# Zettel Crafting Checklist v.3

Version 3 edits in bold/italic.

---
UUID: ›[[202110110727]]
cdate: 10-11-2021 07:27 AM
tags: #zettelkasting #checklist
---

### Zettel Crafting Checklist v.3

If surgeons and airline pilots can benefit from checklists, they probably will help me. 1

It is essential to keep any formal checklist flexible and straightforward.
If every zettel is an exception, it points to a failure of the checklist to provide guidance.

There is a difference between the structure of a zettel and its content. A checklist supports the completion of the physical form of the zettel. A checklist can only provide prompts to complete the knowledge assimilation. This knowledge assimilation comes from contextual deep thinking that focuses on the second-order meanings exposed by the idea in the zettel.

My idea of a zettel-making-checklist is that it focuses on the structure, thereby freeing up cognitive cycles so I can focus on the zettel content. And heaven knows I need all the cognitive cycles I can muster.

New Note Checklist

YAML Frontmatter [[202003231450]]
[ ] UUID present? (Provided by the software preferences.)
[ ] Creation date and time present? (Provided by the software preferences.)
[ ] Tags present? (Added and revised during or after the body is created.)

Body
[ ] Title present? (Reconsider title as note develops. The title wants to be short, concise, and relevant. It wants to be descriptive of the content.)
[ ] Is a one or two summary sentence present at the head of the note. It should answer the question, "What is the central/essential thing to remember?" (Best done after the note is developed in draft one and continually revisited.)

Actual zettel (may include one or more of the following)

• Argument
• Counterarguments
• Factual claim
• Reference (to other text)
• Quotation (only the pithiest)
• Metaphor (a figurative comparison)
• Summary of idea
• Definition
• Question posed by the author
• Questioning the author
• An idea #2do

Mentally elaborate on the concept. Elaborate on both the text you are reading and on your understanding. Use these elaborations as the search query for exploring the zettelkasten and not just the keywords and phrases in the body of the text. You'll be rewarded with connections that sparkle, these connections are the macronutrients of knowledge.

[ ] Connect to an existing structure note or make this the first zettel connection in a new structure note?
[ ] Ask if deep links are present? Look for connections with keyword and key idea searches.
[ ] Is all #beautiful language captured and tagged

Footer/References/Citations/NOtes
[ ] Footnotes
[ ] Bibliographic citations as needed?
[ ] Are they present in Zotero?
[ ] URLS (web, Evernote, Bear)

This is only a draft. Refactor, Refactor, Refactor!

@Nick stimulated a bunch of ideas/elaborations for the contextual deep thinking section with this comment.
- https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/comment/13692/#Comment_13692

Will Simpson
The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan
kestrelcreek.com

• Great job Will, I read that book last year, very very interesting.

• edited December 2021

Likewise. A reminder: templates and a checklist for Zettlr+pandoc+MikTex+Zotero+BetterBibTeX are available at https://github.com/flengyel/Zettel

Also, see an initial checklist from Nov 20 from another discussion on this site, based on The Checklist Manifesto of Atul Gawande, and the comments following.

Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

Erdős #2. ZK software components. “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport. Replies sometimes delayed since life is short.

• @Will, @ZettelDistraction and other checklist users:

• How do you actually consult these checklists?
Are they shown in a separate window? Would it be possible to share the screen layout here?
Or are there hardcopies?
Or is it about the process of designing and formulating the checklist rather than actually consulting the checklist text for every (new) note?

• Is there anything like ticking checkbox after checkbox?
I suppose that's how it's done in aviation and surgery.

• The checklist items mentioned above focus on note structure rather than note content. What are your thoughts on content-centered checklists? I'm thinking of items like "What are points of criticism? What questions are relevant here? What are promising follow-up aspects?" Etc.
This could obviously be intertwined with additional structure elements of a note in a section like "follow-up thoughts". Those could later be examined in depth on new notes.

• edited December 2021

@thomasteepe said:
@Will, @ZettelDistraction and other checklist users:
Or is it about the process of designing and formulating the checklist rather than actually consulting the checklist text for every (new) note?

