Zettelkasten Forum


MS/Word as the single tool for the Zettelkasten

Hi,
I wonder whether it would be feasible to have MS/Word as the single tool for the Zettelkasten since it is possible to write hyperlinks to connect to other Zettels (Word slips).
MS/WORD also has a tool to manage the bibliography references.
In this case, each Zettel (Word-created slips) would be filed at the Onedrive or some.
Have you analyzed this situation?
Kind regards,
Ciro

Comments

  • @cirocso said:
    Hi,
    I wonder whether it would be feasible to have MS/Word as the single tool for the Zettelkasten since it is possible to write hyperlinks to connect to other Zettels (Word slips).
    MS/WORD also has a tool to manage the bibliography references.
    In this case, each Zettel (Word-created slips) would be filed at the Onedrive or some.
    Have you analyzed this situation?
    Kind regards,
    Ciro

    OK, so one Zettel would be a Word file ? I see three problems.

    1. First of all, you'll need to make researches inside files sometimes… In fact, a lot of time. Once your Zettelkasten will grow, you'll need a central tool to index your notes, and only them. On Windows, we don't have the Apple tool to index files efficienly so I would recommend you to use DocFecter^1 or Anytext^2
    2. Frictions. You'll need to create a new file, you have to open Word, to click link. While writing in markdown on a dedicated environment is quick and don't make you loose time, you'll have to manually apply every style. You will also have to navigate thanks to your mouse, as keyshort cuts are non-existent to navigate between files. While making a new file and navigate between the newest and the older takes me two keyboards touch, you'll need more manipulation to make the same things. Every manipulation count, because at the end of the day, the small drops of water make a river of tiring.
    3. Plain text ! :) What if Microsoft starts to change the way their editor interpretes inner code of files ? You'll loose readibility on your notes.

    So, it is not a bad idea to work with an editor that you know and you feel familiar with. However, maybe should I recommand you to at least work with .txt files with it.

    ^1 : DocFetcher is a open source software that makes indexes with only folders of your choice, you'll need to install Java : DocFecter
    ^2: Anytxt search for any text files on your computer. Free and proprietary here : Sourceforge - Anytxt

  • Loni,
    I understand. Thank you very much for your time dedicating this explanation.

  • @cirocso said:
    Hi,
    I wonder whether it would be feasible to have MS/Word as the single tool for the Zettelkasten since it is possible to write hyperlinks to connect to other Zettels (Word slips).

    Theoretically, nothing would stop you, although it would be cumbersome. Basically, you'd have one file per zettel and then perhaps lean heavily on structure notes - files that direct you to other zettels. I'm not sure how searching on key words would work.

    The main problem I see is that a Word file is not straight text; it has an exclusive MS format that could change with time. Most people creating a ZK want their zettels in plain text files.

  • @GeoEng51 said:
    Most people creating a ZK want their zettels in plain text files.

    If you will forgive my saying so, I don't think we have any way of knowing what "most people creating a ZK" do! The people who visit these forums may be only a small subset of those who create ZKs, and short of conducting an extensive survey, we cannot find out. I know from haunting the forums for Tinderbox, DEVONthink and TheBrain, that there are various people out there who use those programs to create Zettelkastens, and only in the case of DEVONthink can the Zettels use simple plain text files (TheBrain is a special case in which the Zettels will be Markdown, but stored in a multiplicity of folders). In DEVONthink it is possible to create a ZK using RTF files, which has some advantages. (I can already hear some people insisting that RTF files are a dead end and not portable, but I have notes that I wrote in 1995 in RTF that I can still access and edit without trouble, so RTF does seem to refuse to die just yet.)

    However, to address the original question, using MS Word for a ZK seems far from ideal. Possible, but cumbersome. If you want it to be cross-platform, then a program like Obsidian would be much preferable. There are no doubt others that could be used.

    Cheers!

  • justmy2cents:

    In general, a distinction should be made between the Zettelkasten as a principle/method and its technical implementation (e.g. plain text files). Each technical implementation has its advantages or disadvantages compared to the others. Although these can also be subjective.

    Word would therefore also be conceivable. And quite honestly, I've been working professionally with word files for 30 years now and, despite the format change from .doc to .docx, I haven't had a file that I created myself and couldn't open anymore. It has happened before with exchanged files. The risk is low, although higher than with plain text files. And I don't think Microsoft will be quick to back down either.

    Incidentally, I tested the LexiCan software on my journey in search of a suitable tool for my Zettelkasten. The works with Word files as "storage medium". It's great software in itself, but I was put off by the fact that a database runs in the background and that the files are named with an ID that can only be read by the program.

