Zettelkasten Forum

Should I be citing every source for a Zettel?

Hey everyone! I'm a bit new to the whole Zettelkasten system, but I think I've almost figured out enough to get started. The only thing I'm still confused about is how I should deal with citing the sources of my information.

For example, let's say there's a passage like this:

It’s important to understand the layers that make up a design, because getting those layers to work together is the key to creating designs that look good, that solve problems, and that ultimately influence your users.

For the Zettel, should I always start it with "According to [so and so]...", or should I just omit that and essentially present the idea as my own? And if I come across another source that slightly expands on this, how should I express that? And how should I deal with a source contradicting this information?


  • Definitely don't present an idea as your own if it comes from a source! I keep a "References" heading at the end of every note that includes the relevant citation(s). I'll update this list if I find another reference that is important to the development of that note. This is separate from restating the idea in your own words, which is how you determine if you understand what the reference is saying.

    Listing the author in the flow of the note is a personal choice. I tend to list the author in the note itself if an idea feels very intrinsically tied to that author, like in philosophy where one philosopher's writings on a subject can be very distinct from another's. In science notes, I tend to avoid listing authors in the note itself unless that author is unusual in their approach to a topic. Instead, I just keep a list of references in each note.

    Contradictory information can be added the same as you would add notes expanding upon or supporting a given note. Make a note detailing the contradiction, and add links between the two notes.

  • @prometheanhindsight Thanks for the advice! That really clarifies things. Do you have any specific format for citations that you use beyond what you mentioned?

  • I'm a chemist, so I tend to use ACS format for citations. At the bottom of each note, I have a header called "References". Each reference is listed in ACS format (Authors. Title. Journal, Year, Pages. DOI) and in front of the reference I put a citekey in double square brackets, i.e. [[@ AuthorYearJournal]]. That way I can click on the citekey and pull up a list of other notes that use that reference.

    I follow a pretty similar format for non-science references. I put a citekey link, and then list out the relevant information generally following the same order as for scientific publications (Author, Title, Location, Year, Link).

    Despite typically writing in scientific disciplines, I don't use reference numbers in the note body (e.g., superscript numbers to tie a specific reference to each claim). If two or three papers contributed to a note, I'll just have those references listed together at the bottom. If it's important to differentiate what each of the references contributed, I'll typically make foot notes to clarify. If a note ends up drawing on more than two or three references, then I begin to question whether it is actually atomic or whether it needs to be split up and replaced with a structure note, or if the note's scope is too general.

  • I'm a writer studying literature, so I tend to use MLA format for citations. At the bottom of each note, I have a header called "Bibliographical data". This is where I collect the references to the ideas expressed in the note. I tie quotes and sometimes ideas as footnotes into the list of bibliographical data. All quotes I cite.

    What is your area of study?

    Here are three examples. the first is the usual. A book reference. I then know that all the ideas that are expressed in the note have their source in the book even if I've refactored the wording and ideas.

    This one is more detailed in that it has several references and footnotes.

    This is just for fun.

    Will Simpson
    I must keep doing my best even though I'm a failure. My peak cognition is behind me. One day soon I will read my last book, write my last note, eat my last meal, and kiss my sweetie for the last time.

  • edited December 2022

    It depends on your intended output. I use my Zettelkasten mostly for academic research, so it'd be quite the issue if I couldn't state exactly the source of a claim I'm making.

    I use a controlled vocabulary for expressing certain relationships between Zettels. Let's say that I have a card named "1" which is an excerpt with evidence about something, and another one named "2" which has an excerpt with more evidence about the same thing, and I've noticed 2 supports 1. I'd write another Zettel, "3", which would read:

    "[[2]] corroborates [[1]]."

    I have a dual analog-digital Zettelkasten, and I use my digital mirror to track relationships such as "corroborates". I can do some neat things with it, like making an entity-relationship graph visually displaying such connections. But you can do the same thing just fine (with a bit more manual work) with a completely analog Zettelkasten.

  • @6g_no_hoshi said:
    I use a controlled vocabulary for expressing certain relationships between Zettels.

    "[[2]] corroborates [[1]]."

    Would you mind sharing some more of the verbs you use to build these relationships?

Sign In or Register to comment.