Zettelkasten Forum

Differences between Buffer Notes, Outline Notes, and Structure/Index Notes

I've gathered that there are three types of notes that serve to consolidate other zettel notes and do not serve as informational sources themselves: buffer notes, outline notes, and structure/index notes.

They've been discussed separately in various articles and forum comments. Can we take a moment to summarize them in one post to make sure their differences are crystal clear?

I'm going to take a stab at this, please correct me where I'm wrong. Or even if I'm missing a type of note that fits this category, please clarify!

  1. Buffer note: serves as the collection of note references that are grouped and will eventually head somewhere else. The clusters of notes in a buffer note will either be transferred to an outline note, i.e. for an active writing project already underway, or the buffer note itself will turn into an active project, in which case it becomes an outline note.

  2. Outline note: initially used to form topic headings and subtopic headings that break out a writing project. Zettel references are either already in the outline if it originally was a buffer note before, or you start to fill in between the topic and subtopic headings with zettel references. From there you convert zettel references into the actual body text of the zettel themselves, and there you have a first draft.

  3. Structure / Index notes: the main difference that I see here is that these notes are not intended to become a writing project or to assist a writing project. They remain in the archive and mainly serve to add "structure" or a "table of contents" around a specific topic to help you grasp the bigger picture that otherwise wouldn't become clear from having separate zettels that you must link through.

A couple follow-up questions:

  • Structure note vs Buffer note: What's the difference between a buffer note that is serving as an "inactive project" and a structure note? Aren't they basically serving the same purpose up until the buffer becomes active?
  • Keeping buffer notes in archive: I've heard it written that buffer notes don't actually add to the content of an archive. I want to challenge this because the clusters that are formed in a buffer note seem to add value in linking and associating notes together, just like a structure note (which again brings up the question as the difference between the two). So can this be addressed again as to whether there is value in keeping buffer notes in the archive?


  • @Sascha I'd really love your thoughts here as you've been an instrumental proponent of developing notes for structure within the Zettel for quite some time.

  • Difference between buffer and structure notes

    Buffer notes are not structured. You just type away as you think around a new note.

    Keeping buffer notes in the archive

    Buffer notes are quite messy. :smile:

    If you structure them they become structure notes. :wink:

    I am a Zettler

  • edited March 2018

    @Sascha still a bit vague, and I'm wondering if the term "outline" and "buffer" has been used interchangeably in the past, because the whole thing seems to grow organically from loose mental dumps, slowly into cluster, then into outlines.

    You've commented before that you always like to add a new note to an outline so that you can organically grow your writing. It sounds like you're keeping this note in org-mode because the organization part of the brain is at play.

    So what's the difference between this and building out clusters of note references in a buffer note, which seems to stay in the Archive? What's the mental shift here from the previous example -- perhaps that you haven't created enough organization to call it an outline and put in org-mode?

    It sounds like then that when you create a new note, you must then check BOTH buffer notes and outline notes in two different software programs to place it into a relevant outline/buffer note. Is that efficient for you?

    BTW: These questions are always specific, not because I'm so concerned with your actual software utilization but so I can pull out the implications behind the actions and find the principles and logic.

  • No, it is all in The Archive. :smile:

    A buffer is a dump for quickly jotting down associations. A outline note is a hierarchical note. I attach you two pictues:

    1. A buffer note
    2. A outline note

    I am a Zettler

  • edited March 2018

    @Sascha excuse my confusion but I wonder if we're using different terminology for different things. Is the second picture you sent a "structure" note in the archive vs. an "outline" for a writing project?

    I just want to be clear that you put your project-based outlines outside of The Archive, as you wrote about here. On Number 3 under Task Management you write the below, which I assumed was in org-mode or another text editor.

    I create a new task, copy the ID and title of the note as reference and create a small outline for the text.

    My assumption here is that buffer notes build up notes unstructured. If they become structured enough but are not for a writing project they can be transformed into a structure note with an ID and go "into" The Archive. Or, if they become a writing project, the outline gets structured and goes into your org-mode. This is what I mean by "outline".

    Is this correct?

  • Ah, no. Two different stories. Outline notes are for writing projects.

    When I have a note that is the starting point of an article I paste it into my org and write a short outline for an article.

    Outline notes are a special kind of structure notes.

    The outlines in my org are not structured content but rather writing instructions.

    I am a Zettler

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