Facts in the Zettelkasten
Hey! So I recently started my own Zettelkasten. But all the material you find on it, either on this site or others, always talks about it as a way of storing ideas and talks about it mostly in the abstract. This left me with one big question: How do you handle mere facts inside a your Zettelkasten?
Like dates, for example. Because I'd like to use the Zettelkasten as my only repo for any kind of knowledge I obtain, not just ideas (those may come later.) No one ever seems to talk about the different kinds of content that a Zettel could contain and how to handle them and I would love some concrete examples for this. And I realize that everyone has their own method and that these things evolve over time, but there is already so much structure to this that even examples of different ways of handling this, not just "the one right way", could get me out of my fear of really starting right now.
A second question I still kind of have is regarding scope of cards. This may stem from the fact that I'm doing it digitally, but I would love to see an example for how someone structured their Zettel on the "Zettelkasten" concept somewhere. Because as many others probably, I chose that as the topic of my first Zettel and find it hard to break into multiple Zettel.
Any concrete examples would be greatly appreciated.
P.S. Don't take this as a criticism of the amazing work you people are doing on this site! It's of great value and I'm super thankful that you took the time of producing all of this writing to get me started.
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You first: could you give a concrete example of content that you would like us to pour our combined wisdom about into this thread? Maybe a sample quote from somewhere?
Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/
An example for a fact might me something like "The Boston Tea Party happened on December 16, 1773." and with regards to scope and structure I would really love to see someone's example of ideally multiple Zettel on the Zettelkasten itself.
There's a few options you can use, and which can be in fact connected:
make a standalone Zettel about that date, be done with it. You may later add further information about this, like context, or fore- and backlinks to dates that happens later/earlier. This style leads to a high amount of Zettels and very high amount of interconnections, and the Zettels are highly reusable - you may use the Zettel for example have one corpus of notes that talks about the American revolution in general; one corpus talking about the modern tea party and it's history; one corpus about the political climate in 1773 (which you may use as reference for a later history thesis about why this-and-that person was beheaded instead of hanged in 1774, for example).
Make fact Zettels that bunch up a few facts, like "Boston Tea party: Timeline". This tidies up the ZK, but means that the Zettel is much less like a universal Lego brick. You essentially pre-create the corpus of facts in (1), which can be on one hand inflexible, but on the other hand can add context and quick-overflyability of a topic. Maybe include a picture, or a Excel spreadsheet with data, or an excerpt of the source for context. In this style, you can create Wikipedia-style notes about a topic.
Omit facts and instead cite the source for the facts in Zettels where you need that fact. Tidies up even more, but leads to the problem that you need to insert sources in all Zettels that are relevant. You also can't have a discussion of the fact itself in a separate Zettel. A good thing on the other hand: You'll have to check the source again before citing it in an external work, which means you see if the available information changes. This style is in my opinion not preferable for a ZK, but may be necessary when information gets updated and thus out of date regularly. It would be for example bad to cite old demographics or census data to make a point in an argument when newer one is available.
I'm much in favor of style 1 for regular knowledge work. I use style 3 rarely and just for often-changing information. 2 has potential: I maintain lists of quotes about a topic or sheets of dates/places this way.
Here's a picture of a factoid, style 1, in my Zettelkasten. Sorry for it being in German. Note the links in the reference section, linking the current Zettel to topics that are mentioned in the current text, for context.
[ZK-00410e006] Tacturn: In Place 90°
Another approach is to start a hub note around the Boston Tea Party. Then a separate note like "The Revolt's Timeline" could be a fact-filled note that would be linked from there. This along with contextual links to literature notes from books and papers on the history of the tea party and its consequences.
Like @gescho said above,
Here is a sample. This is the structure note of the first draft of an essay I wrote a few months ago. Notice the link to Snake River Geology which is a fact-filled reusable note on the physical geology of the formation of the Snake River that divides Idaho and Oregon. This note is used here to fill out the essay.
The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan
@drdoubt I ran into this problem also. My solution was to create a dual structure, with one folder being Zettelkasten and the other being Wiki. I can easily link between two folders. I put definitions and most factual knowledge in the wiki, the information that isn’t being used directly to develop ideas in the Zettelkasten but more add context (say I forget what a term means), I can pop over it. Similar to how on e readers you can highlight text and select “define”.
So far it has been the wiki notes interlinking with other notes in wiki, while Zettelkasten notes link to other Zettelkasten notes and wiki notes.
I think the confusion arises with a lot of people because they are using their Zettelkasten to learn established knowledge more than to push their thinking and develop ideas or topics. So they find themselves creating a lot of factual notes instead of conceptual and argumentative notes. And this feels weird to people because it feels like they are just creating another wiki and not “Zettelkasten” which might be fuzzily defined still in their mind.
The trick is to understand here that you need both to a degree. The learning and wiki are the foundational knowledge that one learns before extending their thinking beyond the established thought to new ideas and open for debate ideas/arguments.
Hope that helps
Thanks a lot guys, all three of your posts were super helpful! I think this gives me more confidence to just start and see where it goes.
As I think I will go with @gescho 's first approach, just two more things:
1.) Would you all recommend creating a Zettel with the date as the title and then writing what happened on that date on it or with something like "Date of the Boston Tea Party" and then the date on it?
2.) I'm using Notion as my Zettelkasten and am wondering if I need some kind of ordering here or if I even need to prepend my Zettel titles with the date string as many seem to do? I have it set-up as a database that has the creation date as one of the columns right now but no ordering inside a topic for example, only links.
That would make sense for me if I used my Zettelkasten as a daily diary, where the boundary of a diary Zettel is, well, just the date. For historical stuff, like the Boston Tea Party, it makes more sense to me to add this descriptive title. Just compare "2019-11-11" vs "Carnival 2019"; the latter carries so much more info.
Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/
I totally agree with your point of view.
I was initially "worried" about not being able to obtain a "full-concept-oriented" set of notes, but now I find that the set of wiki notes, concept notes and "personal" (idea, opinions, point of views) notes (or mixed notes about these contents, too) that I have now is very suitable for my needs. During my day and work I need to think, but I need to learn and I need references to "things" too, so I need different kind of contents.