Zettelkasten Forum


Is the ZK for writing or thinking?

Obviously, the answer is "whatever you want," but let's move past that obvious point. I see this disagreement permeating discussions on several threads without any direct engagement, and no apparent interest in even attempting to reach a consensus. I am not hoping to reach consensus or to convince anyone else, but I haven't made up my mind on it, and it seems central to determining which trade-offs people use in making other decisions. Discussion suggests that people who use Luhmann IDs use the ZK for thinking, not writing, while those advocating structure notes use it for writing.

Someone previously said that this issue was discussed extensively a while ago. It's very hard to search, so please point me to those threads if possible.

I'll add a poll to see if we can get info from the many lurkers out there. For this poll:

[Edited by @ctietze opon request by @cobblepot to include the newer term definitions; poll is reset]

  • "Thinking" means you use the ZK for thinking, writing notes, connecting notes in a structure (with IDs, tags, and/or links), but NOT doing things aimed at producing a written draft, such as outlining a draft or writing a draft
  • "Writing" means you use the ZK for everything mentioned in "thinking" AND ALSO for doing activities aimed at producing a written first draft of an essay/article/book, such as outlining a draft or writing text intended for a draft
  • "Luhmann IDs" means you give new notes Luhmann IDs, regardless of whether you use other IDs or not
  • "Other IDs" means you don't give new notes Luhmann IDs, regardless of how you ID notes otherwise

Original/old definition for context:

  • "Thinking" includes making links and writing notes, but not creating structured outlines or drafts of essays
  • "Writing" includes all of the above plus organizing ideas into outline structures and/or creating preliminary first drafts
  • Luhmann IDs are self-explanatory
  • "Other IDs" are any other type of unique ID not based on thematic content of the note, such as date/time IDs
Post edited by ctietze on
Zettelkasten Usage
  1. What do you use your Zettelkasten for?7 votes
    1. Thinking, Luhmann IDs
        0.00%
    2. Thinking, Other IDs
      28.57%
    3. Writing, Luhmann IDs
      14.29%
    4. Writing, Other IDs
        0.00%
    5. I haven't used the Zettelkasten long enough to know
      42.86%
    6. None of the above answers match my usage
      14.29%

Comments

  • So, writing is writing and thinking?

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:
    So, writing is writing and thinking?

    I defined my terms pretty clearly above! Thinking includes writing notes but not drafts, and writing includes thinking. I was hoping to avoid repeating long descriptive phrases.

  • I'm using mine for writing, but very often also for simply remembering things that I need occasionally. To give a banal example, I've got a note on how to make certificate signing requests, which is something I need to do every two years. This gets linked to other notes such as notes about my courses/teaching, which I'm likely to be looking at when I remember the certificate thing.

  • Ok. I just wanted to make sure. My question is: Why did you structure the poll items that way? With those definitions you also answer "yes" to item 1/2 if you answer yes to 3/4.

    I am a Zettler

  • Besides using structure notes for writing drafts, structure notes can (and should IMO) also be used to organize your notes, e.g. to bring structure into a topic you‘re researching, and to comment on your outline and/or the note connections. So they can be used for purposes that are independent from writing.

  • @sfast said:

    Ok. I just wanted to make sure. My question is: Why did you structure the poll items that way? With those definitions you also answer "yes" to item 1/2 if you answer yes to 3/4.

    I think if you read my first post closely you will see that your question is already answered there. But I'll repeat to make it crystal clear.

    Some people use the ZK primarily for thinking and writing notes BUT NOT for outlining drafts or writing drafts. I call this use "thinking" for short.

    Others use the ZK for thinking, writing notes, AND ALSO for outlining and writing drafts. That's what "all of the above plus organizing ideas into outline structures and/or creating preliminary first drafts" means. I call this "writing". It includes thinking activities but adds activities that aim at producing a first draft within the ZK workflow. It does NOT mean "writing without thinking".

    So answering yes to 3/4 is not the same as answering yes to 1/2. Yes to 1/2 means you are NOT using the ZK to outline or write drafts, yes to 3/4 means you ARE. You would poll as answer 4, and @pseudoevagrius (e.g.) would be answer 1 (I assume).

    @msteffens said:

    Besides using structure notes for writing drafts, structure notes can (and should IMO) also be used to organize your notes, e.g. to bring structure into a topic you‘re researching, and to comment on your outline and/or the note connections. So they can be used for purposes that are independent from writing.

    Good point. I'll edit the first post to make clear that "thinking" includes notes that structure ideas, but excludes outlining drafts. These are not 100% exclusive categories obviously, but let's try to capture any trends.

