Zettelkasten Forum

Newbie - wondering what is the point of tags?

I'm new to Zettelkasten and have just found this forum and blog. I'm a writer - I was doing a literature PhD - and I'm looking at ways to collate my various reading and to easily 'remember' and access connections. I'm confused as to the value of tagging if whatever I'm using for my Zettelkasten has a good search function? For example, I can see why I might add tags for 'self' or 'Camus', but equally, if a search would bring up those terms what advantage is there to having tags as well?


  • @michaelamherst you are right that with the right software for your Zettelkasten, search is the most powerful tool. Tags do some work but are not quite as useful as it might seem. In the example you present, tags probably wouldn't help. But they can be helpful in small ways as your Zettelkasten grows.

    This is so hard to get your head around when you are getting started because you have so few notes. At first, I thought tags were great and tagged the bejesus out every note. Then I got disillusioned and didn't tag anything. Now I use few tags and only when I see that the note body doesn't contain appropriate contextual phrasing. I also use tags to group literature notes and to group my hub notes. I tend to remove and change tags form time to time and usually don't tag notes at first but tag them later when they pop up in a search. (Search is really a question I'm asking my Zettelkasten.) This will not become apparent until you have hundreds of notes. But eventually, searching becomes more difficult and exacting. When thinking about search, a search term must appear in the text to be found. And you must add it when creating the note! Who knows exactly what you'll be searching for, what questions you'll ask your Zettelkasten in the future? Tags are more contextual information on which you can search.

    Small example. Search for the term 'self'.
    Note 1 contains the term self and is relevant in search
    Note 2 contains the term selflessness and might be relevant but will be in the hit list
    Note 3 contains the term damselfly, a note about aquatic life, and is not relevant but will be in the hit list
    Note 4 doesn't contain the term self but is about Antonio Damasio's discussion of neuroanatomy but might be very relevant.

    If notes 1 & 4 were tagged with #self then the hit list would be pure gold.

    This is only a small example and you'd right to say you'd be able to see through this but consider if you were presented via the search with 42 notes and all you saw were their titles. And if you use your Zettelkasten to nurture your entire knowledge globe and not just a Ph.D. then things will eventually get more complicated.

    Searching is not the only function of tags. This may be a subtle distinction but tags can be used to group notes together in ad-hoc ways. Some of us use tags like #2do #current_work #in_process #inbox #literature_notes #hubs and others. These can be added and subtracted as needed. Saved searches can be set up to capture all this work to be done in one list.

    Will Simpson
    I must keep doing my best even though I'm a failure. My peak cognition is behind me. One day soon I will read my last book, write my last note, eat my last meal, and kiss my sweetie for the last time.

  • That is so helpful, Will, thank you so much - also makes total sense. As an aside, your research interests strike a chord with me too - I look forward to learning more. Thanks again.

Sign In or Register to comment.