Zettelkasten Forum


How do you link/navigate your notes?

As I've been adding more notes to my Zettelkasten, I think I've finally started to pick up the reasoning behind the ideas of using the Structure Zettel methodology. The idea of having a graph of notes that you navigate through the links in the note is finally starting to make some sense to me, as well as how you can start finding new connections and whatnot. I don't know if I'm just a slow learner for this specific methodology or not, but it's taken me a while of being semi "forced" into using The Archive for a longer period of time to have it sink in. (I say forced a bit tongue-in-cheek because of personal reasons for why I kept using it over something else)

But with that new knowledge of how this works, some new questions have been percolating in my mind about links and how to use them. There's some really nice flexibility in how links work in The Archive, and I've been trying to think about how to best use them to view and navigate my notes.

For example, what I imagine is going to be a very common occurrence is that a note will have a link to another note, I'll click that link, and what will be shown in the notes pane on the left will be exactly two notes: the note I'm coming from and the note I just went to. In this case the graph of the notes is effectively two nodes with a single link between them. This is great in that I'll easily be able to move to a singular "next" note and see its contents, but it leaves a semi-problem for me: if I want to do more exploration, and the common case is 1-1 note links, (maybe that'll change as I add links) it's going to take a lot of clicks to navigate, and a lot of internal bookkeeping if I want to remember where I came from/keep track of the context I've been navigating in. I can go back and forth between notes using the keyboard shortcut, but if the notes are small and I'm trying to reference information between multiple of them... well it's a lot like having a lot of small functions in a programming project and having to keep track of what 10 different function names mean to figure out how a function using them works. (and I can't split the view in The Archive yet like in a code editor, only open new windows if I want to see two notes side by side)

What I've realized (which is a "no duh" realization) is that the only way to see more than one note in the sidebar list when you click on a link to a note is if you create links to the note the link is for, because The Archive is really a directed graph of 1-way links. (because this is how the search works: it's looking in your notes for the content in the "link") So there's this kind of "hidden" way to get extra notes in the view if I deliberately want to see more information with a single click. (or as part of the normal process of working with your Zettelkasten)

An example of this might be a Structure-type note that keeps track of something like a lecture series or a bunch of notes about a single topic split out. If I click any of the links to individual notes, now I can only see the Structure note and the individual note, not the entire "series". So I might create a "backlink" in each individual note so that the entire series shows up in the sidebar instead of just two, forcing me to either use the "back" hotkey or open the Structure note to go to another part of the series versus being able to just go to an individual note directly because they're all being displayed. (another way to do this might be a unique tag for the series, or a unique ID, but the unique ID makes it harder to backlink since I'd have to copy/paste versus use a macro I have to link to notes easily)

But I'm not sure if the above example of using backlinks is actually a good idea or not, because I'm sorta "forcing" links when I might normally not have them purely to change the view of my notes versus maintain good link connections. But at the same time I'm also not sure I want to regularly be navigating the 1-1 connections of links when there could be a greater context I'm working in. Minimizing frustration/steps required to move around while keeping things as orderly as possible. (a reason I've been sticking with The Archive is because it's a single step to add a new note: press the hotkey and I can start typing. whereas stuff like Workflowy requires extra steps to navigate to where to put the note, and if I start needing more steps to do things, I'm going to stop being able to use The Archive because of my own personal mental quirks that will prevent me. so that's a big part of why I'm thinking about how to handle linking)

This has all been a really longwinded way of asking about how I should be maintaining/using links between my notes. And how should the navigation of my notes look like with the ideal usage of links? Like I gave an example above, I can certainly get clever with the tools given, but I don't want to do a bunch of that and end up with a frustrating mess. Where if I'd followed some advice I'd end up with, likely still messy 😉, but something less frustrating. And is there room for "clever" linking in some scenarios to help navigate? Would that clever look like what I gave an example of above? Are there other clever ideas that can be used to enhance navigation/linking further in some scenarios? (for example, I have an "Inbox" note I throw random stuff into with a saved search for its ID. I recently realized that I can make new notes that link to the Inbox note and have them show up in the note list when I use the saved search! a great way to view stuff I want to process later in a single step without infinitely expanding a single note! and I can then turn them into non-Inbox notes later! an absolute game changer in so many ways) I'd love to get everyone's thoughts about all of this!