For me, this is true, though I periodically consult the checklist to see if I am diverging from it or if it needs modification. Also, I keep it in mind for notes that were added before I settled on a workable Zettel format.

• Is there anything like ticking checkbox after checkbox?

I hope not! I provided this as an example for people (myself included) who wanted a concrete system to work with.

I suppose that's how it's done in aviation and surgery.

Lives aren't necessarily on the line in this case, but I may have to reconsider.

• The checklist items mentioned above focus on note structure rather than note content. What are your thoughts on content-centered checklists? I'm thinking of items like "What are points of criticism? What questions are relevant here? What are promising follow-up aspects?" Etc.

Some of the structural elements either guide or are influenced by the content. The CONTEXT portion of the header is to be filled in with links as if one were assigning IDs and placing notecards in a physical Zettelkasten. Either the current note directly continues the linked note, or it comments on (or raises a question about--I don't see the need to enumerate every possibility) an aspect of the linked note.

I try to separate these cases with semicolons. Finally I might indicate a follow up note here as well.

### Examples

• continuation of prior Zettel
CONTEXT [[prior Zettel]]

• comment on prior Zettel (note semicolon)
CONTEXT ; [[prior Zettel]]

• continuation of prior Zettel with follow up
CONTEXT [[prior Z]] ; ; [[followup Z]]

• continuation of prior Zettel with several followup comments, complaints and animadversions

CONTEXT [[prior Z]] ; ; ; [[comment Z]] [[complaint Z]] [[severely critical Z]]

Aside. The semicolons are easy to miss. Keywords might be better, such as

CONTEXT from [[prior Z]]] followup [[sneering critique]], [[snide rejoinder]]

CONTEXT comment on [[prior Z]]

On second thought, Zettel real estate isn't cheap. I will stick with semicolons and use titles and possibly a subtitle or a summary sentence.
(End of aside)

The ordering (of links after the CONTEXT keyword) from left to right matters. Immediate contextual links are closer to the CONTEXT keyword; more distant contextual links are further to the right.

This could obviously be intertwined with additional structure elements of a note in a section like "follow-up thoughts". Those could later be examined in depth on new notes.

It's probably a good idea to err on the side of too little than too much, if this leads to Zettelkasten bureaucracy.

I think of my Zettelkasten not only as a communication partner, as Niklas Luhmann did, but as an astronomically intelligent, erudite, immensely imaginative and resourceful interlocutor, though infinitely patient with its utterly undeserving obtuse fool of a thought janitor—namely, me.

Luhmann suggests a meeting of the minds when he says that the conversation with his Zettelkasten should be fruitful for both communication partners. There should be the potential for mutual surprise. No such equality holds in my case--nothing remotely like it. If I surprise my Zettelkasten, it is either by accident or because it has forgotten how dense I am.

Eliot, I never met either, and this is scarcely the place to go into the story of his threatening to sue me, but I like to think that in my two books on his art, T. S. Eliot and Prejudice (1988) and Decisions and Revisions in T. S. Eliot (2003), there was some meeting of minds, mine being the immensely smaller one.
— Christopher Ricks. New Haven: Yale University Press. True Friendship: Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell Under the Sign of Eliot and Pound.

Since I lack epistemic standing as a thought janitor (though I flatter myself with the designation "curator"), the checklist has to be somewhat streamlined. I can't be expected to anticipate what the ZK will come up with. If it were up to my Zettelkasten, it would have nothing to do with me.

Nevertheless, making the best of its situation, it attempts to steer me in the direction of the truly important (as painful as that usually is), and away from the merely interesting and unimportant (as pleasurable as that is). It has some innate feeling for philosophy--far more than I possess.

But I will think about your thoughtful remarks and see what my Zettelkasten says...

Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

Erdős #2. ZK software components. “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport. Replies sometimes delayed since life is short.

• Checklists are but one method to help steer focus intentionally. My process is evolving with our discussion.

@thomasteepe said:

• How do you actually consult these checklists?
Are they shown in a separate window? Would it be possible to share the screen layout here?
Or are there hardcopies?

