# Zettelkasten Forum

@GeoEng51 + @sfast were discussing Markdown editors in another thread and also mentioned Monodraw (which is what I use for my visual structure notes). This might be rehashing an old topic, but I am still curious:

Broadly, I see three categories for these:
1. Citation / reference managers
2. Markdown editors
3. Other knowledge tools (mind-maps, etc -- again, I think of Monodraw, because ASCII versions can go in my ZK and PNGs of diagrams can be used in my papers).

I'm mostly interested in 3, but any solid arguments for specific ways of handling 1 or 2 to work well with a ZK is welcome. For such arguments for example, why should I download Typora instead of writing in a more general editor like Atom?

• Some additional software components documented here. Still working on this, time permitting.
https://github.com/flengyel/Zettel/wiki/Zettelkasten-software-components

Erdős #2. ZK software components. “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport. Replies delayed, sometimes indefinitely since Life is short.

• edited March 1

It's a somewhat lame answer, but in the past year, where I have only written blog posts (and edited/feed-backed Sascha's writing), I was mostly plugging in Emacs as a writing and website maintenance tool into my "workflow".

This is lame because it's similar to telling y'all I'm using my operating system, too, to move files around.

Have been using Monodraw, screenshot tools, and image editors to prepare "attachments" for my notes, too, of course. But that's about it. The rest is output, and that goes through my writing and project management and email and website maintenance monster of choice, which turns out to be Emacs.

I'm slowly building up peer pressure by sharing here that I want to export a ton of collected and soon-to-be outdated programming notes into ebooks or websites, so there's going to be either a lot more pandoc involved (driven by Emacs to work with the draft) or, again, the website tools I already use, namely nanoc to generate the website from plain text files.

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

• Pretty basic for me....

1. Books I'll usually own on a shelf (or it'll be from a library). Articles will most likely be online. So, I just link in my note to whatever article or book I'm referencing. No official reference manager for me.
2. I use Obsidian for note storage and more recently for writing all my posts/ articles/ etc.
3. I use Notion for task and project management. Bigger stuff. Timelining longer written works. I use a moleskine or a folded piece of paper if I need to write by hand, or sometimes Goodnotes on the iPad. I've never felt the need to venture into mind maps or any of that stuff. Tho, I find it interesting from afar.

Re. Typora vs Atom, I'm not sure what you're asking. As per a zettelkasten, or for general writing?

• My fav tools:

• Zotero as my reference manager.
• Obsidian for my Zettelkasten, writing texts, and managing GTD. Likely to be replaced by Emacs in the distant future.
• GIMP for image editing, but may be replaced by Krita if I get into digital drawing.
• Microsoft Office Lens for taking photos of images to include in my Zettelkasten. Again, it may be replaced by Krita too.
• Draw.io as my diagram tool, but will replaced by Mermaid in the future.

I don't understand this:

I'm mostly interested in 3, but any solid arguments for specific ways of handling 1 or 2 to work well with a ZK is welcome. For such arguments for example, why should I download Typora instead of writing in a more general editor like Atom?

Do you mean to ask how to join them together with your Zettelkasten?

• Zotero - Reference Manager.
• Workflowy - Book and article reviews, graphic images, travel information, and other reference material.
• Instapaper - Article repository with each saved article linked to the Archive.
• edited March 1
1. Typora as Markdown-Editor. To this date, it is the feature rich editor that manages to be the most invisible (= most similar to an empty page)
2. BibDesk as Reference Manager. There are very few texts that I keep and just need to manage bibliographical data and not the references themselves.
3. Draw.io as diagram software. Just preference.
4. TableFlip for table editing in Markdown. Makes it way more easy.
5. Emacs Org as Taskmanager. The most powerful tool out there.
Post edited by sfast on

I am a Zettler

1. Well, in category 2, we can't leave out TableFlip:

https://tableflipapp.com/

1. I do use mind-mapping software quite a bit, mostly on miro these days as the company for which I work has a subscription and it works well. If they didn't, I'd use one of the other excellent programs that focus just on mind maps and don't cost as much. The mind maps don't feed directly into my ZK, but they do help me to organize my thoughts, so I'd still consider them a ZK-adjacent tool.

2. Like @taurusnoises , I also use Goodnotes for handwriting notes and then organizing/managing my large collection of handwritten notes. Like him, I also just reference external resources right in each zettel. I have and use Zotero for work, but haven't found it necessary to use it with my ZK.