  • Hmm..can't figure out how to edit. I'll just put it here:

    • "thinking" means thinking, writing notes, connecting notes in a structure (with IDs, tags, and/or links), but NOT doing things aimed at producing a written draft: outlining the draft or writing a draft
    • "writing" means everything in "thinking" PLUS activities aimed at producing a written first draft of an essay/article/book.
  • Am I correct that using a combination of ID's fits into the other ID curation?
    My apologies if you were clear about this I missed it.

  • @MikeBraddock said:
    Am I correct that using a combination of ID's fits into the other ID curation?
    My apologies if you were clear about this I missed it.

    That's a good question that I didn't address. I would classify any major use of Luhmann IDs as being in that category (regardless of whether other IDs are used or not), and any practice does not include Luhmann IDs as being in the "other ID" category. The distinction that I am trying to capture is between people that think about a note's place in a Luhmann-style branching structure when they label new notes vs. those that don't.

  • I think your model is flawed. The title says: Writing or thinking. But is is rather: Writing and thinking or thinking only.

    Technically, you can distinguish the items. But if you write you also think.

    I don't know why this thread holds on to my working memory but I cannot understand it. :smile:

    1. Why not ask if you write with your Zettelkasten. That is the dividing aspect between the groups. More on point would be: Do you plan and create texts in your Zettelkasten? (Then you wouldn't have to define what you mean by writing and just stick to common language)
    2. What is you actual interest?

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:
    I think your model is flawed. The title says: Writing or thinking. But is is rather: Writing and thinking or thinking only.
    Technically, you can distinguish the items. But if you write you also think.

    I think this is just a terminological issue. Obviously, writing includes thinking, as I said. Maybe I worded the thread in a strange way.

    Think of the question this way: is the ZK for writing essay drafts or not?

    1. Why not ask if you write with your Zettelkasten. That is the dividing aspect between the groups. More on point would be: Do you plan and create texts in your Zettelkasten? (Then you wouldn't have to define what you mean by writing and just stick to common language)

    Sorry, I don't think "common language" is so easily agreed upon. Everyone writes with their ZK because notes are written. Who would say that they don't "plan and create texts" in their ZK? Notes are texts. To me, "text" doesn't mean "essay" or "article draft". But seriously, let's not get hung up on terminology. I would change the first post if I could.

    1. What is you actual interest?

    My actual interest is: I cannot decide whether to try to implement a ZK in a way that includes outlining and drafting articles, or just to organize notes and promote thinking.

    My first post noted, "Someone previously said that this issue was discussed extensively a while ago. It's very hard to search, so please point me to those threads if possible."

    The poll was actually an afterthought. someone had mentioned that this had been discussed a lot previously, so I was trying to find those discussions to see what I can learn.

    Frustrating you was not my goal. Just a happy side-effect. :smile:

  • @cobblepot wrote:
    My actual interest is: I cannot decide whether to try to implement a ZK in a way that includes outlining and drafting articles, or just to organize notes and promote thinking.

    Ah, ok. If you do it like me, it doesn't matter. Drafting is something that should happen outside the Zettelkasten because you would put non-knowledge fluff like "Hello, Blogreader..". Outlining is just another form of understanding matters.

    Or: There is no difference between writing and thinking if you use words like us ordinary people. :smile:

    I am a Zettler

  • edited April 9

    I'll jump in with a couple of thoughts on how I use my Zettelkasten primarily for thinking (if I dare use that term) and why I use structure notes vs. Luhmann numbering.

    First, I keep everything in one main system. That includes journal entries, travel guides, pictures, memes, emails, reports, etc. I attempted a while back to create a separate Zettelkasten and had about 80 thoughts transcribed into a Zettel format I liked, complete with Luhmann numbering before transferring them all back to my main platform. Perhaps I simply never reached "critical mass" with so few, but with everything else in my main system, the Zettelkasten became a burden that simply took to much time and effort.

    To borrow an example from David Allen regarding a "poorly designed system" is anything that "volume and speed will kill it."[1] As fate would have it, I work in finance and I am a community board chair for our local hospital. You can imagine the sheer volume of information I am reviewing at this time is staggering. I capture and process everything from health updates, research reports along with my personal journal entries. My notes are all Fleeting Zettel Notes. As I read I summarize into a Zettel note, I add personal thoughts and insights so as to help me avoid hindsight bias. I have Structure Notes set up for all major categories and link each Zettel note and a brief description of these to the main categories as I go. As time goes on, I'll discard some notes, keep others and combine lots of the information to create Permanent Zettel Notes for future reference. Perhaps these future Permanent notes would benefit from a Luhmann numbering system but for now, the ease of linkage with structure notes helps me keep up with the deluge of information.