I use a hard copy. It used to be printed on a 3x5 card and did double duty reading and creating a zettel. This first draft didn't have any formatting checks, and my formatting was all over the place in this era. I've since added some styling hints to my checklist, and it is now printed on one side of letter-sized paper. I keep it on the book stand (in the picture's background) for quick reference.

Or is it about the process of designing and formulating the checklist rather than actually consulting the checklist text for every (new) note?

You've nailed how I relate currently to my checklist. The process of making one reassures me that I do not constantly forget critical work. I'm trying to develop a habit of consulting my checklist at the start of formal zettelkasting sessions.

Per our discussion, I thinking that the format and content want to handled differently. A checklist for formatting consistency and prompts or ticklers to spur zettel creation to new heights.

• Is there anything like ticking checkbox after checkbox?

No.

• The checklist items mentioned above focus on note structure rather than note content. What are your thoughts on content-centered checklists?

The middle third of the above "checklist" applies to the content of the notes. A content-centered checklist is a misnomer. Checklists imply a "has" or "has not." Zettel content is varied, and the checklist approach works for helping get the format consistent but is overly simplistic when applied to the body content. Semantics, really, but I prefer to think of the section in a "zettel guide" dealing with the content as a list of ticklers or prompts instead of a checklist.

I'm thinking of items like "What are points of criticism? What questions are relevant here? What are promising follow-up aspects?" Etc.

These are fusionable ticklers to consider when crafting a zettel. They are not conducive to a traditional "checklist."

Will Simpson
The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan
kestrelcreek.com

• edited December 2021

# 20211212125503 Zettelmania

CONTEXT [[Comment of Dec 11]] [[Will's reply to Thomas Teepe]]

@thomasteepe I tend to agree with @Will (who has what looks like a marketable Zettelkasten cheet sheet) that for our purposes, a checklist focuses more on format and structural elements, and less on the content, although I don't think there is a strict demarcation between them.

While I don't wish to discourage anyone from developing checklists for meta-cognition, meta-meta-cognition, decisive second-guessing, and dynamic dithering, I am more concerned with results other that the elaboration of "the theory of the theory."

Regarding my own template, I decided not to bother with fussy "semicolons" indicating the contextual distance (whatever that means) between notes. (I thought CPAP therapy was supposed to address this sort of nonsense.)

This seems to work: after the CONTEXT keyword, links to other notes are ordered from left to right by "proximity to" or "affinity with" or even "spiritual affinity with" the current note.

Immediate contextual links are closer to the CONTEXT keyword; more distant contextual links are further to the right.

The note title and, energy permitting, summary sentence (borrowed from @Will) in the body can indicate whether the current note is a continuation of or comment on another note.

I'm turning into a Zettelmaniac: I kept writing and configuring $(\LaTeX)$ until 3AM last night. Another Zettelkasten enthusiast on Reddit illustrates his workflow with a diagram:

(courtesy of imgur, see their TOS under fair use)

What we might call a structure note is termed an index in this illustration. The reminder to write (or at least ask yourself) why a note is important (right-hand side of diagram) indirectly addresses @thomasteepe 's question. Since this Reddit user claims to be so successful with his workflow, I might borrow from it.

Post edited by ctietze on

Erdős #2. ZK software components. “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport. Replies sometimes delayed since life is short.

• @ZettelDistraction I like the flashy flow chart. Blushing as my confirmation bias is showing.

I think @thomasteepe is more concerned with exploring this seeming little and underappreciated piece of the puzzle. The phrases used don't give us a sense of what we actually can do to "do this with absolute thoughtfulness." Seems like wishing for a miracle to occur.

The work done at this stage is done in a black box. What "tools for thought" do we shine a light on this process?

This reminds me of Sidney Harris's brilliant cartoon.

Will Simpson
The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan
kestrelcreek.com

• edited December 2021

@Will said:

I think @thomasteepe is more concerned with exploring this seeming little and underappreciated piece of the puzzle.

I have lost track. What does "this" refer to?

The phrases used don't give us a sense of what we actually can do to "do this with absolute thoughtfulness." Seems like wishing for a miracle to occur.

True. Those aren't phrases I would permit myself to use. I assume that if we knew what we actually can do to ensure "absolute thoughtfulness" whatever that is, then we would already be doing it. (That's an economic equilibrium argument, by the way.)

