Zettelkasten Forum


Share your folders and note "types" -- here are mine

As many of you know I am new to Zettelkasten.

I'm curious how the interplay between sparing use of folders and "types" (a finite small set of tags on the form) -- for example, when taking notes on a book I consider this a buffer note (I use the haskell type syntax ::buffer ) and place it in my /fleeting notes folder. Fleeting contains anything from ::buffer notes to extracted highlights, to temporary documents etc.

This might become a ::literature note if the ideas in the ::buffer note are reworked to be my own (personal reactions -- things it reminds me of etc)

Finally a literature note becomes ::permanent (and goes in the /zettelkasten folder) when I have massaged it (into one or more) atomic, conceptual, not directly derivative -- but still, of course, referenced and possibly linked to the progenitor ::literature note.

Currently, and I'm in the midst of rethinking this, but my folders and types are as following -- note that any ::type under the /foo folder means that's where I put notes of that ::type. There are a total of 4 folders (or three if you don't count the .obsidian/::key ) and a number of types as seen below.

Any feedback is greatly appreciated.

Folder and Type Structure:

/fleeting
::buffer
::capture (highlights, cut and paste quotations, random thoughts, scans of physical zettles (more on that in another post), images etc)
/keyword
::keyword
/.obsidian
::key -- for example shows that ::permanent is not ::perm and ::literature is not ::lit, or that dd is fully digitized hh handwritten only, hd was hand-written but refactored into digitial-form etc.
/.obsidian/templates
/zettelkasten
::permanent -- anything here is assumed "permanent"
::concept
::structure
::project (I use this like a structure note but with order of sections / chapters, the entries of which are made up usually of links to )::concept notes

Status Markings:

  • S/dd : full digitized only
  • S/hh : hand written only
  • S/hd : scanned hand-written body w/ digitized header (in physical and digital zk)
  • S/dh: digitized and printed (in digital zk and printout placed in physical zk)

Tags (thanks to those for suggesting this approach)

Double hash AMPHSZ (top level tags)

##a arts (music etc)
##m meta (non-content, citation, reference etc)
##p personal or pragmatic (medical, journal etc, finance)
##h philosophy
##s science (math etc)
##z zettelkasten (about)

Inline Block "Item-Type" tags

#itype-proof
#itype-theorem
#itype-definition
#itype-code
etc.

Otherwise I'm very sparing with tags: typically leaving this functionality to the ::concept or ::structure note to have an entry point.
#tags

In summary, I have

  • 3/4 folders
  • Type annotations ::type
  • Inline types for specific blocks #itype-objecttype
  • doublehash top level categories ##a if its a topic about something in the arts (as a composer I use this a lot) etc

Oh, and I use

text here right aligned

a fair bit for page references on the right-hand-side when taking ::buffer/reading notes.

Please share your own structure if your willing and as always any feedback or suggestions are very much appreciated.

Comments

  • I use one folder and one type of note. Tags are anything I happen to think might be useful at some time in the future. I don't believe in establishing categories in advance. I follow Miles and Huberman's idea that I am engaging in an iterative cyclical process, and that that formalisation should emerge from the data rather than being imposed on it before working with it.

  • edited August 25

    @MartinBB said:
    I use one folder and one type of note. Tags are anything I happen to think might be useful at some time in the future. I don't believe in establishing categories in advance. I follow Miles and Huberman's idea that I am engaging in an iterative cyclical process, and that that formalisation should emerge from the data rather than being imposed on it before working with it.

    Same here.

    I've spammed a bunch of high-level structure notes, though, for ease of navigation:

    • inbox (interesting right now),
    • trash (long-term storage) and
    • ready (the notes I'm satisfied with right now).
      Each of them contains links to several thematical notes. E.g. I have "inbox economics", "trash economics" and "ready economics" and move notes between them as needed.
      I use #tags to denote common topics inside those wide areas and between them.

    Trash tends to have a few gigantic notes that I dump stuff into, interspersed with tags for future search.
    Inbox and ready contain notes that I did work with, so they're small and properly indexed.

    I feel that the system is kinda unwieldy. It has 3 notes to begin with and adding another category often requires creating three structural notes from the get go. OTOH it lets me cope with collector's fallacy without getting neurosis and to find stuff I've dumped somewhere because it looked cool.

    Edit: phrasing

    Post edited by emps on
  • One folder and that's it. Structure Notes emerged naturally. They are not strictly a different type but rather just notes that happen to behave different.

