Zettelkasten Forum

"Zettel" vs "note"

The background is that I can go through it theoretically till my butt falls off. But I think just asking people should give me an acurate picture. Background: Translation of a Quote by Luhmann

Please write a couple of lines about your reasoning even if there is non and it is only a gut decision.

I am a Zettler

"Zettel" vs "note"
  1. Do you prefer "Zettel" or "Note" if talking about a "Zettel" or a "Note"?29 votes
    1. Zettel!
    2. Note!


  • I find @pseudoevagrius stance compelling. This is different than old-school note taking.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing

  • Having no knowledge of the language or sense of the connotations of the word in any other context, I just came to think of "Zettel" as a "term of art"—a word that has acquired meaning (for me) from use in this community and context, and nowhere else. Also, I just think it's fun to use a German word for something every now and again.

  • I think I agree with what was said before me – for me a "zettel" is a particular kind of "note", the one that's part of a zettelkasten. So "note" is a more general term.

  • I voted for "note" with the caveat that I usually put an adjective with it. Following Sönke Ahrens, I tell others that I have a "smart notes" system, and if they are interested, I'll mention that you will often encounter zettel as well in online searches..

    But in my GTD next actions, it's always "Capture smart note on X".

  • I like Zettel.. because it target this specific kind of note.. also amazes me how German has a word for everything.. :smile:

  • I think "Zettel" is a specific subset of "Note". "Note" can include such as a scribbled phone number or other misc information. A "Zettel" is a note that is

    • deemed worthy of inclusion in one's Zettelkasten (so, for example, my TODO items about a specific project include notes, but are not Zetteln, because they are time-scoped and don't need to be part of my permanent exobrain).

    • formatted in such a way that it works within one's Zettelkasten methodology (usually this just means "Has a UID" but depending on the individual's methods might also imply backlinks, tags, YAML block, etc. ).

  • So. We have three loyal lads and 14 (!!!!!!!!!) traitors who stabbed me in the back. I feel like Jon Snow and you are the Night's Watch.

    inb4: "You know nothing Jon Snow."


    I am a Zettler

  • What about buffer notes now?!?!?! Are those "buffer zettel"?

    I am a Zettler

  • "Hm I'll just start a discussion in public about a deeply complex idea essential to how I think. There's no way that could lead to an existential crisis! It'll be fine!" :heart:

  • Ah, nevermind.

    312.jpg 40.9K

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

  • notes vs zettel, expectations vs crude reality.. haha

  • Next tuesday, I am reviewing the first batch of slides for the course. I think I will call them neither notes nor zettels but poopoos. Just to fuck with you all. :smiley:

    Ok. For real. Thanks for your insides. Feels great to be part of such a community!

    I think I'll agree that there is not the easy solution that I saw. The difference between a Zettelkasten and an ordinary (primitive and morally false) note taking system is quite there. And your perspective of native speakers trumps my theoretical appraoch.

    So, I make a new proposal:

    When we talk about Zettels we call them Zettels. But the specific Zettels are called "buffer notes", "structure notes" etc.

    Open mic. What do you think?

    I am a Zettler

  • edited March 2019

    What exactly is a buffer note? Something in the inbox of the Zettelkasten that is supposed to be processed / made into a proper zettel? Or something short-lived that is just supposed to help with creating a zettel? In both cases I wouldn't count it as a zettel.

    And why not call a structure note a structure zettel?

  • edited March 2019

    @sfast said:
    So, I make a new proposal:

    When we talk about Zettels we call them Zettels. But the specific Zettels are called "buffer notes", "structure notes" etc.

    Works for me; I don't think it's necessary to keep using the word 'zettel' when the context is clear.

    To be honest, though, the expression "buffer note" has never clicked with me, and I'm not sure I understand the difference between a buffer note and a structure note. Is it that structure notes are more-or-less fixed and relate to a specific publishable/published writing project, while buffer notes are more open-ended? I tend to think of both kinds as ad hoc outlines or tables of contents (ToC's).

    (Seems I read somewhere, btw, that German schools don't teach outlining, and as a result outlines are a less familiar concept in Germania than in the Anglosphere. Is that true?)

  • Pirsig's approach using note card categories might be of interest here too, particularly the UNASSIMILATED and PROGRAM categories. (Sorry for the wall of text at the link; the relevant section is about a third of the way down the page and starts, "In addition to the topic categories, five other categories had emerged.") I think Pirsig was feeling his way towards something quite similar to a Zettelkasten, and although he never quite got there, some of his thinking is still relevant.

  • edited April 2019

    I think beyond zettel, which is the basic building block of the method, further details become more personal preference as we all negotiate our own way through. After all, the beauty of this method, and the software, is the adaptability. The rigidity of orthodoxy can stifle creative development if we all become heretic hunters.

    Though I'm a "zettel" user, I've never had any trouble understanding conversations about buffer or structure notes. In fact, I use those terms myself because, as @Eurobubba already said, the context is clear. The most important step is understanding the basic building block, which is the zettel.

    I think the misunderstanding about buffer and structure notes probably has something to do with our different relationships to what our zkns are producing and how. I use buffers as temporary, unorganized outlines of notes. And structure note are outlines with... structure. Basically a TOC. So buffer notes to me are just pre-structure notes.
    I don't think that is exactly how they are described in the blog posts but that is my own approach. Once again, the uniqueness of the word buffer is what gives it its value. Outlines are old school, but buffers are a new tool to me. They give me a way of guiding all my notes in the direction of a project or draft without putting so much pressure on ordering and structuring them on the spot. Buffers for me are a mess. Definitely not a TOC. They more or less just represent the order of the notes as I've encountered them, not the order in the draft or even their inter-relation. They definitely are a different order of note above the zettel.

  • @Eurobubba this is a great anecdote you’ve shared!

    Just to compare my own method:

    My “unassimilated” category is an #inbox tag. This tag usually tells me the note needs another look over for processing into a zettel in its own right before linking to at least one other zettel and being added to an outline. I’m a big fan of incremental processing and incremental learning so the #inbox is where a lot of that processing and re-processing takes place. It’s like a dynamic appendage to the Zettelkasten. It’s technically inside the zkn but just at the entrance.

    I really like the idea of “program” notes and “grit” notes.

    It’s always so helpful to see other approaches to this so thanks for sharing. I guess that’s why I keep coming back here!

  • @Eurobubba said:
    (Seems I read somewhere, btw, that German schools don't teach outlining, and as a result outlines are a less familiar concept in Germania than in the Anglosphere. Is that true?)

    Could be. I am not recalling any of it being teached in school.

    I am a Zettler

  • I think "notecard" is the most accurate translation of "zettel"

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