3. As @Will has often mentioned, Marked2 is a great adjacent tool to use with The Archive, setting it up as an external editor. This is a good trick in The Archive - in Preferences, Advanced you can set up a number of editors and you can also enable integration with Marked that allows a "streaming preview" (go into The Archive preferences for more details).

4. I use both iA Writer to view and occasionally edit zettels on my iPhone or iPad.

5. I have used the program "To Text Converter". It allows you to convert PDF, html, rtf or rtfd files to plain text using a drag and drop mechanism. Cost on the Apple app store is minimal.

6. Finally, my most-used, always open program (besides The Archive) is NotePlan. It has many, many features that I have praised elsewhere on the forum, but I use it for planning, as a bullet journal, and for writing/organizing all notes that don't need to reside within my ZK. Previously, I used Bear for that, and still have it for historical purposes, but Bear's functionality is provided in NotePlan along with many other features. As an indicator of how useful I find NotePlan, I pay the annual subscription happily. Why to I mention it as ZK-adjacent? Because many notes that originally and quickly are captured in NotePlan, do make their way to my ZK, and because I include in NotePlan reminders to work on various zettels (within The Archive, usually).

• 1 Zotero. I would probably use Citavi if they had a Mac-App but they don't and the browser version is pretty bad.

2 I have to make a confession: I use Microsoft Word for most of my writing. I tried markdown-editor workflows, Scrivener with and without Latex and it turns out, that MS Word provides the most convenient package for my use case. The only interesting thing here is probably my use of UIDs to reference a Zettel in a current writing project. I recently found out, that you can use spotlight in combination with the ID to open a specific file. So every Zettel (and every file one wish) can be linked in every place. You just have to copy the ID, paste it into spotlight and boom, there is it. It really blew my mind if I first discovered this. (I use an Apple-Script to automate this process though.)

3.1 I hunted the perfect GTD application for around a year. Notion, Noteplan, Omnifocus, Apple Reminders, todoist, clickup... I tried them all, but nothing really satisfied me. A few weeks ago I discovered a totally different approach. Now my todo-system is a .txt file and my calendar.

3.2 Anki: Sometimes you need to memorise stuff. Anki has a ton of features to avoid a lot of pain reviewing flashcards.

3.3 Automator/Apple Script: I started playing around with Keyboard Maestro in the last two months. Then I found out I could do most of the things I was looking for with the stock tools of MacOS. I use it mainly for triggering a sequence of keyboard shortcuts. I have a workflow for example, that saves the current website as pdf in my inbox, which saves me a lot of time.

3.4 Foxit Reader: I really loved the Preview app that comes with MacOS but highlighting pdf's and managing bookmarks is buggy and overall pure madness. So I switched to Foxit, mainly because it is free and gets the job done way better.

3.5 For Mind-Maps/Flowcharts: I draw them by hand and if they are imported I would just make a version in pages or whatever word processor and save it as pdf. I did not know about monodraw... I will definitely try it out; looks interesting.

• @taurusnoises said:
Re. Typora vs Atom, I'm not sure what you're asking. As per a zettelkasten, or for general writing?
@Annabella said:
Do you mean to ask how to join them together with your Zettelkasten?

I meant for general writing. I use Atom for now, but I keep hearing good things about Typora, Marked, etc. -- much like @sfast was saying in his reply. To Annabella's point, I also know I need a separate writing tool, but I haven't firmly decided on the best tool, because whatever tool I use will always draw source material from my ZK. Right now using Atom works for me, though as I continue in academia I wonder if I might optimize my writing time by using something designed for writing, especially if it could handle more robust academic writing. What starts for me in Markdown usually ends up in LaTeX because of specific parameters for figures, citation style, etc.

@GeoEng51, I also use TableFlip, and I should have thought of it. I also like that it can covert to LaTeX, which has been helpful for some paper writing (LaTeX table syntax is draconic and not easily readable). This is also worth the mention because of what I said above. LaTeX produces the results I want for the end-product, but Markdown is easier.

• edited March 1

@Sociopoetic said:
I haven't firmly decided on the best tool, because whatever tool I use will always draw source material from my ZK.

Why not use your ZK as a writing tool? That way, your writing is intermingled with your ZK. Writing with The Archive is your answer. If you wrote your thesis within your ZK, you'd be done with integrating it into your ZK. Don't make writing and zettelkasting different activities.

I dare you to check out https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/2164/using-your-zk-to-write.
My paper was smaller than your thesis but size doesn't matter the principles are the same.

optimize my writing time by using something designed for writing, especially if it could handle more robust academic writing.

