Zettelkasten Forum


Really struggling with linking

At this point my ZK is getting larger -- probably it has several hundred zettels now -- and it's becoming a mess. I'm turning out to be quite good at generating content, but quite poor at linking content in any coherent way. I seem to end up without links where I expect them to be, and without anything resembling a nice logical flow of thought that I can follow through articles.

Does anyone have a systematic approach and/or workflow for creating useful and sensible links? Here are some specific questions:

When you create a new zettel, how do you decide which of your other zettels to add the new link to?
Do you add links at the bottom of an article to the next article or articles in the thread, with explanations?
Do you link to other zettels inline, in your articles, or is there a single section of each zettel where all your links go?
Do you have 'cleanup days' where you go in and tidy up your ZK, adding links and hub notes, and if so, what do you do? (I'm especially interested in this, since I suspect I could use a few cleanup days, but I haven't learned how to clean yet).
How do you structure hub zettels?

In case it matters, although I expect it doesn't, I'm using Obsidian.

thanks!

Comments

  • @carolyn said:

    Does anyone have a systematic approach and/or workflow for creating useful and sensible links? Here are some specific questions:

    Spend time during and after the creation of the zettel to do some key term/phrase searching. Read the hits and see if they are candidates for linking. All the hits won't be appropriate.

    When you create a new zettel, how do you decide which of your other zettels to add the new link to?

    This is partly by feel. When it feels like a connection, then link. Some connections will turn out to be less than useful, and some will spark delight. One good test is to write next to the link why you feel there is a connection.

    Do you add links at the bottom of an article to the next article or articles in the thread, with explanations? Do you link to other zettels inline in your articles, or is there a single section of each zettel where all your links go?

    Yes. Sometimes inline, sometimes in a block, usually scattered about, I used to place them at the end, not anymore.

    Do you have 'cleanup days' where you go in and tidy up your ZK, adding links and hub notes, and if so, what do you do? (I'm especially interested in this since I suspect I could use a few cleanup days, but I haven't learned how to clean yet).

    As a routine, consider using part of your "monk morning" to review yesterday's work. Here is an opportunity to add links, edit the text, pretty things up a bit. Each morning, doing a little bit eliminates the "few cleanup days," which are too easy to procrastinate till the task is overwhelming.

    How do you structure hub zettels?

    Annotated TOC is my style.

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

  • What is the nature of the connection between notes you try to capture? Are they premise and conclusion to each other? (Which would be a logical relationship in its purest form)

    I am a Zettler

  • @carolyn I've been trying to model my notes generally after Andy Matuschak's evergreen note taking style and it hasn't steered me wrong yet.

    One thing that works well is creating outline/index/hub notes – TOCs as @Will calls them. These become topic hubs that you can look at to find relevant zettels in addition to searches.

    Another tip is to not create a note immediately but instead find a relevant note that it relates to and then create the link there, then click the link and create the note. That way you know you always have at least one connection to it instead of it becoming accidentally an orphan. Combined with outlines this really helps structure thinking without being stifling.

    Here's an example of a couple of outlines from my evergreen notes: https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/comment/11288/#Comment_11288

    Not all of my notes are that polished. In fact many aren't. The rougher notes have much less structure to them. Some are dumping grounds that are periodically refactored and cleaned up.

    Generally speaking I found the strategy of adding the link to an existing note/outline before creating the note to be very effective. Now that I've internalized that principle I don't need to do it when I create notes, but in the beginning it was very helpful.

  • @davecan said:
    Another tip is to not create a note immediately but instead find a relevant note that it relates to and then create the link there, then click the link and create the note. That way you know you always have at least one connection to it instead of it becoming accidentally an orphan. Combined with outlines this really helps structure thinking without being stifling.

    I love this idea, but this is one place where I think using Obsidian does hurt. In Obsidian, I create notes using the ZK ID tool, which automatically places a time stamp in the title of every new note I create. But I do not know of a way to create a link inline in a zettel, with a time stamp ID, and then click it to create the note.

    If anyone knows the secret of how to do this in Obsidian, I'd love to hear it. I'm a bit committed to Obsidian at this point, because it supports github-flavored-markdown and MathML and works on Windows.

    1. Create link
    2. Click link
    3. Change title to add ID to the front (tools like Keyboard Maestro shine here)
    4. Write the note

    Obsidian automatically updates the links to the note when you change the title so you don't have to stress about it. You can start ugly and clean it up.

    This is an instance where I disagree with the ZK plugin because it is too opinionated. It expects you to only use that plugin to create a new note. Also I do ZK using timestamp IDs at the end of the title instead of the beginning, so I can't use that plugin at all.

    But you may want to check the hotkeys list and filter on zettelkasten to see if it has an option to insert the ID into an existing title. If not you can do it manually or use a Keyboard Maestro macro.

    Here's a snippet of what my KM macro looks like:

    The rest that isn't displayed at the bottom is just typing the folder name into the dialog and hitting enter to move the note.

    If you are on Windows you can most likely use something like AutoHotKey to do the same.

