Zettelkasten Forum

What do people use tags for in a zettelkasten?

Dear Zettelkasten-community,

A question that regularly comes up when I work with my zettelkasten is how to use tags. Until yesterday, I used tags like #thearchive, #health, #farming, #composting, etc. to mark the central zettels around a specific concept – a search for the tag in the Omnibar would then show far less (and far more relevant) results than a search for the term itself. I'm now wondering if this use of tags is the best way to achieve this goal: Instead of tagging all the central zettels on composting with #composting, I could create a structure note for the concept "Composting" where I collect the links to all those zettels. Using structure notes has the additional advantage of providing space for thoughts on how these different zettels are related. But if I replaced tags like the ones mentioned above with structure notes – what sensible uses would remain for the tags?

What are your thoughts on the two alternatives mentioned above? And what do you use tags for?
This article by Tiago Forte is an interesting read in this context.

I'm curious to hear some thoughts!


  • I agree with the notion of the use of Structure Notes for gathering together notes in a project. Loosely defined project. Like a book or class or a screenplay or maybe even a maker project like building a composting bin. In these use cases, "providing space for thoughts on how these different zettels are related" would add value. In other use cases, the time between recording one note on the subject of say #conversation_skills and recording another in a wholely different context might be months or years, so a Structure Note wouldn't add value.

    One use case I use tags for is when I plan to export a series of notes into a published writing project. Example. Tagged 65 notes #slogans as they represent the 59 chapters in my book. I can navigate and export them easily.

    Will Simpson

  • @Will: Thanks for your thoughts! It makes sense to use structure notes when thoughts on the relationships between notes add value and tags when they don't.

    One more use case: I add the tag #unlinked to zettels that aren't integrated into the Zettelkasten yet in the sense that no other zettels link to them. Once in a while I will go through the zettels with this tag and see if I can think of any connections that can be made to my "changed" Zettelkasten.

  • I have not been tagging any 'content' words, I keep that for the structure notes. The only tags I am really using so far are arbitrary signs for things I need to go back to.

    The only tags I have so far are:
    -- the tag #XXX appears on every structure note, and XXX is in every structure note title after the UID, so I can see structure notes quickly in the list.

    -- #QQQ means 'to follow up' - something I need to flesh out, fact check, or otherwise extend, but I had to stop for some reason. I would much rather write and look for interesting connections, than do the boring donkey work of developing the references, so there is a danger I could end up leaving these too long before processing. But, hey ho, I'd rather have those extra bits as messy for the the time being than not have them at all.

    -- #Ref means a citation, which I later need to copy into a reference manager (I still have not got a ref manager up and running but I've been storing all the full reference info on the relevant zettles, and one day in the next wee while I will make myself collect them all into the ref manager and use that from now on

  • I don't use tags, but I found this post looks interesting for people who want to think more about using tags:
    Friction with getting started — Zettelkasten Forum

  • Tagging is a losing game because the the more ones Zettelkasten grow the less useful a tag is if used to organize. It is just a small, very small, piece of the puzzle.

  • I use tags for keywords and also for authors of my primary sources. Yes, it ends up being a lot, but I find it useful. When I search for #Aristotle, it will result in a list containing both my primary and secondary sources. When I search for #causation, again, I get a list with all the primary and secondary sources about the subject.
    I try not to have more than 2-3 (at most 4) tags per zettel, and do my best to "standardize them".
    I like this more than structure notes. At the time of reading a paper/source, I may not be equally interested in all the ideas it discusses. I keep structure notes for things that I find important at the time or that are related to my current project.

    [Feature request, and I assume this must have come up before: displaying a list of all tags would be super useful...]

  • @zvt: According to the roadmap, your feature request is planned.

  • @Vinho, I see, thank you! Looking forward to it :smile: .

  • @zvt: In case you can't wait until then and use Keyboard Maestro, you might also want to try @Will's workaround here.

  • Thanks, @Vinho. I have not experimented with / invested in Keyboard Maestro yet (although I can see that many people here use it so I may try it some day). Anyway, I'm currently using the "pedestrian" solution of having a file where I keep track of all the tags. It is not pretty, but it works fine, and is not too much of a hassle (or at last not yet!).

  • Thanks - that works well and will be really helpful.

    @Vinho said:
    @zvt: In case you can't wait until then and use Keyboard Maestro, you might also want to try @Will's workaround here.

  • @ctietze: Is it somehow possible (e.g. through naming) to get a particular zettel to be opened when clicking on a tag? It would be nice if I could link to structure zettels via tags. Currently when I click on a tag, all the zettels with that tag are shown in the note list, but none of them opens.

  • You could rename the note so it starts with the tag, which will produce a match in The Archive that's displayed :)

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

  • edited November 2019

    @ctietze: I tried that, but it doesn't seem to work. When I type the tag in the search bar directly, it works. But if I click on a tag in a zettel, the tag will appear in the search bar (selected), but no zettel opens in the editor section:

    If I hit Return in this state, the correct note will open, but I have to hit Return...

  • edited November 2019

    Yeah, you're right: when you type the tag, it works, but when you click a #tag link, it doesn't. Will look into this issue!

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

  • @ctietze: Great, thanks!

  • @ctietze said:
    Yeah, you're right: when you type the tag, it works, but when you click a #tag link, it doesn't. Will look into this issue!

    Interestingly it opens the 'hashtag' note if you hit enter.
    Fixing this small issue would help my workflow as well.

    Thanks for all you do Christian.

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