Zettelkasten Forum

Several questions of a beginner; Planning everything out or doing one step at a time?

Hello dear community,

first of all: thanks for developing Zettelkasten and thanks for such an active forum where thinks are answered in detail many times. So regarding the latter, please excuse me for questions which may be nobrainers for you. If so, maybe a link to another thread is already enough.

I am pretty sure that i can benefit from a Zettelkasten, especially in daily life and maybe for research in a future time. I have always had the wish for a similar system and am very happy to finally stumble upon this.

But regarding one certain topic, i am not sure how to create an "efficient" layout:
I am a law student from Germany. In Germany we have to pass two so called state-examinations. I finished the first one (yay) where i've used flashcards and spaced repitition (analog). Some elements could be useful for the second examination to, wich has the following "timetable": its going for two years, where you have to do some practical stuff like 3 times a week (working for the judge, a lawyer and so on). Exactly at the 21st month, there are 8 exams over 5 hours where you have to solve cases (criminal law, civil law, public law, but in 95% never mixed).
The trick of the german law system is that it is very abstract, meaning you will not get a case you know, but a case where you have to see if "it fits under the law". One exampleA wants $10 from B for selling a pizza. So the steps of your writing and thinking are: 1. A has a claim against B because of paragraph 433 of the civil code (judgement/opinion). 2. paragraph 433 requires a valid contract between the partners about xyz (abstract rule) 3. A contract needs according statements of two parties... (definition) 4. Here, B ordered a pizza in A's restaurant by saying "another one" to A. A said nothing and gave B a pizza. This can be understood as two according statements because....(applying the rules to the case) There is a contract.. Thus, the requirements of 433 are fulfilled...
5. Thus, A can demand $10 from B.

You may ask yourself why i write this, but my problems are the following:

  1. Hierarchical Structures are very important for this. You have to distinct in "which area" or norm of the civil code, the criminal code etc. could be relevant and then stay "inside my scheme".

  2. What you seem to call "folgezettel" seems to be relevant to as i see it: If i consider a claim after paragraph 433, i have to check x. By checking x, i have to check what x requires, e.g. x1 and x2. Then i go back to the scheme of 433.

  3. Because this goes over 2 years and we also have to potentially know all topics you learn for the first examination as well, i will definitely need some spaced repetition (my scheme was 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months; but i try to be more flexible now) and active recall questions.

  4. So when having different flashcards (now maybe Zettel), i will always need to be able to have a sort of index/overview as well (e.g.: criminal law; murder; trespassing; etc. and see all questions relevant for murder and the subtopics while distinguishing from the irrelvant topics right now)

To sum it up:

a) As i try to keep the focus on studying the certain topics of law only during this two years, would it not be better to have two seperate zettelkasten (private interest and second state examination material)? Maybe it is possible to blend them together afterwards (not so important by the way, i do want to stay in research and wont need most of the things from the second state examination)

b) Would you use tags to have topics and subtopics in one place (could get messy, for the first state examination i had like 3000 flashcards)

c) Would there be a way to "represent" the flashcards principle in Zettlr? e.g. a hidden text on the card, highlighted black or something similar which can be switched very easy

I sure have many more questions on learning in general, especially would like to share how i've worked on papers with word in the past and still do right now (imho very messy). But i guess, this got way too long already.

Thanks for your time and as we say in germany right now: Stay healthy! :)


  • edited May 2020

    *edit: regarding question b), may this be the right place to look deeper into "structural notes" or "outline notes"? And would "folgezettel" be relevant again?

    btw: i plan on taking handwritten notes when i read a book during lectures etc. i feel like it gives me more freedom, especially as i often do tree-diagrams while thinking. Also, i do actually dont like typing or using an ipad stylus and i believe in the studies stating that handwriting is preferable. But i just lost the overview with handwritten flashcards and i dont want more shoe cartons piling up :-D

  • That's a complex problem!

    First, spaced repetition and chunking: For a couple months, I helped a law student at Uni Bielefeld get back on track with the overwhelming material. She developed schemata to tackle cases, and I believe there are "standard" templates in text books for your exams; she found a way to make each template less unique and more composed of known parts, so she wouldn't have to rote-memorize e.g. 20 arbitrary items from a list of things to consider, but could instead memorize 1 sequence of 4 chunks made up of 4--6 items each, or so, and then reuse some chunks for different case templates. It still boils down to memorizing these, e.g. with spaced repetition, and/or through many many many exercises.

    Second, organizing all the stuff: Techniques from the Zettelkasten Method could help bring order. The student I mentioned used knowledge processing techniques in addition to memorizing the basics. That was more useful for an overview of opinion, I think, but I never saw the end result, so I cannot give any advise on this except: try many things thoroughly, stick with what works ... :)

    The Zettelkasten stuff revolves a lot around producing insights. Your main objective is to map out the existing space of German law. That's not necessarily a contradiction, because to create a good map, you have to make it fit your existing knowledge. Second and first brain have to be compatible. So you might come up with explanations, examples, Eselsbrücken, or otherwise funky connections and then take note of these.

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

  • I would actually combine everything so it becomes more of a latticework. I would pretty much add everything to the zettelkasten and make duplicates in the sense that you also add the most important items to the spaced repetition program.

    But by adding everything and turning it into a interconnected web of ideas you are increasing the number of retrieval cues for any piece of information and memory traces.

    Regarding the second state exam material, I would include that but put a #stateExam tag on it, so you can go through afterwards and mass delete the material or selectively delete it if you really don't want it in your zettelkasten. But if it is heavily interconnected with your other material naturally, you might come to the conclusion that it is more valuable than you initially thought.

  • Thanks for your answer guys!!

    I read the Zettlr-manual and some articles which definitely comfort me. Especially the possibility to synchronize and thus have a certain safety (although I need to dig into markdown and the programs further).

    Right know my idea was to not actually use a spaced repetition app like anki droid, but make myself a more flexible plan where the “card house” does not fall because I’m sick for one week etc. So I plan to make a calendar (on paper or in google sheets), where I see when I have recalled a topic the last time and how good I was (ps: I tend to overthink organizational stuff – folder structures etc. really freak me out – so the strict SRS-routine helped me, but it also was much more work than necessary sometimes).

    But yeah, because of copy paste it would be pretty easy to create flashcards parallel to a Zettel – this effort may be worth it. Maybe then I do not need to overload/clutter Zettlr with Zetteln that reflect a “script” somewhere (at least in my mind) AND additionally with Zetteln in flashcard style, although they contain almost the same thought.

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