    I am a Zettler

  • Will Simpson
    I'm a zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @bradfordfournier Thinking about this a little more, I find myself wondering if your categorisation is actually antithetical to the Zettelkasten method. I had assumed (if I have understood correctly) that Luhmann did not use metadata, unless you count the ID number for each Zettel. One of the things I like about the method is that metadata is pretty much unnecessary. You link things that need to be linked via the ID. A Zettelkasten, it seems to me, is not supposed to be used for categorising things, but for linking ideas together irrespective of their possible category. In fact, one of the advantages of the method is that it brings up collections of notes that go across "category" boundaries. Then again, in my own case I have found that metadata tends to take up far too much time and space. I try to use as little as possible nowadays. I have experience of spending too much time "gardening" the metadata instead of doing something useful.

  • edited August 25

    I don't use metadata either (unless you count the timestamp ID as @MartinBB mentions, and hashtags, both of which are part of the Zettel structure below). Specifically, my Zettels don't contain any YAML, which to me seems to undermine the purpose of Zettelkasten. A guiding principle is to eliminate or reduce extraneous cognitive load. Speaking of type theory, my typing is that of the untyped lambda calculus or ZF set theory: none to speak of.

    There is one directory, named Zettelkasten (for Zettels), and a media sub-directory for images, pdfs, etc. There are no other directories, aside from the directories specific to the applications used to implement a digital Zettelkasten--ordinarily one doesn't interact with them directly. My ZK is implemented with Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTex.

    For me, a Zettel has three parts:

    1. # ID Title
    2. Body of the Zettel, which may include links to other Zettels
    3. tags, if any

    The name of a Zettel is ID.md in this configuration. Since I use Zettlr, I set the option to include the first line with an H1 tag (# in markdown) as the title in Zettlr's pane listing the Zettels in the Zettelkasten directory. It has the virtue that Zettel titles can change without changing Zettel links or the filename of a Zettel. See this comment for details.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    ZK implemented with Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTex.

  • edited August 25

    I don't have anything useful to add to @MartinBB @emps @ZettelDistraction and @sfast except to say that I follow a similar approach to what they have described. If you ever saw the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes", there was an expression that I love - "The secret's in the sauce". Now I know this is totally out of context from its meaning in the movie, but the "secret sauce" in ZK is, I believe, simple (atomic) zettels and connections between zettels that develop and evolve organically. Even the need for structure notes can evolve over time, which I believe is more useful than being imposed from the beginning.

  • Thinking about this even further (always dangerous for me) I wonder if it could be argued that a Zettelkasten is supposed to be "disorganised". I note Luhmann's comment: "One of the most basic presuppositions of communication is that the partners can mutually surprise each other." Luhmann seems to have used his Zettelkasten as a way of "accidentally" bringing up information or ideas that he was not initially thinking of. This seems less likely in a heavily categorised system.

  • edited August 26

    @MartinBB said:
    Thinking about this even further (always dangerous for me) I wonder if it could be argued that a Zettelkasten is supposed to be "disorganised". I note Luhmann's comment: "One of the most basic presuppositions of communication is that the partners can mutually surprise each other." Luhmann seems to have used his Zettelkasten as a way of "accidentally" bringing up information or ideas that he was not initially thinking of. This seems less likely in a heavily categorised system.

    This is an interesting comment. I have struggled with the idea of imposing (what I call) "external structure" on a ZK by the use of structure notes or an index. Many in the forum have discussed how they use (and heavily rely on) the former; some have mentioned using the latter. I can see how both of these improve the speed with which we might enter our ZK to find a particular zettel or line of thinking. But I do that regularly via the excellent search capability in an electronic ZK - something Luhmann couldn't do with his paper system - and I only half-heartedly have and use a few structure notes, mostly to try out that of which others speak so highly. Mostly, I rely on an organic evolution of zettel connections as my "secret sauce".

    Perhaps structure notes become more useful when one has several thousand zettels; I only have about 300 (I don't really care about quantity, but eventually there will be more).

    But I think the main issue is the driving desire of most humans to organize their knowledge and hierarchical systems are the ones with which they are most familiar. So even when they have a new system of knowledge management to explore, they are highly tempted to tweak it, to make it more like something they already know.

    I can see these hybrid systems working, (such as the addition of many structure notes to a ZK). Obviously they do, as many describe herein. But is it necessary to operate a ZK in this manner? I don't really know, but I suspect not.

    Maybe it comes back, as it often does, to why a person is creating a ZK. What is its purpose and what is the purpose of the individual in creating it? How narrow or broad is the ZK? How deep does it go on specific topics? How much time is there to create it? Is it paper or electronic or a combination thereof? How obsessive is the creator about having it "organized" (in a conventional sense)? There are many answers to these questions and thus many ways of creating and managing a ZK.