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• @Will, this is an interesting idea, but it seems to go against a basic premise of the ZKM. My writing is based on atomic notes in my ZK, with added synthesis. Therefore, it's a level above in terms of knowledge processing. Wouldn't that mean that writing within The Archive would muddle atomic notes with longer writing drafts?

• @Sociopoetic said:
It seems to go against a basic premise of the ZKM.

Where did you get this idea?

My writing is based on atomic notes in my ZK, with added synthesis. Therefore, it's a level above in terms of knowledge processing.

I'm not sure what you mean here.

Wouldn't that mean that writing within The Archive would muddle atomic notes with longer writing drafts?

Do you not write within your ZK? Your writing, ideas, and synthesis are the fabric of your ZK. Where is the muddling?

I wasn't clear enough in my video. Each of the zettel in my example are atomic. The largest being 293 words and the smallest 67 words. One idea per zettel.

The only long draft in on Marked2. All the atomic particles are in The Archive. Turn off (shutdown) Marked2 and only the atomic zettel exist.

This is the advantage of writing like this. Each idea or scene is kept separate and worked as a particle, then placed in the magic order that composes the story, essay, or research paper. The one base zettel that I launch Marked2 from might not have any outbound links, but everything else is just a zettel.

Try it on one of your small writing projects, and you'll quickly see the utility. Watching me try to demo this is not such a great idea.

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• edited March 2

@Sociopoetic said:
@Will, this is an interesting idea, but it seems to go against a basic premise of the ZKM. My writing is based on atomic notes in my ZK, with added synthesis. Therefore, it's a level above in terms of knowledge processing. Wouldn't that mean that writing within The Archive would muddle atomic notes with longer writing drafts?

The architecture is very easy to set up:

1. Write atomic notes
2. Create a note for a text that provides a) the text structure b) the junctions between texts

If you deem your text finished I'd still recommend to edit the text outside of the Zettelkasten since making the the text whole means to connect the atomic ideas and the junctions in the text-specific context which is and should be different from the context within the Zettelkasten. (e.g. the Zettelkasten is idiosyncratic, solidified, quasi-systematic, non-linear thinking, a text is communicatable, crystalised, didactic, linear speech).

The Zettelkasten wouldn't be muddled since there is just one note that concerns itself with the text which could be viewed as atomic since the text itself could be deemed itself to be a specific atomic thought. Those Outline-Notes behave very similar to Structure Notes which also concern themselves with with one (more complicated) thought.

I am a Zettler

• @Sociopoetic I also ideate, structure, and ultimately write my pieces outside my zettelkasten, and would similarly find having essays and articles inside to have a "muddling" effect. But, to each their own. But, since I have my ZK in Obsidian, I can easily write longer pieces in the same app. When I write longer-long works (in excess of 20k words) I move everything over to regular ol' Google Docs. But, here again, twist(!), cuz I also have a longer work in the works in Obsidian. So, now I don't know what I do or why I'm writing this.

tldr: Maybe it doesn't matter what program you use to write your pieces so long as your screen can be split between the two platforms, your ZK platform and writing platform. Time to invest in a second monitor?

• @Sociopoetic

Hmm...we've had discussion before on this forum about the fact that you can't just string zettels together and get a finished product. You can use a number of zettels, perhaps even following a thought stream through connected zettels in your ZK, as the basis for writing a paper or thesis or book. However, there is a lot of extra work required to create the finished product.

Conclusion: If you want to have just zettels containing atomic notes in your ZK, then you likely want to do the actual writing outside of the ZK.

However, it seems any program that allows writing in Markdown should do, as you can convert that text to any format you want using Pandoc. Thus you can bring material into the file containing your writing project from your ZK, either directly or in bits and pieces, and then "massage" and infill to produce the final product. Do that all in a text file so that you can focus on your writing, then afterwards convert to some other form using Pandoc, at which time you can fuss about the formatting.

• For anyone following this, I want to point out a post by @runit that went to the moderation queue and now ended up inserted at the top, so y'all might miss it: https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/comment/14690/#Comment_14690

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

• Reeder for triaging RSS feeds.
• Matter for read-it-later. Great highlighting support with ability to write in-line comments. Highlights and comments can then be synced to Obsidian!
• PDF Expert for reading and annotating PDFs.
• iOS Notes as a note repository for what one might call “fleeting notes” or “literature notes”

• DEVONThink as my pseudo-reference manager and general repository for all “raw” texts. In many cases, I store literature notes with the “raw” texts here as well, though this part of my system is still a work-in-progress. I tend to copy DEVONThink item URLs and paste them in my ZK’s citations so I can immediately pull up a local copy of the document at any time.
• Obsidian as my ZK…and highlight syncing repository from Matter.
• iAWriter for writing shorter pieces.
• Ulysses for writing longer pieces.
• edited March 3

@runit I am consistently intrigued by the single text file approach. It sounds exactly like something I would vibe with. And yet, vibes have not pushed me to actually try it.