Comments

  • @FreezerburnV said:
    But with that new knowledge of how this works, some new questions have been percolating in my mind about links and how to use them. There's some really nice flexibility in how links work in The Archive, and I've been trying to think about how to best use them to view and navigate my notes.

    What do you mean by "flexibility"? Links denote connections between and within ideas.

    For example, what I imagine is going to be a very common occurrence is that a note will have a link to another note, I'll click that link, and what will be shown in the notes pane on the left will be exactly two notes: the note I'm coming from and the note I just went to. In this case the graph of the notes is effectively two nodes with a single link between them. This is great in that I'll easily be able to move to a singular "next" note and see its contents, but it leaves a semi-problem for me: if I want to do more exploration, and the common case is 1-1 note links, (maybe that'll change as I add links) it's going to take a lot of clicks to navigate, and a lot of internal bookkeeping if I want to remember where I came from/keep track of the context I've been navigating in. I can go back and forth between notes using the keyboard shortcut, but if the notes are small and I'm trying to reference information between multiple of them... well it's a lot like having a lot of small functions in a programming project and having to keep track of what 10 different function names mean to figure out how a function using them works. (and I can't split the view in The Archive yet like in a code editor, only open new windows if I want to see two notes side by side)

    We're confused by your description of a lot of clicks. Two notes do not a zettelkasten make. What do you mean by "a lot of internal bookkeeping if I want to remember where I came from/keep track of the context I've been navigating in?"

    What do you mean by "a singular "next" note"?

    An example of this might be a Structure-type note that keeps track of something like a lecture series or a bunch of notes about a single topic split out. If I click any of the links to individual notes, now I can only see the Structure note and the individual note, not the entire "series". So I might create a "backlink" in each individual note so that the entire series shows up in the sidebar instead of just two, forcing me to either use the "back" hotkey or open the Structure note to go to another part of the series versus being able to just go to an individual note directly because they're all being displayed. (another way to do this might be a unique tag for the series, or a unique ID, but the unique ID makes it harder to backlink since I'd have to copy/paste versus use a macro I have to link to notes easily)

    The way into a zettelkasten is not usually via links. Once past a critical mass, you ask your archive questions rather than clicking links to navigate around. Questioning is done via a targeted search. Becoming an expert zettelnaut is to become an expert at querying. Yes, links are important. Yes, starting from structure note and following links will that you places. But a smartly formed query will land you in the smack middle of the garden!

    Example:

    silence 2019 AND @Cage OR @Blofeld

    A series of ideas gathered from 2019 investigation into Silence taken from the pianist John Cage and a 1994 book on Huang Po by John Blofeld. This takes me to a specific series of ideas, and each note has multiple links to other 'graphs.'

    This has all been a really longwinded way of asking about how I should be maintaining/using links between my notes. And how should the navigation of my notes look like with the ideal usage of links?

    Make notes. Lots and lots of notes, link them liberally.
    If the 'graph' of notes you are working with is focused, give them all the same tag.

    Like I gave an example above, I can certainly get clever with the tools given, but I don't want to do a bunch of that and end up with a frustrating mess. Where if I'd followed some advice I'd end up with, likely still messy 😉, but something less frustrating. And is there room for "clever" linking in some scenarios to help navigate? Would that clever look like what I gave an example of above? Are there other clever ideas that can be used to enhance navigation/linking further in some scenarios?

    Don't overthink this. A zettelkasten is supposed to be a thinking tool, at least so we think when we are starting out. Sure enough, your questions show you have been thinking about your zettelkasten. But practice is the true answer to all your questions. Put ideas in notes and link them together. Keep doing this over and over. Over time ideas get interconnected in surprising ways, and your 'graph' will become many to many.

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

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