    Often people new to ZK and this forum will ask "how do I...?" questions that touch either directly or indirectly on the topic of "external structure". Sometimes they come with their own preconceptions of how it should be done, looking for support; other times, they are confused and looking for someone to tell them what to do. I find great wisdom in the responses that say: "There is no perfect way of creating and managing a ZK (in fact, there are many and they are individualized). Here are the basics (atomicity, linking zettels) and here are some other ideas that may or may not help (tags, structure notes, searching, automating work flow, metadata, etc.). Just get started, get some experience, try things out and change what you are doing to improve your own workflow. In fact, expect the process you use to create and manage your ZK to keep evolving. Oh - keep asking questions and share your journey with the rest of us on the ZK forum".

  • @MartinBB said:
    Thinking about this even further (always dangerous for me) I wonder if it could be argued that a Zettelkasten is supposed to be "disorganised".

    Luhmann argued precisely that.

    Niklas Luhmann said:
    For the internal organization of the slip-box and arrangement of notes, it is paramount that we decide against the order and categorization by topics and subtopics. Instead, we choose disorder and fixed location for each card.

    .

    @GeoEng51 said:
    I can see these hybrid systems working, (such as the addition of many structure notes to a ZK). Obviously they do, as many describe herein. But is it necessary to operate a ZK in this manner? I don't really know, but I suspect not.

    I find that structure notes do become more useful as the quantity of notes increases and they become more granular.

  • @GeoEng51 I'm glad you found it interesting: I usually wonder which part of my anatomy I am using for talking :)

    @emps Thank you, that is very useful. I had the impression that @bradfordfournier was going about things the wrong way (for a Zettelkasten). I get the impression that some of the people who have written about the method after Luhmann have really muddied the waters by adding their own ideas. There is no reason why people should not vary the method for their own purposes, but I think it is important to know when you are moving away from the original, and to consider if that is really a good idea.

  • @MartinBB Luhmann tried what he could achieve with paper. He tried to create structure notes and bring more order to his Zettelkasten. ;)

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast Interesting. I can understand the desire for structure notes, but I assume they were created to bring some order to what was already there, rather than being created at the outset and then trying to insert notes into the structure. It is the "direction" of the operation that interests me -- in other words, one looks at what one has got, and perceives a pattern emerging from the data, instead of going the other way by trying to work out what the pattern is in advance. But I suspect that Luhmann's approach was influenced by the fact that he was working in the social sciences. In qualitative data analysis it is common enough to collect data and then try to see if you can detect any patterns. In my work in social psychology it is what I have always done. If you go the other way round, you just get confirmation bias.

    Thanks for that :)

  • I had the impression that @bradfordfournier was going about things the wrong way (for a Zettelkasten). I get the impression that some of the people who have written about the method after Luhmann have really muddied the waters by adding their own ideas.

    To be clear, the point of my post was to learn from others such as yourself: not to say what is right. I don't believe there is singular way of doing much of anything. In fact, if the job of any forum was to simply rewrite what a singular human did, here Luhmann, then there would be no need for forums, websites, different software, software options, plugins and creativity of approach: an elaborated wikipedia page would suffice.

    Besides, if adding one's own ideas muddies waters, then knowledge work would never yield fruitful creativity. This, too, is a form of inflexibility that goes far beyond the inflexibility that a note-type might imbue.

    With that out of the way, I will say a few things re some of the responses, all of which, yours included @MartinBB, are of course valid:

    I do see how metadata could be stultifying and is why I have a never-strict but consistent habit of making sure that:

    • application of metadata is done after a note is written AND
    • metadata, furthermore, as part of the note, isn't static. If a note evolves so does the metadata. I never feel locked into a particular note type. I do not like too many folders however - I find structure notes much for helpful.

    Also, it's worth noting that I work in a large number of fields. My primary research is mathematics, but I'm an avid reader of fiction, I teach music composition, write books on coding, and work part-time as a flight instructor.

    In preparing a manuscript, something I prefer to do inside my ZK, I like structure notes and even manuscript notes -- notes which are like ordered structure notes for sections, subsections, chapters etc as I prepare for publication. These are simply notes of links -- but they contain the structure of the anticipated publication.

    Likewise, inline block-tags are have been key for for tagging code, formulas, etc in notes. Since I've decided not to save code in a separate folder or document, a natural way -- for me -- is to simply make sure the code block is given a descriptive tag for search purposes rather than a top-level tag which would apply to the entire note, something which would feel more restrictive.

