Zettelkasten Forum

Splitting pre-existing notes into new notes

edited August 26 in Knowledge Processing

As I build my note archive, my guiding principle is the idea of "one thought per note" (referenced in this post by Dan Sheffler--although the original post he links to is no longer available).

But where does one thought or idea end and another begin? I keep bumping up against this question as I write. It's a question that has metaphysical dimensions but also very practical ones (I'm concerned only with the latter here). How long should each of my notes be? In his now vanished post, Sheffler suggests anywhere from 50 to 500 words--however long it takes to express and elaborate upon the idea as clearly and succinctly as possible.

Some of my notes are just a few sentences long; others however, are multi-paragraph manifestoes, and feel too long. And so this raises a related question: is there a suggested workflow for splitting out ideas from original notes into new and related notes? If there's a lot of links to other notes, this requires quite a bit of reconstruction, as branches between related ideas are reestablished and taxonomies of related notes clarified and revised.

I'd be interested in hearing the perspectives of Zettelkasten veterans on these questions. Thanks!


  • edited August 26

    Somewhere (can't remember where) I read that a good rule of thumb is that each note should fit comfortably on the screen without scrolling.

  • It depends on what form the thought has.

    1. An argument has premises and conclusions. All premises and conclusions should go on one note. If a premise has itself premises they would go on a different note (with link, of course)
    2. A theory can be a statement on how the world is objectively. Then this statement (which is almost always more than one sentence) should go on one note. The arguments and the evidence to support the theory should go on other notes.
    3. A definition should have two elements. The definition itself and what is defined.


    So, a thought has a form and the form determines its boundaries. The note is just the physical or digital representation of having form determined boundaries.

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