Zettelkasten Forum

About tags...again.

edited July 2021 in Workflows

Hi there!


First, I want to thank you for your topics that brought to life about Zettelkasten method.
I was inspired by your posts and I decided to register to ask for your opinion since
you have run this method for some times. I don't know if this was discussed before
in the manner I want to present it, but if it was so, please forgive me for a redundant post.


I have ~600 notes on various books, but they are not made in Zettelkasten method, so I will
have to refactor them based on principle of atomicity, internal links etc. Therefore
those ~600 notes I will estimate to pass over 1500.

The main problem I'm confronting in the field of literature is the abundance of terminology,
delimitations, opinions, definitions and various fields where a concept can be applied:
dramaturgy, poetry, prose, frontiers text, ideology etc. This will result in a very fuzzy network
and a very amount of time to select, process, construct a "Structured note" (or Map of Content) etc.

I want almost a bulletproof method to find my notes, but I want also to have the
benefit of surprise and creativity when I'll construct my MOC (Structured notes)

So, here is what I have in mind when I'll refactor my notes, and here is I need your help
to tell me if you spot some troubles that I'll might encounter in the future.

Tags as entry points/ doors, NOT as corridors.

(PS: I read this: https://zettelkasten.de/posts/object-tags-vs-topic-tags)

Almost everything we encounter in our research has more or less the following:

  • definition / is a concept
  • characteristics, properties
  • a history
  • some boundaries
  • can go into relations with other objects, ideas etc
  • can develop a process or be part of a process
  • has a methodological approach/ procedure or can develop one
  • a structure

    So I thought that these lines above should be my tags for notes.
    Titles of the notes should be as Sacha described here: https://zettelkasten.de/posts/qna5-good-titles/
    The content should be atomic & internal linked with other notes.

    Searching through notes using tags.

Imagine we have 2 categories: fruits & vegetables

Apple's notes:

  • A note that contains definition of an apple (#apple #definition)
  • Characteristics of an apple (#apple #characteristics)
  • Structure of an apple (#apple #structure)
  • Boundaries (#apple #boundaries)
  • Growing process of an apple (#apple #process)


Tomato's notes

  • A note that contains definition of a tomato (#tomato #definition)
  • Characteristics of a tomato (#tomato #characteristics)
  • Structure of a tomato (#tomato #structure)
  • Boundaries (#tomato #boundaries)
  • Growing process of a tomato (#tomato #process)


When I'll search for a particular problem (#apple #structure) I'll get all the information
I need, also I can combine for further analyses two categories: #apple process OR #tomato #process
to spot the resembles of those two processes. In this way (in my opinion) I'll restrict the tags
numbers, but also I have the advantage of being surprised by the title of a note and have creative ideas when constructing a Structured notes (MOC, Hub) and also to generate future research.

  1. Growing apples in the 19th century was restricted because of ... (#apple #boundaries)
  2. Tomatoes can be cultivated only in a certain soil) -- (#tomato #boundaries)

I hope this post will make some sens to you, since English is not my native language.

Q: Do you see any limitation to this system of tagging when I will have 10,000+ notes, for example?
Is it to broad? I don't want to remember all the tags nor to write them in a very long paper.

Thanks in advance!


  • Can anyone give a second opinion on my questions? Thanks!

  • Hi @mafsi,

    I don't really use tags, so I can't really share much experience nor reflect much in my own approach to writing notes. Take what I say as one point-of-view, but only as that.

    I think the biggest limitation of your (/most) tagging approaches is that they are "fragile", in the sense that they require you to basically make no errors. If a tag is missing or wrongly attached, then using the tags for search becomes less complete. And if you then both have to search for tags and search through other means, then it becomes questionable what benefit the tags have.

    But, by all means, try it out. I think you'll learn more from just doing it than waiting for someone to give any kind of response.

  • @mafsi tbh I don't understand the actual question, or what the system of tagging you propose boils down to, how if differs from other approaches (or rather: what you plan to avoid doing). Could you provide some more context on that?