    Perhaps my communication was poor, but in summary: fewer folders, fewer hashtags, sparing note types and inline block tagging for mathematics or code (and yes flexible and after-the-fact metadata) has served me well -- so far.

    Again all this is provisional, I'm new to the method, open to ideas and excited to be working with a coach soon.

    I hope this helps clear up any confusion about how I work -- right or wrong.

    B

  • edited August 28

    A confession

    Zettlr has "forced" me to introduce a YAML header when I want to include citations from a [Better]BibTex bibliographic database in a Zettel. This is to set the title of the bibliography section at the end of a document. Defining the bibliography section with header markdown requires the declaration of the bibliography section before any hashtags, which I ordinarily place at the end of the document. (Perhaps I should consider placing them immediately after the Zettel title and before the body. However, the bibliography section might not show up, on account of the next problem.) An attempt to define the bibliography section after the hashtags produces no bibliography output, either within Zettlr or after processing with Pandoc. With the section heading declared before the hashtags, one ends up with the weirdness

    Bibliography

    #hashtag1 #hashtag2 …

    @citation1
    ….

    To avoid this, I am forced to add a short YAML header or else omit hashtags at the end. But aside from that, no YAML. Honest! 本当に本当!

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    ZK implemented with Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTex.

  • @bradfordfournier

    And just to be clear in my turn, I didn't think you were saying you were right, nor did I intend to say you were wrong. I intended to communicate that I had the impression that your process (you seemed to be suggesting that you established categories first and then fitted the notes into those) was likely to lead you into difficulty later on. I believe that "write first, tag later" is a better process, but it seems you are already doing that.

    A further clarification: when I spoke of people muddying the waters, I was not thinking of what you had written. I have observed quite a few people come to these forums having internalised concepts which they have encountered elsewhere, and are surprised to learn were not part of the original conceptualisation of the Zettelkasten. Indeed, some of them seem to have internalised a set of "rules", which they then find to be an obstacle rather than a help. This is a pity, and as I've said more than once in these forums, one of the things that attracts me to the Zettelkasten method is its flexibility, which I think is partly attributable to its "spartan" or minimalist nature. You can add bits on, but I suspect that the more one adds, the more one is storing up problems for the future, if only because it will get laborious to maintain the notes. I've recently found myself hearing various talks by Richard Dawkins and Stephen Pinker, so I've heard the phrase "there are more ways for things to go wrong than for things to go right" several times. This makes me think it is a good idea to keep things simple, an idea that is confirmed by my own experience of trying complicated ways of keeping notes and regularly abandoning them.

    My own PhD in psychology was so unusual that my supervisor observed that we would need to find the right external examiner, or it would never get through. I seem to have a maverick streak that keeps breaking through despite my efforts to be conventional. My first degree was in history of art with Italian, I was then a van driver for a florist, then I taught English language and literature in Italian universities for ten years, then I wrote a book about Napoleon, after which I did an MSc and a PhD in psychology, following by training to be a counsellor/psychotherapist. And I used to be a gliding instructor. So I'm not in favour of keeping strictly on the tracks or against adding one's own ideas per se. It's just that some ideas -- and processes -- are better than others, in my experience. But crossing boundaries is one of the best things one can do in academia, in my view. Cross-fertilisation leads to much more interesting products.

  • @bradfordfournier

    I do pretty much what others said: A single messy folder of notes.

    IMO categories help in the beginning to get an idea of what you should do. They're like the training wheels of a bicycle. But, you have to stop using the training wheels eventually and just follow your heart. I've had a lot more fun with my Zettelkasten after I did that, but others' mileage may vary.

  • @Dilan_Zelsky said:
    @bradfordfournier

    I do pretty much what others said: A single messy folder of notes.

    IMO categories help in the beginning to get an idea of what you should do. They're like the training wheels of a bicycle. But, you have to stop using the training wheels eventually and just follow your heart. I've had a lot more fun with my Zettelkasten after I did that, but others' mileage may vary.

    A bit of an update. I've since moved to a one-folder system. However I still retain the

    • ::type notation to distinguish structure notes, buffer notes (a great suggestion by @sfast), manuscript outlines, and just plain zettles
    • inline type tags which help me find mathematical objects, diagrams, code etc
    • status marks to track if I have something mirrored in my digital zk (in addition to physical)

    Indeed with one folder there IS less overhead and a more fluid process. I'm enjoying it.

  • @bradfordfournier I'm happy to hear that you simplified your system. Have fun with it!

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