• @Will said:
Do you not write within your ZK? Your writing, ideas, and synthesis are the fabric of your ZK. Where is the muddling?

Apologies, Will. I was being a bit too laconic. And, I'll admit, I hadn't watched the video yet. Now that I have, I see the advantage even more. So to clarify: I meant that I do write in my ZK (for notes), but then extract Zettel after a point in order to continue writing, such as composing my thesis. While my ZK supplied my main ideas, composing the thesis took dedicated writing that won't make for useful Zettel on their own later.1 Were I to use a tool like Marked, I would import Zettel to start, but eventually, I'd be focusing on the composed document, not the original Zettel.

Relatedly, a question: Let's say I composed a document in Marked using a series of Zettel. When I export the Marked document, does this mean that I have a document (now independent of my ZK) with the content of those Zettel included -- i.e., I could edit the Zettel in Marked for style or context, but the original note in the Archive is untouched? (If so, this parallels what I said above, that I could then continue writing outside my ZK to complete the paper.)

1. I've said elsewhere on here recently that once I finish processing my thesis back into my ZK (like I would any other reading), I'm going to post about that. Some things generated in thesis writing should be Zettel, just not the entire document. ↩︎

• Time to invest in a second monitor?

Based on @Will's video and @sfast's point about different contexts for writing, I'd agree. I've also been considering getting a second monitor for a while for some of my more complex cartography, so this was already something I was considering.

• @Sociopoetic said:

@Will said:
Do you not write within your ZK? Your writing, ideas, and synthesis are the fabric of your ZK. Where is the muddling?

Apologies, Will. I was being a bit too laconic. And, I'll admit, I hadn't watched the video yet. Now that I have, I see the advantage even more. So to clarify: I meant that I do write in my ZK (for notes), but then extract Zettel after a point in order to continue writing, such as composing my thesis. [^1] Were I to use a tool like Marked, I would import Zettel to start, but eventually, I'd be focusing on the composed document, not the original Zettel.

I would not just link zettel together and call it done when doing this. But, I'd see where the gaps in my ideas were and where they were not well explained and make the necessary edits to the zettel. Editing the zettel makes them more useful and iterates them forward. This is a win-win. I get a publishable document, and my ZK grows.

For me, the win comes from the fact that the edits I make when editing the publishable final document get placed back in my ZK. The edits are usually the refinement of my ideas, and losing them is criminal.

Relatedly, a question: Let's say I composed a document in Marked using a series of Zettel. When I export the Marked document, does this mean that I have a document (now independent of my ZK) with the content of those Zettel included -- i.e., I could edit the Zettel in Marked for style or context. Still, the original note in the Archive is untouched? (If so, this parallels what I said above, that I could then continue writing outside my ZK to complete the paper.)

Yes. You actually can not edit in Marked2. When in the mode that I demonstrate, all edits must be done in the zettel, and they instantly appear in Marked2. Once satisfied, you can export the whole thing as one document from Marked2. Then touchups and formating issues can be addressed. If a significant change is noticed during this step, say a confusing idea is exposed, you can edit the offending zettel and re-export the Marked2 document. Quick, easy, and painless. If you don't use this workflow, the confusing idea will remain in your zettelkasten, possibly "muddling" it.

While my ZK supplied my main ideas, composing the thesis took dedicated writing that won't make for useful Zettel on their own later… Some things generated in thesis writing should be Zettel, just not the entire document.

Why not? Did you write the thesis? Does it contain your ideas? Isn't the topic of your thesis relevant to you? I guess I'm not clear on what a thesis is. I thought a thesis was the documentation of a serious study of a relevant research topic related to the field of expertise you were graduating into. How can we predict what will be relevant in the future? I don't have crystal balls. (Freudian Slip). As I see it, the problem is all the work you'd have to do not to atomize your thesis after the fact.