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

  • I didn't really understand the original exposition, either. All I would say is that the more complex a system is, the more likely it is to break, and to be extremely laborious to maintain. Hence my preference for making things as simple as possible. Rather than complex systems of tags, I would prefer to use complex search queries. One benefit of smart folders, saved searches and the like is that they "fill up" with new items that match the search criteria without you having to do anything. So if I were the OP, I would start to learn about complex searches. But if the OP is dealing with lots of metadata and categories are really important, I would investigate Tinderbox, which is really made for handling lots of metadata.

  • edited July 2021

    @ctietze @MartinBB basically I'm asking if is not better that notes should have only 2 tags, but as folows: the name of that particular notion (ex: #applefruit) and only one category (ex: #definition, #process, #boundaries etc.)

    Since everything can be defined, as a concept/ notion every note should have the notion/concept tag and another one either #definition (if the note is talking about that), or #process (if the note describe the process of that particular notion) a.s.o.


    1. A note about what is an Apple fruit will have the tags: #applefruit #definition (or #concept if you prefer)
    2. A note about the structure of an apple fruit will have #applefruit #structure instead of #applefruit-structure or whatever.
    3. A note about how long does it take an apple fruit to became what is it starting from flower will have #applefruit #process instead of #apple-growing


    Because I think that every notion we encounter in our readings has its name (obviously) and also can be either #definition or #process or form a relation #relation a.s.o (see 1st bullets categories in my first post).

    Therefore, we don't have to remember all the tags, but only the concept.

    Let me give you how I see the problem, starting from this post: https://zettelkasten.de/posts/object-tags-vs-topic-tags/

    Let’s say I write a note on insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate intake. Then I want to connect it to other notes for integration into the web-like structure of my archive. First, I go to existing structure notes. They are notes about notes, and therefore they map structures in my archive. After that I want to ask myself and my archive how this integrates into the concept of diet. I search for #diet and get a buttload of notes. Some don’t even contain the word “diet” apart from the tag. I have a note on the paleo-historical consumption of grains but it is tagged with #diet. The search for tags gets really messy really fast.

    1. If I have a note about insulin sensitivity I'll tag it: #insuline #characteristics (because sensitivity is a characteristic ==> I don't have to remember the word sensitivity as a tag)
    2. If I have a note about carbohydrate intake I'll tag it #carbohydrate #process (because intake is a process ==> I don't have to remember the word intake as a tag)

    I have a note on the paleo-historical consumption of grains but it is tagged with #diet. The search for tags gets really messy really fast.

    I'll tag this note #diet #history if the note is heavy on the idea of diet history, or as #diet #usage because consumption is actually about how a thing is used.

    Does it make any sense now? Sorry for my bad English. :(

  • @mafsi said:
    basically I'm asking if is not better that notes should have only 2 tags

    I wouldn't dream of trying to do things that way myself, but if it works for you, that is the only thing that matters.

    My work is in counselling/psychotherapy, psychology, and history. There is no way I would want to reduce -- or try to reduce -- the complexities and subtleties of those subjects to the kinds of categories you envisage. But perhaps our goals are different. When I search in my archive, I usually want to find one note in particular, or perhaps half a dozen, so that I can remind myself of something, or check some information. As someone aptly put it, my archive is more of a storage and retrieval space than a thinking space.

    Let me put it this way: if I tag a note #Freud #defence_mechanisms #repression #transference (and supposing that none of those words appear in the main text of the note) I can land on that note from many different directions or see it displayed together with other notes that have any one of those tags. Personally, I find this useful, but clearly others might not. It depends on how you use your notes and what your goals are.

  • Thanks for writing this. The idea of this "fragile" system, can be
    "anti-fragile" if using with intention. I've strengthened my
    navigation system by adopting tags.

  • @mafsi said:
    Because I think that every notion we encounter in our readings has its name (obviously) ...

    I am not so sure about this. I think that there are definitely concepts which escape naming, and, as far as I understand it, that is one of the unique benefits of using numerical IDs for a Zettelkasten: the identification of a knowledge/idea/concept is not dependent on the ability to either name or even express it completely.

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