Likewise, the property of being "concept oriented" isn't clear enough to be useful. Maybe it's a compromise: if a concept isn't at hand, then orient your non-concept toward a real one. The "minimum information principle" lacks the concision of "concision." These phrases fall below the low-pass filter. I pass over them.

What's left is a sequence of steps such as "add a summary sentence at the top of the note" or "create structure notes," as if the flowchart had gone through the steps of the flowchart.

That's why I made my Zettel templates into Zettels, to test whether they produced other Zettels. The bootstrapping of a self-reproducing automaton. The "post-singularity" image of uploading your mind into a machine goes in the wrong direction. You "program" more and more of yourself into the ZK automaton until it eventually splits off as an independent "subject," as deluded as its programmer that it is the principal character of the story (its "personal narrative") it believes it is authoring.

Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

Erdős #2. ZK software components. “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport. Replies sometimes delayed since life is short.

• how do you use the marginalia? Do you add a prefix to each argument, or do you press cmd + a to format text as an argument?

my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

• I should always be prefixing my post with caveats. I like to write. It is how I think. I'm not too good at either, and I blame my DNA. I think with a keyboard under my fingers, and I read with a pen in my hand. I don't know what I think until I write, which sometimes leads to unclear arguments and contradictions. Oh well.

@ZettelDistraction said:

@Will said:

I think @thomasteepe is more concerned with exploring this seeming little and underappreciated piece of the puzzle.

I have lost track. What does "this" refer to?

Yet another bias surfaces—the Curse of Knowledge along with poor grammar. I intended "this" to refer to the snapshot of the bubble for the flow chart. It seems eventually you guessed what I was implying with no help from me. Sorry, I wish I could say I've learned my lesson and won't repeat this blunder, but ...

The phrases used don't give us a sense of what we actually can do to "do this with absolute thoughtfulness." It seems like wishing for a miracle to occur.

True. Those aren't phrases I would permit myself to use. I assume that if we knew what we actually could do to ensure "absolute thoughtfulness," whatever that is, then we would already be doing it. (That's an economic equilibrium argument, by the way.)

Many beginners want to know the details of the actions they need to perform to get results. While not impossible, even seasoned zettelnauts become tongue-tied when attempting to articulate the process they/we/I use when zettelkasting.

Similarly, seasoned zettelnauts are constantly looking for ways to improve by adjusting their workflows adding helpful aids (tools for thinking).

The flowchart is an example of a seasoned zettelnaut sketching out their workflow. @thomasteepe has pointed out here and elsewhere, a swarm of other helpful aids (tools for thinking). The "here" is a link to a thread that has garnished a lot of interest with 3.6K views)

Likewise, the property of being "concept oriented" isn't clear enough to be useful. Maybe it's a compromise: if a concept isn't at hand, then orient your non-concept toward a real one. The "minimum information principle" lacks the concision of "concision." These phrases fall below the low-pass filter. I pass over them.

What's left is a sequence of steps such as "add a summary sentence at the top of the note" or "create structure notes," as if the flowchart had gone through the steps of the flowchart.

Checklist steps trigger questions that a checklist isn't designed to handle. For example, "add a summary sentence at the top of the note."
1. Summary of what? My thinking? The author's thinking? (Some of both)
2. Should it include an argument? (Sometimes)
3. Should it be in the form of a question? (Sometimes)
4. Is it immutable? (Not usually)
5. Can it ever be a quote? (sure, why not)
6. When is the best time to create a summary sentence? (Usually, after the note is created)
7. Should it be in past tense or reference the future? (different tenses in different applications)
8. etc.

A checklist can trigger answering questions like these, but the checklist provides little help in finding the answers for use in active zettelkasting. Not finding answers is a stumbling block for novices, and as one becomes seasoned, the questions broaden, and answers become more nebulous, becoming metaphysical.

A list of prompts or questions is one solution to the problem of finding the answers to the question that arise zettelkasting.

I know it is a pittance, but the middle third of Checklist v3 is my early attempt to include some prompts with my checklist.

@Will said:
The zettel may include one or more of the following.

