# Questions on Luhmann-ID Numbering

Hi, folks,

My first question was almost answered here, but I still find myself confused. I am about 50 cards into my paper-based ZK system. I've been numbering them 1,1a,1a1,1b etc. An alternative system I have seen is with slashes after the first number: 1, 1/1, 1/1a. Here is my issue. I am having some regret choosing the numbering system I did because the second position is a bit confusing... it is a continuation or a branch? So for instance, say I have the following cards:
1 Metaphor
1a Implicit Metaphor
1c Mixed Metaphor

But later if I want to make a continuation of one (say a competing definition of "Metaphor") from 1... I can't because I've already branched it. So is the best remedy for this the slash after the first position? Then I could branch or continue.

My second question: How many initial numbers do you have? It seems like Luhmann himself had few initial numbers with lots of branching and continuation underneath them. Whereas for me right now nearly every card has a new number. So for instance, I have one for "Figurative Language" and start a new number for "Metaphor," even though metaphor is a type of figurative language. Is this OK or should I be showing more continuity/categorization?

Thank you!

• As you said, you branched off into 1a/1b/1c already, so consequently, 1d would be a good place to continue. If you start introducing another variant to intersperse paper between 1 and 1a, I'm afraid you'll run into similar situations again in the future and would have to do it again and again.

Imagine this happens to your with these exact notes, and your newly introduced 1_1 sits between 1 and 1a, and its branch grows. Years later, you want to intersperse something between 1 and 1_1, so you introduce 1,1, but now you push the 1_1 note further back in the sequence of paper slips.

In principle, physical proximity doesn't scale. It may work out for a while, but if you want to keep the structure open to changes, and thus to branches growing unexpectedly, you cannot bet on two pieces of paper to stay close. In 20 years, there could be whole desk drawers worth of paper between 1 and 1_1.

A practice that, to me, sounds more future-proof: to not worry about proximity that much. It's nice to have when you explore a topic at first, but later on, as Luhmann himself pointed out, it's more important that you do have a fixed address to get from A to B than where a note actually is placed.

So 1d would be as good as place as any down the road. In the long run, you will hardly notice. IF it's an important continuation of 1, place a link on 1 to 1d to highlight their relationship.

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

• Thank you for the extended explanation, Christian! Good to know I don’t have to renumber those cards but I am still using pencil just in case ✏️

• edited March 22

One of the key features of Zettelkästen is to reduce the stress for
thinking where to put the notes.

I will use your example to make my point.

1 Metaphor
1a Implicit Metaphor
1c Mixed Metaphor

Imagine you have a new card.

You can still write a card with a tittle: Metaphor I create with an id number
1b2b9c8d4v7d8d9a0c6b0c7i2o1d9j6e9e8f2f1f5e6c4b6x6

You can write a structured note:

• 1a3c6b0c7i2o1d9j6e9e8f2f1f5e6c4b6x61b2b9c8d4v7d8d9 XX Metaphor
• 9f0a2f1f5e6c4b6x61b2b9c8d4v7d8d9a0c6b0c7i2o1d9j6e9 Implicit Metaphor
• 9d0a0c6b0c7i2o1d9j6e9e8f2f1f5e6c4b6x6d8f2f1f5e6c4b Mixed Metaphor

one's knowledge base, it is so natural to think where the new
information should be placed.

This is not to say that structural notes are not what the writer
should be avoided. You write the structure notes when you see it. This
is one of the reasons why Zettelkästen can help you write more.

If considering writing "structural notes" as a happiness process, we
should not focus on finding happiness, but instead on writing what

• That is a very good point, @learning_ran , thank you!

1. @learning_ran said:
One of the key features of Zettelkästen is to reduce the stress for
thinking where to put the notes.

I will use your example to make my point.

1 Metaphor
1a Implicit Metaphor
1c Mixed Metaphor

Imagine you have a new card.

You can still write a card with a tittle: Metaphor I create with an id number
1b2b9c8d4v7d8d9a0c6b0c7i2o1d9j6e9e8f2f1f5e6c4b6x6

You can write a structured note:

• 1a3c6b0c7i2o1d9j6e9e8f2f1f5e6c4b6x61b2b9c8d4v7d8d9 XX Metaphor
• 9f0a2f1f5e6c4b6x61b2b9c8d4v7d8d9a0c6b0c7i2o1d9j6e9 Implicit Metaphor
• 9d0a0c6b0c7i2o1d9j6e9e8f2f1f5e6c4b6x6d8f2f1f5e6c4b Mixed Metaphor

one's knowledge base, it is so natural to think where the new
information should be placed.

This is not to say that structural notes are not what the writer
should be avoided. You write the structure notes when you see it. This
is one of the reasons why Zettelkästen can help you write more.

If considering writing "structural notes" as a happiness process, we
should not focus on finding happiness, but instead on writing what

• edited March 25

So I dove back into paper Zettelkasten, and I had a bit of an ah-ha moment when I looked up how Luhmann did his numbers. He didn't do
1
1a
1b
2

He actually did:
1/1
1/1a
1/1b
1/2

I don't speak german, so I can't read his notes, but it appears the 1/ numbers denote various top-level categories or sections. While Luhmann didn't want to lock himself into categories, it appears he DID use some level of high-level categories in his ZK.

I've incorporated this into mine, and I really like it. My index looks something like this:

1 - Productivity
1/1 - Zettelkasten
1/2 - Paper vs Digital
2 - Faith
2/1 - The Lord's Prayer
2/2....etc.
3 - Work
4 - Anxiety/Depression
5 - Health/Fitness
6 - Music/Audio
7 - Song Ideas
8 - Injustice
etc. etc.

I can create new top-levels as much as I want, like if I wanted to create a lot of posts about Chess, I could create a new level for that.

But everything still gets a unique ID. There are things I put in Work that link nicely with stuff I write in Anxiety/Depression.

But it helps me to know that the bulk of my anxiety-related stuff is in THIS hunk of papers, vs finding them scattered throughout the entire system.

https://sociologica.unibo.it/article/view/8350/8270

• @joegilder Joe - My ZK is electronic and I just use the default UIDs, but I found your explanation made a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing it. People find different ways of building high-level structure into their ZK (for me, it is having some structure notes and an index). As long as one also links individual zettels (ignoring the high-level structure), it seems one can benefit from both systems.

• Interesting tidbit: Luhmann used two different numbering schemes because he created two different slip boxes, one in his early years (maybe a decade?) and then one that lasted him most of the last 30 years of his career. One used the numbering scheme 1/1a2b... while the other used 1,1a2b.... This was presumably (by me) to avoid mistaking the ID from one for the other. But interestingly there were reportedly very few crosslinks between those two slip boxes.

Also IIRC his first slip box had over 100 top level categories, while his later one had only 11. I don't recall the titles offhand but looking at the examples listed in the paper I read it was clearly a significant evolution in his theory building that enabled him to compress those 100+ down to 11.

Those top level categories we would call MOCs or index notes or structure notes or whatever now.

Remember he also had smaller indexes at the start of each of his different folgezettel as well, linking to up to 25 key notes from that folgezzettel. (due to space limitations on the card)