solutions (a few overlap), all of these I would take a note off. This means I have between 100-1000 such notes. How should I relate this/make connections between them? I can't have a single note that points to all of these, so my instinct is to have a keyword in each of them so when I want to link these "solutions to challenges" I can simply link a search to the keywords somehow. If this is not clear, an analogy would be the planting of seeds. Let's say the way you plant a seed is different for all plants. This thus requires a note for each way to plant. The amount of notes on seed planting would be huge and too large to index? This same problem will most likely also happen for my "Ideas" notebook I have in OneNote, this one contains about 120 ideas each of which I'd like to note down in my Zettelkast, I'm unsure on how these should be connected.

    I'm confused by your thinking of linking 100's or 1000's of notes together. Do you mean one note with 1000 first-order links?

    I hope this helps.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Attention Horizon, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • My first concern is creating Islands, islets even, of notes that I will never find again. If for example I take 3 connected notes and don't use these for a year I will simply forget about them. A remedy I see is including 1 of those as an entry note and adding it to an index card. However, this requires everything to be indexed this way. What are remedies for this problem?

    • Search: Make sure that you notes will show up when searching for related subjects. Basically Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for your notes :P
    • Revisit old notes: You can make it part of your process to revisit old notes. You could for example show the notes of last month or last year on each day. Or have the notes you have not visited for the longest show up.
    • Random notes.

    Having them in an index only makes sense if that index has any use for you, otherwise you now have those 3 connected notes and an index that you don't visit. As having an index in itself does not give you reason to revisit notes.

    Also, I don't think notes have to be kept alive per se. They should serve a purpose for you, otherwise it just becomes busy work. However if the problem is not remembering you made notes about subjects you later revisit, then I could also recommend testing the searchability of your notes after a long enough period, when they are no longer fresh enough in memory, to test whether you are able to retrieve them when needed. You could make this part of your process, similar to what I mentioned with "revisit old notes".

    Is it also possible to not only have these relations "Index -> Many Entry Note" but also having a single index that points to many other index cards e.g. "Primary index -> Index on subject -> Many Entry notes". I understand this is possible from a technical point of view, but I'm wondering if this defeats the whole purpose of a Zettelkast. If it does, my first question comes popping up again.

    The purpose of Zettelkast as far as I know is: 1) help your put your notes down in a place where you can find them again, and 2) help you find connections between your notes. If those extra index cards help you with that, not doing so would actually be going against the purpose of a Zettelkast.

    As a last problem I'm facing is that you can't link to 100's or 1000's of other notes from 1 note.

    With an analog system I guess you would have to break the index up to smaller pieces until it becomes manageable. But with digital systems this is indeed doable with either keywords or having access to backlinks. If you link in all your 1000 notes to a single note, and that note has access to all notes linking to it (i.e. backlinks), you automatically have this big index. However as you already mentioned this might be unwieldly, so you might again want to break it up using a system that makes sense for your use case.

    I would probably use a mixture of things. Use keywords/backlinks/indexes for them overall but also subgroups (like technologies used) that make sense. Have them linked to related notes outside of these questions/answers.

    I am still experimenting with my own setup, good luck with yours!

  • @Gbrouwer There is a number of ways to introduce structure into your ZK (without imposing too much structure): structure notes, tags, and index are three commonly mentioned on this forum. Different people use them in different ways; have a look at the Getting Started section of the web site and then search the forum for posts about structure notes, tags and using an index.

    There is nothing wrong with using an index as a way of providing entry points to lines of thought in your ZK, by the way. Each index entry only needs one or two zettels - clicking on one gets you started; you can then follow the line of connections to see where it takes you. After a while, when you've established a lot of note connections, such a process could take you in unexpected directions.

  • Thanks so much for such a fast response. The full text search is probably a great help. Also I've seen people using #unfinished and #unlinked to tag notes that need some work still.

    The index cards, the way I intent to use them, are not used for categorizing in the sense of chopping up a concept in appropiate subsection. But more in the sense of having an entry or entry to entries that link to some entry cards from which all other notes can be found. This prevents the rigid structure you have in OneNote and the forming of islands that will never be found/reached.

    Yeh the tagging seems most usefull for many related notes.

    I saw a short video on Luhmanns kasten and they made in index of all his cards. https://youtu.be/y0bsPawJEDo?t=660 they show he made a bookplan/teaching plan that had a certain index depth like 4 deep and many notes. That looks like a difference with digital tools, since he always had the implicit structure of the order the notes are in. Which is something Zettlr doesn't have. How do you solve for this? Lets say you want to make a bookplan now, what would be your approach?

  • My previous comment was made after the first post and only posted since I have not yet unlocked immediate post privileges.

    I want to thanks all of you for your answers. I think I will use indexes and tags where necessary and keep an eye out for techniques others use. I really like the idea of adding structure through linking and where needed a hub/index.

    A final question. How do you deal with schoolwork? I realise most/some of you don't go to school anymore but might still be a relevant problem. I usually make summaries of chapters in books and lecture notes. However, these summaries span several pages at least, thus not very fitting for a single Zettel. How would you handle this?

  • @Gbrouwer said:
    A final question. How do you deal with schoolwork? I realize most/some of you don't go to school anymore but might still be a relevant problem. I usually make summaries of chapters in books and lecture notes. However, these summaries span several pages at least, thus not very fitting for a single Zettel. How would you handle this?

    Summaries are a lot like the original material that you studied - they contain several to many ideas, usually with some discussion of how those ideas relate to one another. Your job (should you choose to accept it :>) is to distill it all down so that you can identify just the ideas, write a zettel about each idea, and then connect the zettles in ways that make sense to you (and sometimes also reflect the opinions of the original author, if you happen to agree with them). You may also impose a light organization through the use of a structure card or tags.

    You've hit on an important question, though. Summaries are too long and complex, containing too many ideas, to fit into one zettel.

  • @Gbrouwer said:
    A final question. How do you deal with schoolwork? I realise most/some of you don't go to school anymore but might still be a relevant problem. I usually make summaries of chapters in books and lecture notes. However, these summaries span several pages at least, thus not very fitting for a single Zettel. How would you handle this?

    What makes you think a zettel can't span pages? Is it because Old Man Luhmann used A6 cards? We have the advantage of a digital archive for our notes.
    Here is a link to a post on another thread in the forums where there is a screenshot of the structure note for course ENGL473. Each lecture has its own note.

    Here is a sample of a Class Note from that class. I'm studying literature; your courses and note likely would contain something different but could be laid out similarly.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Attention Horizon, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

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