Zettelkasten Forum

Question on numbering

edited August 2018 in Research & Reading

Hey all! I just discovered the ZK a few days ago, and have been falling down the rabbit hole ever since :) I had a quick question on numbering and wanted to see if anyone had any insight.

I'm trying to do the ZK on index cards like the original way. Mainly because I want to get off the computer sometimes, and I feel like this could be a nice thing to get into offline. So I got my index cards and I'm starting to number them, but I quickly ran into the first question. I'll explain how I'm doing it, and then ask the question.

So let's say I'm starting with a card called "Food".
So "Food" is 1.
Then I keep writing about "Food".
So card 1/1, 1/2, 1/3, etc.
On card 1/3 about "Food" I mention "Fast Food".
So I want to branch to a "Fast Food" card.
Do I number that "Fast Food" card 1a? or 1/3a?

I feel like it should be 1a, because it doesn't really matter where I mention "Fast Food" on the "Food" topic. But I feel like some of the blog posts I've been reading, have the branch happen at the "page number"?

Or am I doing all of this all wrong? :smile:

Also, does anyone else try ZK on paper?? It seems like most people are using software.


  • It depends from which card you want to branch. If you comment on the thought of the second card your branch from there. And so on.

    I'd think that you are writing thoughts on addresses and not on cards. The card itself is mean to an end. You can give two cards the same number when your thought doesn't fit on one card. Then they have the same address and be on the same place. (Luhmann did it too).

    I am a Zettler

  • Oh cool. I like the idea of thinking about it in addresses. I have a follow up question. If I branch a note to something like 1/7a, are the next notes in the 1/7a sequence 1/7a/1, 1/7a/2, etc? Or is it 1/7b, 1/7c, etc?

  • Doh, I think I get it... It's 1/7a1, 1/7a2. right? :blush:

  • edited August 2018

    To me, it looks like 1/3a would be the result of branching-off at 1/3 into "Fast Food".

    Here's an example of nesting:

    - 1
        - 1/6
        - 1/7
            - 1/7a
                - 1/7a1
                - 1/7a2
            - 1/7b
            - 1/7c
        - 1/8
    - 2

    So I think, yes, you seem to have got it right :)

    I do think that Luhmann put the / slash there because the root numbers were of some heightened importance; that's why there are two numbers (1/1, 1/2, ..., not 1/a, 1/b), contrary to the remainder of the ID string. But don't just take my word on it: I haven't took notes on the use of slashes :) As far as I'm concerned, 1a5b3 or 1/a/5/b/3 would work just as fine, only more or less noisy, and not highlighting the first number.

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

  • Here's a related question.

    Let's say we have the following structures:

    1 Food
    1/1 writing about food
    1/2 writing about food
    1/3 writing about food
    1/3a Fast food

    If one wants to write about Slow Food or Organic Food, which is a branch from 1 Food and a sibling of Fast food how should it be numbered?

  • There's little room to separate how you model sibling and child relationships in a paper-based Zettelkasten with this scheme. Branches can be both. And in the end, the place doesn't matter as much when you have thousands of notes. In your short and thus contrived example, one could argue for and against certain placements. But with scale, these things tend to fall flat in comparison to cross-links. Luhmann, Mr. Numbering Scheme himself, said that the actual place is of lesser importance and what matters is that you can find something when you need it. Which means that you may want to point out clearly that slow food is the opposite of fast food, possibly in both places (each points to its opposite).

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

  • edited January 2020

    Yes, I regard the result of Luhmann's numbering system as a tree.
    However, late did I found out that it is not as free as a tree since every slip(node) can only have a single folgezettel(child slip/node), kind of back to linear here.

    I used Organic Food to emphasis that the new slip is not a continuation of Fast food, thus putting them on the same level is not that logical.

    Your point is that as long as you can find them, it doesn't matter where you put them, so your answer to the question will be 1/3b right? I think this works for a paper approach(I wonder if Luhmann did it this way), in a digital one, relationships between slips may be used by scripts and applications, blurring them will render the application useless.

    Looking for a better way.

  • edited January 2020

    FWIW, to quote Luhmann, Communicating with Slip Boxes:

    Similarly as epistemology has given up the idea that there are “privileged representations” that allow us to control the truth value of other representations or claims, we must give up the idea in preparing a card index that there should be privileged places or slips that have a special quality of guaranteeing knowledge. [Emph. mine] Every note is only an element which receives its quality only from the network of links and back-links within the system.

    This can be read as: do not try to design top-down categories/topic containers; and also: don't over-emphasize the position in general.


    A system based on content, like the outline of a book) would mean that we make a decision that would bind us to a certain order for decades in advance! This necessarily leads very quickly to problems of placement, if we consider the system of communication and ourselves as capable of development. The fixed filing place needs no system. [...] These advantages are [...] The possibility of arbitrary internal branching.

    You could branch off from Fast Food to add Organic Food for all intents and purposes. Does it violate a top-down approach to designing neat categories we assume we understand and which supposedly represent the world ""properly""? Well, yes it does! That's how it makes the network grow in a way that's uniquely useful to you.

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

  • I see your point here, and totally agree with it that there should be no privileged places(slips), I think I might give the wrong example that made your misinterpretation.

    I'm not trying to create a neat hierarchy(however the example was), I'm confused about what to do when you need to branch off from a slip with an existing branch, and the new branch has nothing to do(yes, there must be a relationship, let's say it's very weak) with the existing one.

  • Well, if it's in no way associated, then it's as good a candidate as any for a new root-level entry!

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

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