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• @Will, you're right about what a thesis is. In practice, I'm also keeping in mind that much of Luhmann's own writing, drawn directly from his ZK, reads as disjointed or not well-edited. That's something I had to avoid. The issue I'm noting in my thesis workflow was that some edits I made in the thesis document -- such as a section clarifying part of my choice of methods that was added during a round of revisions -- should become a Zettel and hasn't yet (it will soon, in the service of later feeding other projects).

On the other hand, I'm not sure I would want to edit every Zettel that fed into my thesis to be as it appeared in the thesis itself. My project was specific to certain contexts and required specific elaborations. Some of those elaborations connecting ideas might only be a link in my ZK (both directions), but not a stand-alone note. Does that make sense?

• edited March 3

@ctietze said:
For anyone following this, I want to point out a post by @runit that went to the moderation queue and now ended up inserted at the top, so y'all might miss it: https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/comment/14690/#Comment_14690

And I already thought the post disappeared because I had pressed a wrong key. ^^' Thanks for bringing it back!

@taurusnoises said:
@runit I am consistently intrigued by the single text file approach. It sounds exactly like something I would vibe with. And yet, vibes have not pushed me to actually try it.

I highly recommend it. It reinforces a simple rule I relearned over and over again for the past two years: Limitation sparks creativity seemingly out of nowhere.

• @Sociopoetic

I get that one could use the process described by @Will but for my use, it would be forced. A lot of the "final" writing I do is outside of my ZK, but relies heavily on what is inside it. It's cool that it could all be done within a ZK, but that's not necessarily the "best" way to do it (each person decides what is best for them, of course).

Once you have something in Marked2, you can certainly export it to a wide variety of file formats, including *.doc, *.rtf, and *.odt, all of which will let you get on with your writing in some other software (Word, Pages, Open Office, LibreOffice, etc.), allowing further edits and formatting, but mostly, introducing additional material that ties everything together and provides additional detail and logic. Or you could export a combined Markdown file from Marked2, continue your writing in a Markdown editor (lots to choose from), and then use Pandoc to format the final product.

• edited March 3

@GeoEng51 said:
Or you could export a combined Markdown file from Marked2, continue your writing in a Markdown editor (lots to choose from), and then use Pandoc to format the final product.

This sounds more in line with what I already do, though Marked might still be fun to play with. My goal here is simple, really: to spend the maximum amount of time thinking and writing and the least amount of time futzing with other details. Setting up my ZK two months before I started my MS was one of the best academic decisions I ever made.

• @Sociopoetic said:
@Will, you're right about what a thesis is. In practice, I'm also keeping in mind that much of Luhmann's own writing, drawn directly from his ZK, reads as disjointed or not well-edited. That's something I had to avoid.

Luhmann didn't have the advantage we have today. The ability to see the document as it progresses alongside the zettel used to create it. He also didn't have or take the opportunity to edit or expand his zettel based on the ideas generated by creating the documents. (I could be wrong here. If Luhmann spread out all the zettel he was using to prepare a paper and took the time to edit those where ideas changed because of the editing process, and he mimicked The Archive/Marked2 workflow without the digital advantages we have.)

Because old man Luhmann poorly edited his writing isn't an excuse for us to do the same.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I would want to edit every Zettel that fed into my thesis to be as it appeared in the thesis itself. My project was specific to certain contexts and required specific elaborations. Some of those elaborations connecting ideas might only be a link in my ZK (both directions), but not a stand-alone note. Does that make sense?

Yes, what you say makes sense. I want to push back against the idea that there is no need to update zettel as we create more finished work. It is more the case that zettel will want to be updated to our new ideas as we connect them in the more extensive network of finished publishable work. Of course, parts of a final document are not appropriate for a zettel, but I think there are far fewer of these than we think. And having the opportunity in real-time to make those updates is what this workflow is about.

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• @runit said:
3.1 I hunted the perfect GTD application for around a year. Notion, Noteplan, Omnifocus, Apple Reminders, todoist, clickup... I tried them all, but nothing really satisfied me. A few weeks ago I discovered a totally different approach. Now my todo-system is a .txt file and my calendar.

Very useful, thank you for this.

3.5 For Mind-Maps/Flowcharts: I draw them by hand and if they are imported I would just make a version in pages or whatever word processor and save it as pdf. I did not know about monodraw... I will definitely try it out; looks interesting.

@Sociopoetic said:
@GeoEng51 + @sfast were discussing Markdown editors in another thread and also mentioned Monodraw (which is what I use for my visual structure notes).

Will try this.

Erdős #2. ZK software components. “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport. Replies delayed, sometimes indefinitely since Life is short.