Zettelkasten Forum

Being stuck with the conception of permanent note

Hi ! I'm a bit confused with the goal of permanent note in a standard ZK workflow.

Sometimes, I feel it is redundant or useless.

Context: I mainly use note-taking to capture and convert informations into pieces of reusable cards (for technical docs). My main interest are science (physics/math) and computer science (programing/software/web).

What I pretend to know about permanent note

In pure theory, I believe (maybe I'm wrong :D) a permanent note is a card :

  • that should contain enough text about a specific topic (atomic)
  • that should contain enough informations to "live alone" (self-contained)
  • that should be reusable in other topic context (portable)
  • that should contain links to spread the web
  • that should contain references to sources (context)

The permenant note, from my head to paper

When I have an idea, I write it down to paper (fleeting note) and I must convert this note into a well-formed, in my own word permanent note.

I am unconfortable with this new permanent note because there is no reference at all.

The permanent note, from books to idea

When I read about literary note (or reference note), it is said I should pick up an interesting passage, write it into my own words and so on.
Then, split the literary note into multiple "ideas" which are called permanent note.

I really don't see the difference between the aggregated permanent note in my literary note.

This feeling is intensified when I write a technical subject (e.g. http).

Maybe I suffer from misconception and you could provide some keys to understand please.

If someone knows about some basic samples of ZK implementations, it would be great !

Thank you !


  • edited June 19

    The terms "permanent note," "literature note," and "fleeting note" are due to Sonke Ahrens. They are not necessary--this site does not recommend them. The vocabulary of permanent notes is not known for its lapidary precision. From Fleeting Notes to Project Notes on this site was an attempt to settle the record. A revision is available here.

    For a ZK implementation, I can refer you to my Zettel template and the accompanying Zettel wiki.

    I have no problem using my ZK for programming, mathematics, or technical subjects.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0.

    Problems worthy of attack prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

  • @Olivier_H

    The categorization of notes is confusing and unnecessary. Notes are proxies for ideas. Ideas have different levels of maturity in the sense of their development. This spectrum runs from hen scratches on the back of an envelope to an atomic integrated and referenced note.

    All notes are on this spectrum.

    The goal is to move notes toward a more atomic, integrated, referenced state. The Zettelkasten Method is a guide for achieving this. Notes and ideas are interchangeable.

    When I say notes, think ideas; when I say ideas, think notes.

    The birth of a note is messy.

    Notes start as maybe a few highlights from a paper or a lightning strike from the muse. It is essential to have a process to capture these bombs. By messy, I mean the note lacks linkage, references, and tags. Its structure might be sloppy, and the initial idea is not thoroughly flushed out.

    But once captured, it can be worked with. Set up a place to capture underdeveloped, immature ideas and a routine to review them.

    In example 1, a messy note births an immature note, and the capturing and refactoring are ongoing:
    I read About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory. Lopez, Barry Holstun, 1999. The initial note highlights from the Kindle book were over 4000 words and messy. Over a week, I refactored the note, adding links and breaking off ideas into their own notes. I read this book in February of 2021, and yesterday, I saw a reference to it and got interested in Barry Lopez's musings on how photography buffers experience. I've refactored the idea from the main book note into a new rough draft (messy) of an idea. I am excited about this new idea thread seeing a connection with The Magic of TK [[202304231735]] and flow interruption. This will take time to develop.

    In example 2, a mostly mature idea is expressed and captured in about 15 minutes:
    While studying the technicalities of Python programming yesterday, I came across the idea of Regex Back Reference [[202306181131]]. This idea is something I've thought about when forming regex patterns. It's an idea that I've struggled to grasp. The note is atomic at 230 words, in the form of the example regex = r'.*([a-zA-Z])\1.*' and explanation. It is linked to the structure note, H-Coding [[202004020722]], and the note Extract Groups in Python with Regex [[202304142054]]. It contains a reference to Liu Zuo Lin, who is tutoring me. Mostly mature, and right now, I don't see where I can improve on it, but who knows?

    These examples are just notes with different positions on the spectrum of development. You have to be comfortable with having most of your notes underdeveloped. In a way, all your notes are underdeveloped, waiting for more refinement.

    There is no finality in idea development, just as there is no finality in personal development.

    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.

  • @ZettelDistraction Thank you for links ! Very nice !

    @Will Thank you for this point of view. I didn't realize notes are "mutable" lol.

  • @Olivier_H the way that I would think about it is asking what is meant by permanent. Its meaning a note should be lasting in your notes collection forever/indefinitely. So all the principles of what a permanent note should be will follow from that.

    All the aspects of a permanent note you listed (e.g. put in your own words, is self-contained) is geared towards making the note understandable when your future self stumbles across the note many years from now.

    In this context, the literary note is just a way for you to track where an idea/note you have came from. This helps you with giving proper contribution or to helps give you the context when you don't understand a future note you are revisiting.

  • Very interesting comment @Nick . This is exactly what I tend to do, a useful note for my future self.

    Also, as I read From Fleeting Notes to Project Notes from @ZettelDistraction and All notes are malleable, I realize literature note and permanent note are not so different.

    I like the idea of literature note (even if it isn't recommended here ;) ) because it helps me to capture an information from a "resource" (e.g. a book or article on website).

    Ultimately, a literature note is just a permanent note with a reference to a resource I read.

  • Really good comments from those who have already posted replies.

    I have a simple (~400 note) ZK, in which I accumulate notes slowly, (I've been working on this for 3+ years). To fit my pace of writing and needs, I also have a simple workflow. I use @Will 's Keyboard Maestro macro to create a note, whenever I have an idea I want to capture. In it's infant state, the note is pretty bare bones:

    1. It has a working title (that may change later).
    2. It has the tags "#unfinished" and "#unlinked", to remind me of its state. I can search on either of those tags to quickly find notes that need work.
    3. It has some built-in "format", which provides a framework on which to build the note. I will add an example of this most simple of notes at the end of this post.

    What to do next? Well, I might start working on the note right away, moving it along the note maturity spectrum (as @Will describes it). Or I might simply use that bare bones note as a placeholder, reminding me (by the "#unfinished" link) that I have more work to do on it. If the title is not sufficient, I may add a sentence or two to the note, or a reference, to get me quickly oriented the next time I seriously work on it.

    Then, over time, the note can progress from a rough form to a more polished form, with a lot of thinking and mental gymnastics on my part, to produce something that is pithy and atomic. It can take days or weeks to reach the point of having a "decent" note, but I never really do stop tweaking notes. Usually any time I read or link a note, it prompts some tweaking.

    Here is my example, bare bones note. The title is sloppy and probably too long, but it's sole purpose at this point is to remind me what the topic of the note should be. It may get shortened or otherwise improved at a later stage.

    202306210912 The successful use of ingenuity creates a false sense of confidence

    06-21-2023 09:12 AM
    tags: #Unfinished #Unlinked

    The body / text of the note goes here

    internal links:

    external links:

  • Don't think so much about the workflow. Focus directly on what you want to create. Even if you want to create a repository of annotated quotes, it is fine and within the scope of the Zettelkasten Method.

    I, for example, sometimes create excerpts ("literature note"), directly create notes in my Zettelkasten etc. Workflows are tools in your tool box. Each source and each project should be approached with a rich tool box.

    I am a Zettler

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