# Choosing software

Hi, brand new Zettelkaster here - as in, I've been reading blogs about it and just ordered How to Take Smart Notes but I haven't started implementing anything yet. I feel like I'll learn the principles better if I can immediately start implementing the practices, and that means I need to choose what software I'm going to use (definitely not a card-and-box system - my handwriting isn't up to the task).

My existing workflow involves 1) highlighting and commenting on scholarly papers and ebooks in Mendeley; 2) highlighting and scribbling in the margin of hard copy books; 3) saving popular press articles to Evernote from Chrome. Then I write in Word. As you can see, something to process and organize notes and move them smoothly to the writing process is greatly needed.

Since I already have several programs in this process, my top consideration for Zettelkasten software is that it be intuitive and work out-of-the-box without me having to hack any fixes.

I have seen that some people use Evernote for Zettelkasten and I wonder if that's the way to go, to avoid proliferating software. It would be nice if I could click from my note on an article to easily see the article itself. However, looking at the earlier thread on Evernote, it seemed to get a bit technical with people figuring out plug-ins and fixes - I wonder if there's software I will find more simple and intuitive for Zettlekasten.

• edited September 2021

# 20210930124708 Reply to @tamarwilner on Zettelkasten software

If you are using MacOS, I recommend The Archive--others here have experience with this. If you are using Windows, I use Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTeX.* This works almost out-of-the-box, with one minor change to Zettlr. The setup is a little more involved than installing Word. A note format has to be decided upon. For this configuration I use the note format below (which I am tweaking).

---
reference-section-title: Bibliography
---
# timestampID title

Note body

#keyword1 #keyword2 ...

Bibliography


*I believe that Mendeley will work in place of Zotero with the BetterBibTeX plugin for Zotero, according to this, but I haven't checked.

The change to Zettlr is in Preferences -> Display -> "If present, use the first level 1 heading as the filename." This is so that note titles appear in the file listing panel in the Zettlr editor in addition to file names, which are timestamps with the md (markdown) extension. Since in my format, I have a level 1 heading # first, then the timestamp (the Zettel ID), then a descriptive title, the file listing pane in Zettlr shows the filename, which is the Zettel ID, followed by a title. With this title format and this change in the display preferences, the title of a note can be changed without changing the filename of the note or any links that refer to it.

The Bibliography heading appears with bibliographic references following if the three lines with the reference-section-title: header are present at the beginning of the note. If Pandoc-style bibliographic references are present, include this three-line header.

Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

Erdös #2. ZK software components. “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport.

• Thanks so much! Sorry, I should have mentioned I am using a Mac. So I will definitely check out The Archive. But I'm sure fellow newbies will find your explanation of Zettlr+Pandoc+MikTeX+Zotero+BetterBibTeX very helpful! Thank you!

• @tamarwilner

Welcome to the forum! Zettlr works on the Mac and is fairly simple; whether you need all the extras suggested by @ZettelDistraction depends on your workflow (I think the benefits of those extras are posted elsewhere in the forum). I've tried Zettlr and Obsidian, but for working "out of the box" and keeping life simple, The Archive trumps all! It's my software of choice.

• ## Choosing software 202110010514

Welcome. What are your fields of study? That can often help you focus on which software stack to employ. I'm curious, what time zone are you in? I'm in Pacific Daylight Time.

@tamarwilner said:
My existing workflow involves 1) highlighting and commenting on scholarly papers and ebooks in Mendeley; 2) highlighting and scribbling in the margin of hard copy books; 3) saving popular press articles to Evernote from Chrome. Then I write in Word. As you can see, something to process and organize notes and move them smoothly to the writing process is greatly needed.

There is no need to abandon any of the software you listed, but none of them contain the fundamentals needed in the art and craft of zettelkasting. They take a supportive role. I'd add zettelkasting software and a PDF reader with good markup tools and the ability to export markups to your list.

Since I already have several programs in this process, my top consideration for Zettelkasten software is that it be intuitive and work out-of-the-box without me having to hack any fixes.

Finding software that fits your workflow "out-of-the-box without me having to hack any fixes" is problematic because your workflow will differ from mine or Sönke's. Most of the "hacks" needed will focus on your thinking and exploring how to suss out new and novel ideas from the fire hose of data. All the best zettelkasting software has embraced Markdown, which is the antithesis of Word. This alone is a mountainous challenge for some. It is eventually freeing in its simplification and distraction-free workspace.

I have seen that some people use Evernote for Zettelkasten and I wonder if that's the way to go, to avoid proliferating software. It would be nice if I could click from my note on an article to easily see the article itself. However, looking at the earlier thread on Evernote, it seemed to get a bit technical with people figuring out plug-ins and fixes - I wonder if there's software I will find more simple and intuitive for Zettlekasten.

No, I recommend not trying to squeezing your zettelkasten into Evernote. I'd recommend looking to a candidate that fully supported Markdown and inter and intra note linking.

My zettelkasting software stack has evolved. I currently am on macOS, and today it is:

1. The Archive - zettelkasten
2. Keyboard Maestro - workflow enhancement
3. Zotero - reference manager
4. PDF Expert - PDF markup
5. Bear - journaling
6. Evernote - collectors dump
7. Word - final destination of academic work

Will Simpson
“Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
kestrelcreek.com

• I’m currently using Evernote because it was already a big part of my workflow, and I thought it better to jump in and try the methodology without getting too bogged down in implementation. I do think it was the right decision though I should caveat it by saying that I’m a bit of a ZK hobbyist. I don’t write for a living; this effort was a more for my own personal learning. But Evernote does work. It’s accessible on all of my devices (PC, iPhone, iPad) and that’s very appealing.

The downside is that linking is a bit tedious and that’s creating some friction. I am still coming to grips with the idea that in order to process/understand more, I need to read/consume less. So the idea of making the process less time-consuming is starting to have more appeal. I’m also drawn to the idea of visualizing the connections. (I’m a data architect by trade so graph databases are not new to me.) I’m thinking about Obsidian but starting in Evernote really allowed me to jump in and figure out what features I need most.