  • Here's a snippet of what my KM macro looks like:


    If you are on Windows you can most likely use something like AutoHotKey to do the same.

    Wow, I've never been much of a Mac user, but now I want a Mac just so I can use Keyboard Maestro. :smile:

    I found a workaround. I have a template that I use to prefill a new permanent note; I modified it so that it generates the unique ID. Now when I want to create a new permanent note from an existing note, I'll just enter the name of the new note (sans ID) -- click it -- run the template -- and then add the permanent note ID from the template to the title, either then or later. It's not completely automated, but if it gets to be a pain to do it manually, I'll set up AutoHotKey to do it. Thanks for the hot tip!

  • @carolyn

    You've got some good advice already, so I don't want to beat to death the topic. Similar questions were discussed in the forum a while ago; I went searching to see if I could find the thread, so that I could refer you to it, but was not successful in finding it.

    I will share one idea with you, which is the use of tags to track the status of your zettels. My template for a new zettel has two tags (which thus get added automatically) - Unfinished and Unlinked. In regard to the latter, once I've created more than X links, I remove that tag (right now, X=2). Then I have a "saved search" called "Needs More Links" that just searches on that one tag. Once a week or so, I click on that search, review the zettels that need more links, and work on one or two so that I can remove that tag. That's my accounting method for keeping track of which zettels need more links.

    Of course, that only handles the problem of which zettels are shy on links. You might have a zettel that should be linked to 10 other zettels. The above doesn't address that issue.

    In regards to finding other zettels to which to link the current zettel, I pretty much follow @Will 's method - search on various terms (and tags) to find similar or somewhat related zettels, then create the link if there is a reason for doing so. Sometimes I just browse my list of zettels, looking for ones that could be linked to the current zettel. But that is pretty random and gets to be too much work after you pass having a couple of hundred zettels in your ZK.

  • If you are on Windows you can most likely use something like AutoHotKey to do the same.

    I just got AutoHotKey working. It's got a rather tricky and painful scripting language associated with it.

    Here's the AHK script, which defines a hot key (ctrl-d) that edits a title in Obsidian by adding a time stamp at the front, and then runs my Zettel template.

    Using this, I can create a link to a new article with an ordinary name in the current article. Then once inside the new one, I can change its title to a timestamped title, and add a template, all with ctrl-d.

    Why do this at all? Because I think, as @davecan pointed out, you end up with fewer orphan notes if you create them from links in your current articles. It's a better workflow, I think.

    The 'focus to title bar' and 'run template' hotkeys are defined in my hotkeys preferences in Obsidian, so yours may vary.

    #IfWinActive, ahk_exe  Obsidian.exe
    ^d::
    ; focus to title bar
    Send ^9 
    ; cut the original title
    Send ^x 
    ; send current timestamp
    Send %A_Now%
    ; send space
    Send %A_Space%
    ; paste the original title
    Send ^v
    ; get out of title bar
    Send {enter}
    ; run zettels template
    Send ^t
    return
    
  • Hi All, I came up with a plan for linking, going forward.

    I realized that one source of confusion for me was that I was using 3 different kinds of links without really differentiating between them. So in my template, I put separate sections for 3 kinds of links:

    • reference links: links to zettels with material that will be referred to in this zettel (these are not always the same as backlinks)

    • next article links: these would be the ones in Luhmann's system that are right behind the current zettel -- the next one to read

    • conceptual links: links to zettels with interesting connections to this one

    Will mentioned that he used to put all his links at the end of the zettel, and now he puts them all over. I'm doing it backward -- I currently put mine all over, but the problem with that (I find) is that I have to go all the way through the zettel to see what I've linked. So I'm going to try it the other way.

    Has anyone tried something similar?

    Thank you everyone! And here is a link to this week's 'zettelkasten blog post' -- my 3rd article based on an article from my ZK:

    Simpson's Paradox: extreme statistical confounding.

  • @carolyn said:
    Will mentioned that he used to put all his links at the end of the zettel, and now he puts them all over. I'm doing it backward -- I currently put mine all over, but the problem with that (I find) is that I have to go all the way through the zettel to see what I've linked. So I'm going to try it the other way.

    Carolyn, I got cosmic whiplash reading your last post.

    My name is Will Simpson, and I have kidney stones. 😳

    This is likely a software thing, but in the software I use, when I select a link, the editor window switches to that note and places the window/highlight/cursor at the target note's corresponding link. By placing them all in a group, the links would take me to the bottom of each note. The idea I was linking to had to be searched for in the note. By intermingling the links, I'm now taken directly to the associated idea I am interested in. The link and the idea are directly next to each other.

    As I said, the software you use may behave differently.

