Zettelkasten Forum

On titles

Apologies for this neophyte question! I'm totally new to the ZK Method- after a lot of reading and learning, am starting notes today. I've read that zettel titles can be as straightforward as "definition of x and y." And elsewhere, have noted that using titles that are more expansive (e.g. one of you used "human movement" eventually rather than "morning exercise") can be helpful. Does it help future "zetteling" to contemplate this in advance, and to think of titles that are expansive? (I'm using the paper ZK method.)

Example: In titling the zettel on proprioception, which starts with a definition, would it be more of a catalyst for creativity to instead begin with the category of "movement in space" or "movement + space" which might include other notions? (I realize this question has a flavor of categorization, but the intention is to broaden and create a little productive entropy rather than narrow.

Also in a related question, have started using colored index cards. However, I can see how this might cause me, at least at first, to categorize a bit (proprioception is blue, interoception is green, etc.) Would this eventually resolve in productive entropy, or should I avoid color in the cards altogether? Thanks! :D


  • There's a post discuss this idea in the past. At that time, I focused
    on the searching functionality of the title. And I further extend it
    into more structured notes on how to find the relevant information
    within my Zettelkästen. As you can see, searching title is one of the
    methods to find the information.

    • from title fuzzy search result
    • from structure notes
    • from fuzzy search all my notes including content
    • from my customized functions
    • from my daily to navigate zk
    • from glossary note to enter zk

    What I need to add new things to my old thoughts is about writing a
    summary. It is like writing a commit message to the changes of your
    code. It is not a trivial task to write a perfect summary with one

  • edited March 2021

    This may be heresy, but why give titles to your physical notes? The cards are small enough already and a quick glance will capture the essence. A very brief look at Luhmann's archive, even though I can't read German, I sense that many of his note cards are title-less. Maybe just some simple underlining to attract the eye. The id is the title.

    Luhmann's archive is quite developed. 64000+ cards scanned so far and many are linked. Wow!

    The reason there is so much focus on titling here is that this is how keyword searching is done and referencing between notes with an electronic archive. Not so with physical cards, you are only searching for card "" and the title will not help you at all.

    Post edited by Will on

    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.

  • edited March 2021

    I've found Andy Matuschak's advice to be very good:

    Not all of my notes follow this, but many do, and the more I do it the more power I see in my own notes.

    Essentially it advocates making your note titles into positively-worded claims so they can (a) be standalone claims with the support for the claim in the note, and (b) standalone claims can be woven together in various sequences through different outline notes to build different bodies of your own knowledge.

    So for your proprioception example I would try to identify and distill principles where possible. For example:

    • [[Proprioception is required for meaningful environment interaction]]
    • [[Proprioception quality degrades with age]]
    • [[Limb position and movement are signaled by a network of mechanoreceptors]]
    • [[Proprioception is an emergent phenomenon from mechanoreceptor feedback loops]]


    That outline may then go into an outline note simply titled Proprioception or Principles of human movement in space or whatever you want to call it.

    The key thing is you can then create a completely separate outline (perhaps corresponding to a writing project you plan to work on) that has some of these principles (possibly in different order/grouping) along with some principles from other areas you have written up as well.

    That's how I try to look at it anyway. Hope that helps.

    NB: Some people prefer to have a unique ID (e.g. timestamp) in the title, some don't. I do, but in my case the UID is at the end so the title remains readable in narrative flow. Most others put the UID in the front.

  • @davecan Wow, thank you for the time and energy and effort you put into this comment- and for making it proprioception-friendly!

    It's helpful to see your process. Initially I started with a note entitled "Proprioception Definition." But that felt flat and two-dimensional. I changed it then, to one entitled "Proprioception combines movement awareness and spatial awareness," which keys me in (even though it might not seem to hint at this) to peripersonal space. And the note that followed from and connects to that is titled, "Proprioception is Relational" because even the perception of movement is always in relation to space and to "other." There's a third one titled, "Proprioception is essential to our sense of self in the world."

    That said, I'm glad to see that you're advocating for some notes just entitled "Proprioception" or "Principles of human movement in space." I think I was feeling pressure to, as you say, to come up with complete phrases... or even more, to come up with unique insights for each title.

    And as you hint at, I'm working on a book due this year, so I'm trying to minimize the learning mistakes and errors. The first time I read about the ZK Method, it felt instinctively that this kind of note-taking and relational inquiry had been missing from my work forever, and that this would seriously uplevel the quality (and yes, speed) of my work, particularly the really tough slogs through 30-page research papers that feel very mechanistic.

    I do have an outline for the proprioception chapter, and because I'm so new to ZK, I'm in the strange position of moving notes from the outline to the ZK, but also trying to free up the hierarchy as I do.

    Thanks again- much appreciated! :)

  • @bforbes Happy to help!

    Given your goals you may also want to read:

    And for example Andy-style outlines:

    While my outlines increasingly look similar to that, in my own outlines I also have some narrative text as either unlinked bullets or surrounding portions of the outline, as needed.

    Note also that I would be perfectly content to create definition notes in my system, and do so routinely when specific terms are defined and capturing that definition is useful to me. I also distinguish between definitions by authors and definitions of my own. My definition notes are titled simply def. Title similar to academic blackboards. I also link freely between them and other notes as needed.

    For example, while reading Mortimer Adler's text How to Read a Book I created a literature note titled How to perform Analytical Reading and near the beginning of that note I have the following:


    • [[def. Analytical Reading]]
    • [[Analytical Reading is a very complex skill]]
      This is a common pattern I'm finding, where it is useful to link to the definition at the start of a note that involves that definition. This isn't strictly "Andy-compliant" but it works for me.

    Hope that helps!

  • I have plenty of notes with "definition" in the title -- and others with "quote", or even the name of an author. So, for example, I have one note titled Epoché - definition - Colman (the name alerts me to where I got the definition from). I just happen to find this helpful. Others have other systems. I don't believe one should be purist about this sort of thing. Each of us has a unique cognitive apparatus, and while it may resemble that of other people in many respects, the combination of features is ours and ours alone. The internet is awash with ideas of how one should do things (or at least, that is how many people interpret such articles). Such ideas can be useful or inspiring, but I feel they should be digested and adapted, rather than swallowed whole.

Sign In or Register to comment.