# Understanding the difference between object tags and topic tags

New to Zettlekasten, I am using it to organize all of my notes with the goal of learning and absorbing at a faster rate.

I came across this topic of tags and how to use the the right way. I do not understand this example as it is explained.

https://zettelkasten.de/posts/object-tags-vs-topic-tags/

Does this mean that I tag things as "fish" + "baked" and not as "food" ?

TIA

• edited June 2020

"Does this mean that I tag things as "fish" + "baked" and not as "food" ?"

No. Including more tags isn't the answer Sascha is proposing. He's suggesting using less tags with more precise contexts. He's making a distinction between topical tags, which are broad and difficult for getting precise search results, and contrasting to more useful tags centered around a specific object.

In your case; having tags #fish and #baked would make a lot of sense if you were to organize your recipes into baked and raw.

• In a simple sentence: You tag the actual objects your are talking about not the topic.

My purpose is to be productive. Therefore I sit behind this desk and write.

This sentence should be tagged with #MyPurpose because it is the only "thing" I relevant. The rest is scenery. This sentence could fall under the topic of my life plan, work flow or something like that. But no tag for that.

I am a Zettler

• edited June 2020

So that I understand.

If I have a category of food, containing a recipe on baked fish with fennel
the wrong way of tagging is

• food
• fish
• fennel
• baked

The correct way of doing it is simply

• fish

since fish is the object in focus?

• I'm no tagging wizard but...

Tags strick me as a way of grouping notes. If you want to group your 'fishes' together then a tag #fish seems appropriate. But it would seem more helpful to group all your 'recipes' together with a #recipes tag and then you could search for #recipes AND fish OR fennel OR "Captian Crunch"

If you tag a note with #fish, you then may be presented with confounding notes if you start studying ichthyology or review Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. And you might miss the recipe that uses fennel and no fish '202006061209 Plum-Fennel Salad with Honey-Ginger Dressing'

Will Simpson
The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan
kestrelcreek.com

• I'm also new to Zettelkasten and still a bit confused by the idea of "object tags". I think the concept of "topic tags" is straight forward - they are general and act as a large box into which you place anything mildly related. In essence, you are creating a category. If you use additional, sub-topic tags, don't you just get you deeper into a hierarchy of categories? I've used Bear for a while and that seems to be their approach.

I believe an object tag is supposed to be something different. Is it meant to be very specific to the subject of your simple note? Should you only be using one tag per note or a minimal number of tags per note? How do you keep track of the tags you have used - with a glossary? Is the use of object tags meant to minimize the number of notes that have them?

If someone can provide some practical examples of good object tags, maybe I could get the hang of it - in fact, the more examples, the better.

• @GeoEng51 said:
I believe an object tag is supposed to be something different. Is it meant to be very specific to the subject of your simple note? Should you only be using one tag per note or a minimal number of tags per note? How do you keep track of the tags you have used - with a glossary? Is the use of object tags meant to minimize the number of notes that have them?

>
One thing to remember is that tagging is a small part of a knowledge system or 'tool for thought' so I try and not let myself get too hung up on tagging. I trust it my tagging skills will evolve and get better. And that means tagging when appropriate.

In my perspective, my confusion stems from the disconnect I have when applying tags to a zettel and the future use of that tag. I ask myself, "What is the future use of tagging this note?" When in the composing mode feel like I have a duty to associate the note with some group of notes I already have. This is just a gut feeling. I have not data showing that this results in a clearer Zettelkasten. The trend is to spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over tagging at times. If I close my eyes and click my heels and magically reincarnate in the year 2020, I find that, with full-text search, every word in a note is a tag.

I have discovered a couple of areas when tags help to vary degrees.
1. Group notes on writing projects together for later export to IA Writer.
2. Class notes, for review and sharing.
3. In creating a saved search for "#HUB NOTES"
4. Inbox management - here tags are added then modified and eventually removed. (Tags are sacrosanct).
5. When I review the list of tags I've used in the past in my Tag Cloud, I see that many tags group notes together with others that are of the same type of note. Either a #Literiture_note or a #ScratchNote or a #blog_post or a #definition or a #book or a #paper or a #video or a #quote -- you get the idea. Some of this has been superseded by prefixing titles with various characters to provide a visual queue in the note list as to the type of note. It would be interesting to be able to color code enters in the note list giving a clue as to the type of note behind the color, like all hub notes blue and all literature notes green and all class notes brown.
6. I've tried not adding tags in the composition phase but something about it keeps pulling me back into tagging. I feel better adding a tag after I've had a note in circulation for a while.

Thinking a bit more, in my prior post I lobbied for #recipes as an object tag. A recipe is a thing, an object and it is also related to topic (cooking). Maybe this gets closer to my confusion.

I use a Keyboard Maestro macro to track and place tags. Some software will do this for you. Here is a link to the discussion about remenbering what tags have been used in the past. "Script to print all tags from .txt files (run from archive directory)"

If someone can provide some practical examples of good object tags, maybe I could get the hang of it - in fact, the more examples, the better.

I'm embarrassed to show you the mess I have with tagging but here goes. Here is a shot of part of my Tag Cloud and we see that some tags were used only once?? and some have a number of notes associated.

