Zettelkasten Forum

What features does my ZK software need to have to facilitate doing knowledge work in the field of en


I'm super close to finding ZK software that suits my needs. However, I've just realized that I'll do engineering next year in college, so I'll be dealing with subjects such as math, geometry, chemistry, and physics. As a side note, I don't know what career to pursue yet, so I'm only mentioning the previous subjects because I think they are in all engineering careers, although I may be wrong.

My question is: What should I look for in a ZK software to be able to see in the editor things necessary for those subjects, such as geometric figures, formulas, molecules, etc? E.g., say I wanted to add some mathematical equation like lim_{x \to \infty}x=\infty to a note for whatever reason. What should the program have or be able to do to display said formula? The same goes for molecules and the like.

I'm not interested in an image-capturing solution. An image can't be so updated so easily or quickly, but something like the previous equation can be edited at any time without any complications and fast.

I appreciate your comments in advance.


  • Hi @Senketsu , I studied engineering so I understand the need for more rich content.

    The equation you wrote is in the TeX / LaTeX format, so if the editor (and viewer) supports LaTeX syntax of some sort, then you are good to go. Many markdown viewers support this, so I think you got plenty to choose from. Usually they also bring some chemical formula support, but I am less sure about that.

    I am not quite sure how to answer the rest of your question; if you want support for "geometric figures, formulas, molecules etc.", well... then you need support for "geometric figures, formulas, molecules etc." :wink: My advice would be to keep it simple and stick to LaTeX formulas and images. This will work in most apps and will cover a good portion of use cases. Then when you understand your needs better, you can adapt your tools exactly where needed.

  • edited April 2021

    Allow me to suggest a software combination to try out--you don't necessarily have to provide highly detailed requirements in advance before anyone can offer software suggestions likely to helpful:

    If you are creating documents with computable statistics and graphical GIS elements, you might consider Bookdown with R. This might need to be integrated with your Zettelkasten--I haven't tried it yet, but I intend to try it out with my Zettelkasten. I don't know what the options are for interactive molecular modeling, dynamics, structural biology etc--these are likely to be computationally expensive.

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0. Problems worthy of attack / prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

  • edited April 2021


    Thanks for mentioning that I should adapt my toolkit once my requirements are clearer. I realize that it's unnecessary to prepare everything in advance if I choose my software wisely, such as ensuring easy migration. So I'll just go simple, and adapt when needed.

    Also, I'll make sure my software of choice supports LaTeX. Thanks.

  • @ZettelDistraction

    Thank you for the suggestions. I'll give them a try.

    Also, could you share your workflow with the software combination you recommended?

  • edited April 2021

    If you think you really need formulae and shapes more often, maybe a 'programmable notebook' (or whatever they are called) fits best, with the base being the R programming language or Python to express the shapes and math formulae, and the plain note text is more like a comment inside the code.

    The separation of plain text note and a MathJax preview would get on my nerves at least if I had to work with that all day every day.

    This puts an emphasis on these features, and Zettelkasten-style hyperlinks may not be possible, so all I can provide is pointers, but you'd have to research the Zettelkasten-ability yourself :)

    There's an open source web notebook for this stuff that I heard people like very much:

    I never tried to use WYSIWYG LaTeX editor LyX as a Zettelkasten note archive/editor, but it might work. I think vector shape preview works there, too, judging from the screenshots. Fomulae work really well in that app, that's for sure. But it might be a bit clumsy to switch between notes: https://www.lyx.org/

    Then there's Emacs and org-mode... You have the ability to link between notes there, so the Zettelkasten-part of the workflow is taken care of. You can program the editor to automatically make your formulaic expressions be transformed into PNGs that are then shown in the editor. Vector shapes should work as well. But getting used to Emacs is no small feat, and figuring out how to get everything working is probably taking half of your study time :) It's the most extensible option and if your that kind of nerd, you might love to get used to Emacs for all your academic writing and note-taking and email and calendar and task management and ...

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • I thought of a note I could actually share, which shows a mix of mathematical expressions and plots:

    Blue words are links

    I use TiddlyWiki, but many of the ideas apply to other tools. Math, like λ = 0, is written using LaTeX, which has the added benefit that it can be copy-pasted into a paper or report.

    With figures, like the plot, I put a line below it (in italics) noting where it came from. I have benefitted quite a lot from having plots in my notes, as it is often needed to give right context/perspective for some observation.

    The plot above is generated. In this case, the Mathematica notebook is named 2020-05-07.nb, so that I can quickly find the figure and edit it if needed. Maybe the notebooks (either Jupyter or such) could be used directly as @ctietze suggested -- some people have written entire books in these, so the tooling might be there. It might be worth checking out.

    There are no references in the above note, but I will second @ZettelDistraction 's suggestion on Zotero and betterBibTeX. If you don't know it, Zotero is a reference manager, which quickly becomes invaluable when you get gist. I use it very simply by just copying and pasting the reference name, which looks something like this: kschischangOptimalNonuniformSignaling1993. The same name/ID can be used when writing papers in LaTeX.

    I shudder a bit in suggesting so much "just copy-paste" and "don't bother with integrations", when I really am a strong advocate for more fully-featured tooling and integrations, but there is such a massive flexibility to really simple and composable tools.

  • @ctietze

    Hey, thanks for the reply!

    I'll do research on the programmable notebook suggestion. However, I'll follow henrikenggaard's advice and keep it simple: I'll use LaTeX for math, then images for everything else while adding a footer explaining where I can find the image and files associated with it, and adjust my toolkit when needed. In other words, I'll get software with LaTeX support, then worry about engineering stuff later.

    Regarding Emacs, I'm aware of its steep learning curve. I don't want to overcomplicate myself, so I'll go with either Obsidian or Zettlr. When I feel ready, I'll migrate to Emacs because I find it quite promising.

    As a side note, I've been using gedit all this time, but it's starting to become a hindrance.

  • @henrikenggaard

    I like your approach: LaTeX for math, and images for everything else plus a footer explaining the origin of the image. It's a simple and unexpected solution, and I love it.

    From the feedback here and in r/Zettelkasten, I've concluded to go for Obsidian, worry about engineering stuff later, and check out Zotero and BibTex.

    Thanks to everyone for the awesome feedback!

  • @Senketsu

    If you are thinking about engineering, there are other options than the ones you mentioned. I encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open when you attend school. Usually the various engineering departments have information booths and evenings, where you can find out more about what they do.

    Also, the first year of engineering exposes you to many different disciplines, so you can judge your interest then.

    I did undergraduate engineering in the early 1970's (eons ago) at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada. I had a vague idea that I would go into chemistry but the experiences of my first year convinced me that geological engineering was where my interests really

  • @GeoEng51

    Thanks for your advice. I'll keep it in mind.

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