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

  • @carolyn said:
    without anything resembling a nice logical flow of thought that I can follow >through articles

    This will probably be no help, but personally I don't expect my notes repository to provide this. I expect it to be a network, and I suppose I expect it to be "messy". I have interests in psychology, history, counselling, literature, computing and various other things besides. In my "lifeworld", to borrow a term from psychological enquiry, these subject areas are not disconnected and separate. Rather, they interact with each other. They feed each other, in rich and interesting ways. If there is a "logical flow", for me it is one that I construct post hoc, while I am looking at search results. Moreover, that "logical flow" might follow one stream at one moment, for one purpose, but the same search results might cause me to follow a different stream at another time, perhaps because I have a different purpose or need. I may be wrong, but I had the impression that this is supposed to be one of the advantages of a Zettelkasten, namely that it does not impose a structure from the outset, but rather it helps the user to discover associations as they work with their material. In the Tinderbox forums I discovered the notion of "incremental formalisation", which I have found to be very useful. Stated rather crudely, this idea is that you start with a simple, plain note, and add metadata to it as and when it occurs to you. The "structure" grows out of working with the material, rather than the material being squeezed into a particular form at the beginning (which may prevent you from perceiving interesting things about it later on). This latter problem is vaguely connected to the idea of functional fixedness -- once you have categorised something you make it harder to see that it may also belong to other categories. But I am rambling ...

    Best of luck with the work!

  • @carolyn I agree in general with @MartinBB: "incremental formalization" is a good way to describe this aspect of the "ZK way" if there is such a thing.

    I actually began similar to you, with a structured section at the end of each note that included "previous" and "next" links. This broke down fast. Then I moved to a section at the end that had several "fields" including those for links to "broader" and "deeper" notes. This worked well for a bit (perhaps 1-2 months) but also began breaking down as my set of notes grew. Some notes didn't seem to warrant this type of structure but it was "the structure" so it was forced onto every note. The result was that working with the notes began to feel unnatural.

    Eventually I moved away from that, and when I come across a note that has that section at the end I just delete the whole section. My opinion, based on my experience going down this same path you are starting on, is that if a link is relevant it should be linked from within the note somewhere, at the relevant point. I view notes as mini-essays and links as marking a point of transition between sections in this "essay" and we have a method for handling those: transition sentences/phrases. This again is why I lean on Andy Matuschak's approach since it flows so well.

    This doesn't mean all of my notes are that polished – not even close! But it is a goal I try to generally aspire to, something that keeps me moving along the spectrum. This is similar to @MartinBB's statement about "incremental formalization" but in my notes instead of structural formalization its more about narrative formalization. I start with a set of rough notes that may be barely readable by someone other than myself, and over time begin gradually converting them into a more useable narrative.

    This also doesn't mean there is no structure in any notes: what I've found is that I increasingly formalize around the outline structure as a core structural component to organize collections of notes. But within individual notes I let the nature of the note and the idea it encompasses drive the structure, with most being a simple narrative. Some are outline-based, some aren't. Sometimes images are included. Occasionally a table is inserted. But in each case the structure emerges from the note itself, rather than being imposed directly.

    That said, I do understand the underlying concern about wanting to see the links from a note. Luckily there is a way to get that now. With the Dataview Plugin you can set up queries in your note template that will generate a list of all outbound links and a list of all inbound links. (backlinks)

    The queries look like this.

    Outbound links list:

    ```dataview
    list from outgoing([[note_name]])
    sort file.name
    ```
    

    Backlinks list:

    ```dataview
    list from ([[note_name]])
    sort file.name
    ```
    

    Dataview actually lets you run complex queries across the YML front matter in markdown files, making certain structured workflows possible. (e.g. some are using Obsidian as a pure project management system using this to track open actions by project, many without even using a ZK at all)

    https://github.com/blacksmithgu/obsidian-dataview

    Syntax reference: https://blacksmithgu.github.io/obsidian-dataview/#/

  • @davecan said:

    That said, I do understand the underlying concern about wanting to see the links from a note. Luckily there is a way to get that now. With the Dataview Plugin you can set up queries in your note template that will generate a list of all outbound links and a list of all inbound links. (backlinks)

    Ah, @davecan, will you be my guru? (salaaming) Thanks again. I will check this out immediately.

    I'm still looking for a good set of habits for linking, and if the 'grouped links' ideas don't work out well, I will jettison that idea and try something else. But, suboptimal as grouped links may be, they're still inspiring better linking behaviors than I had when I first wrote to the forum. :smile: So I call that a win.

    I'm off to check out Dataview... happy Easter, everyone!

  • @carolyn Thank you for the kind words, but I'm still relatively "young" in these processes myself. There are others here who know far more than I do about some of the more subtle nuances of the ZK method, and I also wrestle with Obsidian at times as well.

    If using that structure helps you get a handle on your notes then by all means do it. It helped me establish a structure once I had a few hundred notes and restored my sanity! :)

    My only recommendation is to not see it as a fixed structure but rather to evolve it over time as you find the need, and also don't be afraid to throw it away if (or perhaps when) you find it actively getting in the way. That's a reflection of you learning more about the principles and about your own notes. You may find emergent themes and structures that you should capture in a similar way, or perhaps not. It's fluid.

    I think any system that works is great as long as it doesn't box you in over the long term. Personally I've added and then discarded quite a few things in my own system, and each provided some value for me at the time. (such as my current distinction between what I call "literature notes" and my permanent notes – useful for managing complexity now, but the distinction is breaking down in several places and may be discarded over time)

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