Will Simpson
The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan
kestrelcreek.com

• @Will said:
If I close my eyes and click my heels and magically reincarnate in the year 2020, I find that, with full-text search, _every word in a note is a tag.

Since every word in a note can be a tag, do you sometimes rephrase a zettel to eliminate the need for a tag?

• I've been exploring this recently. I notice that the tag word is also used in the body of the note so it makes applying the tag of less use, but not completely useless. But sometimes I notice that a note does not have the tag word in the body of the note. This is something I've been watching for. I ask myself "Am I composing my note with enough verbiage to describe the idea accurately so it can be found in the future?" To help with that I've added a place in my metadata footer for what I call "contextual phrases". These are terms or phrases that are not part of the note but describe my feelings/interpretation and I hope will provide clues/hits when asking my zettelkasten questions. Which is the whole point, I think, to get another conversation partner in my thinking.

Will Simpson
The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan
kestrelcreek.com

• Will - thanks for the additional response - that is helpful!

• P.S. I like the idea of contextual phrases - sort of like the old concept of keywords attached to technical papers, that allow your search engine to find the note without having to key in on a tag or a phrase in the note itself. That begs the question, though, of how you decide whether something is a tag or a contextual phrase?

I also like the idea of showing your note's "metadata" in an organized way, at the end of the note.

• @GeoEng51 said:
... how you decide whether something is a tag or a contextual phrase?

This is a bit of a moving target. I decide which to apply by my reaction to my note and my mood. For example, if I'm writing a class note, I'll tag it with the appropriate established tag for that class as I want to keep all the notes take around the class grouped together. If I review and process Umberto Eco’s ideas around an anti-library, I add the contextual phrase "brain pickings" as this is where I first noticed the idea.

More than a word or two and it is a contextual phrase. Tags have a sense of reuse, of purpose.

Contextual phrases, as I construct them, are one-off, you might say a brief summary of what is in the note, phrased differently, and usually, I add hints to the context about how I came to this note. Things like "conversation with Kane" or the fact that the author (Jane Hirshfield) of a book of poetry (Each Happiness Ringed by Lion) that I process into my Zettelkasten is a "Zen Practitioner" -- these fit my idea of a context where these facts are only tangentially relevant to the note as I composed it but may come in handy in a future search. They seem to be too specific to be reusable even if I note another conversation with Kane, I still wouldn't think it warrants a reusable tag.

Will Simpson
The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan
kestrelcreek.com

• Again, an informative answer - thanks!

• @Will Maybe looking at other notes of you would show my suggestion is stupid, but looking at the screenshot, I cannot help but think that the contextual phrase of the quote would be a good candidate for a 1 sentence summary at the top of the note, so I see it when I start reading the note (from top to bottom).

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

• edited June 2020

@ctietze Thank you for your kind and restrained criticism. I hastily captured this quote and only spent a moment as a quick afterthought adding a few 'contextual phrases'. I take this as a sign of my laziness. Here I leaned toward speed and let a few moments of reflection slip by. I want to rethink a bit about my confused notions of tags, 'contextual phrases', and summaries. You kindly point out that summaries can replace 'contextual phrases' and have the added benefit of nurturing my 'dialogue' with the note through "writing as thinking".

I feel like I've robbed this note of attention and probably most others. I see now how I was shortcutting interacting with a note by casually throwing in a few 'contextual phrases'. I felt it was better than nothing and ultimately I'm happy it got me to here, this realization that what my use of the contextual phrases was a beginner's way of summarizing my own voice in a note.

In defense, I use a template for new notes, and in it are the prompts contained in the metadata section, which leaves the body uncluttered. I find having the metadata at the top too distracting. Also, this is not used in every note. Looking at several recent notes I find it used where I pull from an outside source with a quote or weblink. I'm reconsidering this strategy/workflow. Here is the same note v2.0.

v1.0

Post edited by Will on

Will Simpson
The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan
kestrelcreek.com

• @sn76477 said:
Does this mean that I tag things as "fish" + "baked" and not as "food" ?

First of all, I completely agree with @Will —you should do what makes sense to you now and don't overthink it. Start very simple and adjust over time. There's probably no universal system that works for everybody.

To me, tags represent a layer on top of the information already present in the note. (That's why we call it meta data?)

And unlike Sascha I find tags that link notes in unexpected ways beneficial. When I'm browsing my archive, I want to be surprised, I want my thinking to be nudged in different directions, maybe even derailed from time to time. The more surprised I am, the more I learn.

So I'm usually very liberal with my tagging—objects, topics, and everything.

• @sudarkoff I was going to say why tag as liberally as you do with full-text search but on reflection, I see the value of tagging so liberally. For example, using a #suprise tag when a note focuses on a surprise or the physiological emotion of surprise or the value of being surprised in a zettelkasten search. I think it would be unnecessary in the case of a note that was about mail-in elections that mentioned "the surprising public acceptance of mail-in voting". Tagging would eliminate searches from get hits on the casual use of the tag term. This seems an advanced workflow. This notion and the whole idea of tagging is still rickashaying around in this cavern called my head.

Will Simpson
The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan
kestrelcreek.com