    [1] Allen, David. Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life. Piatkus, 2011.(p.96.)

  • @Steve625 , thanks for your useful comment! Do you use your ZK to produce writing that you share with others, or is it primarily for organizing knowledge that you want to be able to retrieve?

    Also, is that The Brain software? I'm interested in any comments on how well you think it matches with the ZK system. I have always been intrigued by it because it is one of the few types of software that combines mind maps, formatted notes, and attachments, but the mind map part always seemed to be a visual mess to me compared to the mapping software I use, Freeplane.

  • @cobblepot >

    Do you use your ZK to produce writing that you share with others or is it primarily for organizing knowledge that you want to be able to retrieve?

    I do create the occasional blog, but even then I am generally using the ZK to retrieve quotes and references more than building on ideas into something new. That isn't always the case but it is the majority of what I use the ZK for. My goal is to eventually shift my massive "collector's fallacy" of notes to a ZK and build more original ideas from there.

    Also, is that The Brain software? I'm interested in any comments on how well you think it matches with the ZK system. I have always been intrigued by it because it is one of the few types of software that combines mind maps, formatted notes, and attachments, but the mind map part always seemed to be a visual mess to me compared to the mapping software I use, Freeplane.

    It is The Brain software. I downloaded the free version on 12/30/2005, later bought the pro version and have used it ever since. I have always been frustrated with one element or another about the software, but could never find anything as simple to use or that I wanted to convert my ever-growing pile of notes too. The Brain keeps improving and with version 11 they finally got rid of the terrible notepad type software and replaced it with Markdown. A fantastic improvement.

    I can appreciate your "visual mess" comment, and it certainly can become that way. The Brain now allows you to shift between the "normal view" and the more typical mind map view. Having learned on The Brain I prefer the normal view.

    For most of what I do, I prefer the "hard links" as illustrated by the line connecting the two thoughts. For ZK notes I have found the hard links create "preconceived" notions about the thought, and so most of my Zettel notes are "orphaned" or "free-floating" without any hard links. This forces me to search my existing notes, and I give a lot of thought before creating a new note, expanding or connecting a note via a hyperlink. So far this has created the "serendipity" one would hope to find in ZK. As mentioned in my original post, it also allows me to create fast entries, hard link my main topic structure notes and create hyperlinks when the need arises.

  • @cobblepot

    Do you use your ZK to produce writing that you share with others, or is it primarily for organizing knowledge that you want to be able to retrieve?

    I produce the occasional blog, but for the most part I use ZK for organizing knowledge that has personal and business interests across a broad range of subjects. "Growth in wages as an indicator of a tightening labor market", and "how many ranked mountain peaks have I climbed in Washington county - Utah", as examples. This isn't always the case, but for now, my goal is to move my massive "collectors fallacy" of notes to the ZK format and use it to create more original ideas.

    Also, is that The Brain software? I'm interested in any comments on how well you think it matches with the ZK system. I have always been intrigued by it because it is one of the few types of software that combines mind maps, formatted notes, and attachments, but the mind map part always seemed to be a visual mess to me compared to the mapping software I use, Freeplane.

    It is The Brain software. I downloaded the free version on 12/30/2005, soon upgraded to the pro version and have used it ever since. Over the years there has always been one thing or another that I haven't liked about the software, but I could never find anything I liked better or at least liked enough to transfer my ever-growing pile of notes too. The Brain kept improving and with their latest release, they finally got rid of the terrible notepad portion and replaced it with markdown. A fantastic improvement.

    I can appreciate the "visual mess" that can sometimes accompany the software.

    It is something I have "grown-up" with so it isn't a big problem for me. The software does allow different view planes including the traditional mind-map view, but I still prefer the "normal view" plane.

    I have found that the "hard-links" illustrated by the line connecting two thoughts, doesn't work as well for the ZK methodology, as it tends to create "preconceived" notions about a link. By preconceived notions I mean that the hard links represent all the links that exist for a note. And this clearly isn't (or shouldn't) be the case. So for most of my ZK notes, they are "free-floating" or "orphaned" notes (no hard links). This forces me to search for a note before I create a new one, update an existing note, or add a hyperlink to the thought. This "searching" does a better job of creating the "serendipity" the ZK is known for, while at the same time allowing me to create a fast entry, with hard links to structure note when the situation requires it.

  • @Steve625 , I think TheBrain is better-suited for information storage and retrieval than for writing essays. You seem to use the ZK mostly for thinking, learning, and reference.

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