# Mapping the Zettelkasten on to a digital system

Hi I am relatively new to this subject and thought that it would be wise to debug my thinking before progressing too far. I am having difficulty with topics and connected zettels......

From what I have read the Luhmann system:
- Identifies zettels with a unique id, and
- On inserting a new zettel to an already existing topic, the zettel is allocated a unique id chained to that zettel 'string', or
- On inserting a new zettel for a new topic, the next top level id in the sequence is allocated;
- Each zettel is given one or two keywords, which are closely tailored to that individual zettel;
- If a zettel has connections to a zettel in another topic is directly references that topic.

If the above is mapped onto a digital zettelkasten, then:

• The unique id becomes, say YYYY-MM-DD-HHmm
• The link to an already existing topic is a wikilink
• The direct link to another zettel is a wikilink
• The keywords are tags

My question: assuming the above is correct, then what means within a digital zettelkasten is typically used to assign topics to the top level zettels? As keywords are tightly tailored and the top level topics must be broad by their nature, so using tags for both would be confusing.

Thanks for feedback

## Comments

• edited November 3

@Carriolan said:
Hi I am relatively new to this subject and thought that it would be wise to debug my thinking before progressing too far. I am having difficulty with topics and connected zettels......
My question: assuming the above is correct, then what means within a digital zettelkasten is typically used to assign topics to the top level zettels? As keywords are tightly tailored and the top level topics must be broad by their nature, so using tags for both would be confusing.

Thanks for feedback

Hi and welcome to the forum (if this is your first post)!

There are a number of ways that one could use to create “entry points” into your Zettelkasten. One is the good old index - a single note (zettel) that contains subjects in alphabetical order, but instead of page numbers one enters links to one or several relevant zettels. A related but different method is to use “structure notes”. Each structure note (itself a single zettel) could represent a very high level topic, for example, “Personal History” (one of mine). Then one might have on this Personal History structure note some sub-topics - continuing my example, “Early Memories”, “Primary School”, “High School”, “Early Married Life”, etc. And under each of the sub-topics, one could have a list of topics and links to related zettles, e.g., under “High School”, I might have the topics “Good friends”, “Favourite classes”, etc.

Structure notes impose a top down structure on your Zettelkasten but still allow you to use tags and connections between zettels to build a non-hierarchical / non-linear network - the best of both worlds.

Some people actually like to hang every zettel off at least one structure note. My own practise is to use structure notes for some topics (for which I have a lot of zettels) but not to insist every zettel be connected to a structure note. As an alternative, I use tags extensively and make sure my zettels are well-connected to other zettels.

Hope this makes sense and addresses your question.

You can search on “structure notes” within this forum - you will find people use them in many different ways, and from their comments, might find a particular usage that suits your workflow.

• edited November 4

Yes it was my first post..... Thanks.

@GeoEng51 said:
There are a number of ways that one could use to create “entry points” into your Zettelkasten. One is the good old index - a single note (zettel) that contains subjects in alphabetical order, but instead of page numbers one enters links to one or several relevant zettels. A related but different method is to use “structure notes”. Each structure note (itself a single zettel) could represent a very high level topic, for example, “Personal History” (one of mine).

For clarification:

• An Index note is a single note for the whole of the Zettelkasten which lists all the zettel topics together with links by topic, and
• A Structure note resides in the note hierarchy of a specific topic to give it 'Structure' and to enable more 'entry points'. Its links are restricted to other notes within that topic hierarchy and may be linked to other Structure notes within that same hierarchy.

My questions are:

• Is the Index note typically an index of the top level notes or is it an index of all 'entry points' i.e. top level notes and Structure notes?
• Can top level notes be Structure notes, (or is that being too top down)?
• @Carriolan said:
My question: assuming the above is correct, what means within a digital zettelkasten is typically used to assign topics to the top-level zettels? As keywords are tightly tailored and the top level topics must be broad by their nature, so using tags for both would be confusing.

tl;dr: You have a firm grasp of how topics are connected in a digital ZK.

How are 'top-level' zettel topics set? Other zettelnauts will have other ideas, but...

Create a structure note (top-level) when you have four or more (this is arbitrary) notes on a subject you imagine you'll explore producing more.

Some top-level notes are chronological lists of other notes. (It probably could be grouped with a tag, but I use a structure note in this case. In other cases, I use a tag. I can't say why.)

In some top-level notes, links are grouped in logical groups.

The best structure notes are the ones where the links are grouped together and annotated.

After sleep in your question, I think I missed. I'll try a different tack to answer from my experience, "what means within a digital zettelkasten is typically used to assign topics to the top level zettels?"

