How do you enter your Zettelkasten?
Hi everyone! I’m interested in getting a sense of how the people on this forum enter their Zettelkästen when looking for notes to link to. Imagine you’re in this situation:
You have some initial reading notes on an article or book chapter (what Ahrens, I think, calls “literature notes” and what, I think, Sasha would call notes outside your Zettelkasten). You want to create some new Zettels from those reading notes. What’s the first thing you do?
Do you write up a Zettel based on some of your reading notes first and then look for related notes to link to? Or do you look for and review related notes you have before writing the new Zettel? How do you typically look for notes to link to? Tag search? Full text search? Structure notes? A topic index/register? Do you experience any resistance while doing this?
Why I’m interested
Over the past few months I’ve been experimenting with two different Zettelkasten setups. The first is in The Archive following the orthodox principles as outlined on this site. The second is in Obsidian, following (largely) @nickmilo22's IMF/MOC/LYT method and (sacrilegiously) using the note titles themselves as IDs.
Using these two setups helped me clarify a bottleneck I’m having. I have a hard time “entering” my Zettelkasten to find old notes to link new notes to. I’m not sure why, but typically when I do a search (tag or otherwise) or even look at one of my structure notes I often become, in David Allen’s words, "numb to the pile” of notes I get. I tend to skim the titles, not immediately see any connections, and end up giving my new note some half-hearted links that I haven’t really thought through.
In my Archive Zettelkasten, I found that using a topic register in the way Luhmann did got me around this problem somewhat. I manually created a topic register that linked topics not to an overview or structure note but just to whatever Zettel I had that was most directly about that topic. When going to add a new Zettel from some reading notes, before I wrote the new Zettel, I would check my topic register to see if I already had notes on the same topic or a closely related topic. If there was, I’d click the link in my register and read whatever Zettel it linked to. Usually it wasn’t directly related to my reading note, so I’d follow some links from it and, in that way, review the notes I already had on the topic. I'd do this until I got to a Zettel I could use to contextualize my reading note, or that my reading note could expand on, or object to, or in some way comment on. I’d then make a new link in the existing Zettel and click through to create my new note. I like this method because it got me to the “ground floor” of my Zettelkasten very quickly and forced me to review a good chunk of the notes I had on a topic, and not just notes I judged to be directly relevant to my new reading notes.
I haven’t been able to replicate this workflow in Obsidian though. Crucial to the way my topic register works is that I can’t see the title of the note associated with a given topic until I click on it. That element of surprise seems necessary to stop me from prejudging the relevance of a note based on its title. But in Obsidian you have to link using the full title of the note, even if it has a date-time ID. This is tempting me to transfer what I have in Obsidian to The Archive.
I’m also not sure how scalable having a manual topic register is. I currently have only 55 topics in my register, ordered alphabetically but maintained manually. It’s manageable now, but I’m not sure what I’d do once it gets to 100 or 200+ topics. Create sub-indexes based on broader topics? (Perhaps I'm being too much of a wimp here; Luhmann, after all, maintained his topic register on paper).
I’ve been thinking about this because, though Luhmann used a topic register to enter his Zettelkasten, the consensus on this forum seems to be that the role played by the topic register is adequately replaced by search and structure notes. This is the motivation behind my questions about how you enter your Zettelkasten. I’ve found search and structure notes unhelpful as entry-points because I seem to have a tendency to prejudge the relevance of a note based on its title. (Structure notes are obviously essential for organizing notes on a topic and getting an overview; i'm not saying they're unhelpful as such).
I’m interested if anyone else has experienced this resistance while using search/structure notes as an entry-point, or if it could be a symptom of me having bad titles/bad tags/bad search queries/sloppy structure notes/etc.