Zettelkasten Forum

What would you tell a beginner?

Hello, all!

After years of social science research and teaching high school literature, I am preparing to enter a PhD in the fall. When looking into tools for transitioning back to academia, I discovered Zettelkasten. I'm thrilled. It seems I finally have a sensible way to digitize my commonplace books -- a practice I've had for years -- and rework that thinking in the service of my academic writing.

So, for you gurus out there, what would you tell a beginner? What do you wish you had known sooner?

More directly, how did you transition to a Zettelkasten? Did you digitize all of your old notes so that you could find them (I often have to hunt for a while)? What structure notes are sensible when transitioning (i.e., would a structure note of my library make sense, with links to my copious reading notes)?

Many thanks to everyone.


  • Not a guru, but I was paralyzed with indecision about how to go about doing this until I picked a book to process and got started. Just start.

  • edited November 2019

    I would say don’t worry about trying to import everything from your old system into a new system right at the beginning. Your commonplace books aren’t going anywhere (hopefully), so you can use them as resources as you need them, and draw from them what might be useful to whatever you are working on at the time.

    The ZK is a thing best built up over time, as dictated by your needs and whims as they develop. So start writing notes related to whatever questions you are interested in right now, and build from there.

    You're not trying to document and organize all past knowledge. That's what a wiki/encyclopedia is for. Rather, you're trying to note, organize, and develop your own thinking.

    Also, per Luhmann, relax, and don't do anything you don't feel like doing. ;)

  • Yes, what argonsnorts said! I tried to capture my own encounter with the ZK method here.

    Started ZK 4.2018. "The path is at your feet, see? Now carry on."

  • Agree with everyone; 1) just start; 2) be consistent with yourself as much as you can.
    Eventually most things will end up in your ZK anyway :).

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