Sturcure notes appear organically. At first don't even think about them. After a while you'll notice a small group of notes that are relevant to each other in a particular way. As an example, I noticed a growing number of notes around the idea of PROCRASTINATION. Some related to its structure, the habit, its causes, how to prevent and constructively use it, etc. Making a structure note and the habit of hanging every new zettel on a structure note continues to elaborate my understanding of procrastination.

I think I still missed answering you question. Let me try again. What is the focus of your ZK? That might help with relevant examples. I want to admonish you resist pre-catagorizing your ZK with perconseives ideas about what you might use for structure notes and let things flow for a while. You'll be surprise when it becomes obvious where a structure note is called for. My core interests are philosophy, writing and coding. So these were the first candidates that poped up. When the coding structure not became unwheedly I refactored the python section into a structure note of its own.

Let me try again by showing the value of adding structure. THis doesn't happen immediately as it organically grows.

Here is part of a structure note followed by a screen shot of a full text search of "zettelkasten". You can see the disorganized mess in the second screen shot. In the zettelasten structure note the oldest link in Zettelkasten Legend [[201812071155]] and the newest is Creative Idea Compass [[202210160719]]. This structure note is almost 4 years old and is still being refactored.

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• Thank you @will for this detailed exposition, appreciated. Your repeated attempts to fully answer the question revealed elements that I needed, but didn't realise that I needed (not an unknowable unknown (-; ). If I were to savagely summarise your approach / advice, it would be: to get on with the business of generating zettels and let Structure notes be produced organically through the necessity of adding clarity to a cluster of thoughts (zettels).

Further from what I am reading, anything which encourages thought should be promoted. So on that basis annotated Structured notes must be the route. This bottom up approach seems to put the emphasis / effort in the areas which would yield the most benefit.

I have given some thought as to the size of cluster that would naturally give rise to a Structure note. From what I have read the maximum number of items that a human brain can cope with is no more than six or seven at once, so I guess that would be it.

• @Carriolan said:
If I were to savagely summarise your approach / advice, it would be: to get on with the business of generating zettels and let Structure notes be produced organically through the necessity of adding clarity to a cluster of thoughts (zettels).

Yes. In the early stages, one is best served by concentrating on capturing atomic ideas. More advanced techniques can be taken up as we advance. There is no need to hurry things.

Further from what I am reading, anything which encourages thought should be promoted. So on that basis annotated Structured notes must be the route. This bottom up approach seems to put the emphasis / effort in the areas which would yield the most benefit.

My first structure note came a little late - I'm slow and always road the short bus in primary school.
The following quote is from my post in the great relevant thread - Questions that arise after a month of ZettelKasten — Zettelkasten Forum

@Will said over on another post:
My first note was on 20181108, and my first structure note was on 20191126. It was 383 days until my first structure note. I had 553 notes before I had my first structure note. It seems a bit odd looking back on it. But I was not in any hurry. I let the idea of adding any structure to my zettelkasten evolve naturally unforced.

Back to your comment.

@Carriolan said:
I have given some thought as to the size of cluster that would naturally give rise to a Structure note. From what I have read the maximum number of items that a human brain can cope with is no more than six or seven at once, so I guess that would be it.

Research has updated the maximum number of items the brain can juggle at one time to 3-5. That is for young adults, not old geezers like us!
The Magical Mystery Four: How is Working Memory Capacity Limited, and Why? - PMC

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• @Will said:
Research has updated the maximum number of items the brain can juggle at one time to 3-5. That is for young adults, not old geezers like us!

My perceived horizons have now been reduced and are in line with my age - Thanks for your help in getting me started.

• edited November 5

There is hope:

Long Term Working Memory: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7740089/

I am a Zettler

• @Carriolan I support @Will ’s explanation of structure notes and letting them “appear” organically, as your need for one becomes evident. My Zettelkasten doesn’t contain many structure notes, as I have previously not felt the need for them. More recently, I have been pulling information out of a series of old magazines and found it useful to have a structure note for each magazine. So - it can go either way - sometimes structure notes can come first, but mostly for me, their need manifests itself.

In regard to an index note - this is simply one note that lists all the main topics in your Zettelkasten, each line being linked to the most relevant zettels. Those links could be to structure notes or just to single zettels; I don’t think it matters.

• edited November 6

@Sascha said:
There is hope: Long Term Working Memory: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7740089/

Thank you for this glimpse of hope. I am sure the reference in time will spawn a few zettels. However my immediate priority is to maintain my neuroplasticity.

Post edited by Carriolan on
• Thank you both (@GeoEng51 and @Will) for sorting me out. I am resolved to let organic 'bottom up' annotated Structure notes form of their own accord.

With regard to Index notes, in Obsidian I can easily generate a self-maintaining Index note using a Dataview query. So I am good to go (at least for now!) - Thanks.

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