    I think you can use many of the principles that are mentioned here in the blog/forum if you work with Word. But I would keep it simple (see The Anatomy of a Zettel).

    The bibliography might be a nice feature, but it's kind of an embedded database. That means you have to open an extra mask. It remains to be seen whether this makes sense given the often small number of references per note.

    And I wouldn't use hyperlinks if it's possible for you to change the name of a file.
    Since Word doesn't update hyperlinks, the link would be dead.
    That's the beauty of Sascha's and Christian's approach. A link isn't a hyperlink, it's "a saved search" (I think Will said that in a post once).

    Since Word is from Microsoft, Windows Explorer offers more input, search, filter and display options than for other file formats. However, he has some problems with hashtags/special characters (it should work, but I don't know how anymore). But you could put the keywords in the metadata of the file, for example. Windows Explorer will then show you all the keywords used in the system.

    I'm totally with @MartinBB. One has the feeling (due to the hype surrounding Roam, Obsidian, Logseq, etc.) that the world of PKM software only consists of plain text approaches, but other solutions also help to solve the PKM problem. The plain text approach will certainly deter some people, especially when it is no longer just about the notes. I love what some people get out of Obsidian (e.g. dashboards), but when I then see the templates with only code, it's over my head. I could imagine that others feel the same way and then use programs that may not be as flexible, but don't pose the problem that they first have to "learn to program" before they can get started.

  • @myn_user said:
    I could imagine that others feel the same way and then use programs that may not be as flexible, but don't pose the problem that they first have to "learn to program" before they can get started.

    Well, there is a full world between learning Emacs and using things like Typora or MarkText. I've found myself struggling much more to use Word or Writer than simpler apps.

    Spending a little time to learn how to use a software may be profitable in the long run, because you'll gain time and energy while no wasting time to fastidious manipulations.

    And quite honestly, I've been working professionally with word files for 30 years now and, despite the format change from .doc to .docx, I haven't had a file that I created myself and couldn't open anymore.

    Lucky you :) I've lost years of work… It was my first novels, no worth a thing, but it was a sweet remembers to keep.

    While I agree to not be blind for others solutions and I accept being open-minded about learning new skills may be a hard path to follow, I would not recommand someone to use other things that plain text files. I would understand, but not recommand it.

  • @Loni said:
    I would not recommand someone to use other things that plain text files

    Speaking as someone with a background in psychology, I would counter this by observing that a problem with plain text files is that they do not take advantage of two things that are known to improve mental processing and memory, as well as usability of interfaces: colour, and spatial arrangement. Here are two articles rapidly plucked from the internet that deal with these questions:

    Using space to remember: Short-term spatial structure spontaneously improves working memory

    The Influence of Colour on Memory Performance: A Review

    And this:

    The Surprisingly Powerful Influence of Drawing on Memory

    Not to mention this fascinating interface for the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy:

    https://visualizingsep.com/#/entries/russell/

    There has, of course, been a recent discussion on these forums on visual aspects of note-taking:

    https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/2200/anybody-using-visual-note-taking-and-zettelkasten-would-love-to-hear-your-experience

    I'm certainly not against plain text -- I try to use it myself. But I do worry in that following this "fashion" for it we are depriving ourselves of some important and valuable tools in our work. What we really need are tools in which the visual and the textual are equal partners, so we do not have to make do with uneasy and clunky collaborations between them. I have been searching for such a tool for a long time, because plain text is simply not enough for me (I have been using mind mapping on paper since about 1972). I have never found a tool that satisfies me fully, but I will keep on looking.

  • Thank you @MartinBB for feeding me with all this passionate articles ! <3

    But I do worry in that following this "fashion" for it we are depriving ourselves of some important and valuable tools in our work.

    I hear your concern, and I agree with you.

    There are two problems :

    • Longevity of notes : we can lose them between evolution of softwares, machines, etc.
    • Usability : let's considerate the number of steps necessary to take notes.

    And, if I understand the thread you shared, these questions are questions for them as well. Memory is important, and I agree with you : beautiful interface brings beautiful results. I am style an illustrator at core, after all !

    Writing and drawing a Zettelkasten by hand is time consuming, right now, and cut off the possibility to have full text research. It would be nice to find and "in between" solution.

  • edited April 6

    @Loni said:

    • Longevity of notes : we can lose them between evolution of softwares, machines, etc.
    • Usability : let's considerate the number of steps necessary to take notes.
      ...
      Writing and drawing a Zettelkasten by hand is time consuming, right now, and cut off the possibility to have full text research. It would be nice to find and "in between" solution.

    Longevity of notes:

    Tinderbox has plenty of visual affordances (colour, space, backgrounds, shapes, etc) as well as text, but also has considerable flexibility in export (HTML, Markdown, Pandoc, etc.). So something you could do with Tinderbox which is difficult to do with other tools is to export an entire Zettelkasten as a website, complete with all the links between Zettels. The reference for the program is a website derived from a single Tinderbox file:

    https://acrobatfaq.com/atbref9/index.html

    It is updated regularly, from the Tinderbox file itself. The first version of the website was published in 2005. The underlying architecture of Tinderbox files is XML, which is widely used, and it is possible to extract data direct from an XML file.

    TheBrain has been available since 1998 (I believe) and is capable of exporting an entire file to JSON or plain text. Once again, I believe JSON export preserves links between items. You can also make websites with TheBrain:

    https://jerrysbrain.com

    I will be seventy in the summer. I believe the average life-expectancy for a male in the UK is seventy-nine. So nine years might be all I need, if I am lucky :) Others will, I hope, need longer!

    Usability:

    Of all the tools I have experimented with, I think TheBrain is about the fastest and most fluid I have found when it comes to creating and linking items. It is also very fast when it comes to rearranging items, editing, adding material, etc. It is certainly not what I would consider a difficult program to use, though it requires an adjustment in thinking to get used to it.

    Tinderbox is challenging. It will do things no other program can (as far as I can tell) but it takes some effort to learn it.

    I certainly would not envisage writing and drawing a Zettelkasten by hand, but I certainly could envisage using Tinderbox or TheBrain for a Zettelkasten, in order to exploit the greater visual possibilities they offer.

    But it all depends on what you want to do. One man's meat is another man's poison.

  • @MartinBB said:
    So something you could do with Tinderbox which is difficult to do with other tools is to export an entire Zettelkasten as a website, complete with all the links between Zettels.

    Good ideas, but… Sorry, I don't use Mac. Tinderbox is awfully expensive from my point of view, and then you still have to pay upgrades. And I still have to eat. Epic no.

    Creating a whole website from my notes is adding a new steps into creation. I don't have a lot of times. I have my novels to write, reasearch, promotions, chores, my son, I wake up at 2:AM every mornings to keep it up. I keep to the simpliest way to work. I make a post on the visual thread to explain my workflow though :)

    The Brain seems… well… messy ? I have ADHD, I need minimalism badly, so I don't know, but the licence cost 219S and this is the same issue with Tinderbox.

  • @Loni To be clear, I wasn't suggesting that you should rush off and use this software. I was merely adding meat to the observation that plain text files have disadvantages as well as advantages. And at the very least it is useful to know that other possibilities exist, which then allows people to make informed judgements about the tools they use. Every solution has pros and cons. And something that is a pro to one person may very well be a con to another. I've seen plenty of recommendations of software that some people feel they could not live without, but were useless to me. I'm certainly not interested in evangelising for software. But I am interested in passing on information that I think might be useful to others in making their own choices. I have benefited from such information from others in making my own choices.

    Best of luck with whatever path you choose!

  • @MartinBB said :

    But I am interested in passing on information that I think might be useful to others in making their own choices. I have benefited from such information from others in making my own choices.

    Oh, so it was the general "you" and not the personnal "you" ? I did misunderstand again, I am very sorry >.<. Of course, informations are valuable.

    I remember I was so discouraged when I only found expansive softwares for Mac users when I started. Do you know more inclusive mind-mapping software easy to use which include pictures well ? A lot of mind-mappind softwares allow export in plain text formats (XML for the main part), it could be intersting as well.

  • @Loni For mindmapping, a very popular choice, which is also cross platform, is iThoughts. It is not freeware, but it is not excessively expensive, either. I have used it quite a lot, and find it very fluid and easy. It is capable of using Markdown, and will export to OPML and quite a few other formats (Word, PDF). And it will accept images in various ways. Worth a try to see if you like it. Like all mind maps, there is a limit to how much information you can put on a single map before it gets too crowded.

  • @MartinBB said:
    If you will forgive my saying so, I don't think we have any way of knowing what "most people creating a ZK" do! The people who visit these forums may be only a small subset of those who create ZKs, and short of conducting an extensive survey, we cannot find out.

    Yes; I stand corrected! I should have said, "based on my reading in this forum". But the drive to store material long term in plain text files in not one that is limited to ZK practitioners. Thanks for your comment - I always appreciate them.

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