Argument
Counterarguments
Factual claim
Reference (to other text)
Quotation (only the pithiest)
Metaphor (a figurative comparison)
Summary of idea
Definition
Question posed by the author
Questioning the author
An idea #2do

Mentally elaborate on the concept. Elaborate on both the text you are reading and on your understanding. Use these elaborations as the search query for exploring the zettelkasten and not just the keywords and phrases in the body of the text. You'll be rewarded with connections that sparkle. These connections are the macronutrients of knowledge.

Will Simpson
The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan
kestrelcreek.com

• @zk_1000 said:
how do you use the marginalia?

I don't use most of the marginalia pictured above. I rarely have the luxury of marking in physical books anymore. I'm spoiled by my university library, World Cat, ILL, Kindle, Scribd, The Google, and the material you guys post here.

I have considered using different color highlights to indicate marginalia. 74.7% of my literature processing follows @Sascha's five-star Barbell Method the other 8.1% follows @Phil's luminous Idea Index Method.

Do you add a prefix to each argument, or do you press cmd + a to format text as an argument?

I'm not sure?
When I am zettelkasting I do tag #beautiful-language. I will capture interesting, relevant references in my shameful list of books wanting to be read or in the zettel itself if it is still in the proofing stage. All quotes taken for source material are formatted separately and cited. I started tagging #definitions early. As an example - Sonder 201901010850and have continued out of blind habit.

Will Simpson
The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan
kestrelcreek.com

• In the spirit of the Sidney Harris cartoon ("a miracle occurs here" - "I think you should be more explicit here in step two") from this post - here's a similar idea:

The Feynman Problem-Solving Algorithm:
(1) Write down the problem.
(2) Think very hard.
(Murray Gell-Mann - more and very interesting ideas around this algorithm can be found here.)

Again, there is a certain lack of explicitness in step two. Here are several ideas on how to make this step a bit more transparent, again with an emphasis of doing work in a ZK environment.

• There is an abundance of literature dedicated to breaking step two down into actionable parts - there are shelf meters on problem solving in general, on problem solving in more and more specialized domains, on partial processes like asking questions or generating ideas and many more.
I think lots of actionable helpful advice from these books can be arranged in meaningful ways - e.g. a smallish number of fundamental processes surrounded by clusters of tools and stimuli for more specific things.

• To aim for the one final master tool collection feels very wrong.
I find it much more promising to design a "tool module" and practices for handling it as part of the ZK environment (not necessarily as part of the actual ZK itself). As mentioned before, my personal approach is a corkboard at my desk, with a few dozens of small notes, each containing a bundle of tools or stimuli. These notes can contain, well, checklists for note structures or checklists for tool uses, or layouts for graphic organizers, or lists of questions, or TRIZ principles.
(The corkboard and the small notes are one instance of the much more general and very flexible "cards on a canvas" model - two-pane editors or digital mind maps with branch notes or the Cardflow app are other examples.)
There are certainly more compelling screen-based options to access vast arrays of basic tools with minimal effort - again touching questions of visible information capacity, more on this here. With such digital solutions, it seems natural that the tool module is part of the ZK itself.

• This "tool module" perspective evokes a number of questions I find quite stimulating:

• How can the tool module elements break down the "think very hard" directive into actionable parts?
• With a view to younger or less experienced users - what are useful elements of possible starter tool kits that facilitate the co-evolution of the tool module and its user?
Are there bootstrapping mechanisms that lead from a simple starter kit to something capable of supporting highly advanced problem solving?

• What tool module elements are especially useful and failproof and foolproof?

• What's the potential of checklists that ensure the application of certain tools? - My previous idea on checklists for note content can be seen in this light - with checklist items like: Did you apply the "ask relevant questions" tool? Did you apply the "derive a goal from this situation" tool? Etc.
• The tool module and the ZK itself mirror Dörner's distinction between a heuristic structure and an epistemic structure (Problemlösen als Informationsverarbeitung, 1976 - sorry for mentioning it again). In a vague analogy, in computer science, there is the concept of computer architecture, with the Princeton architecture / von Neumann architecture and the Harvard architecture as examples. I have the still very vague feeling that the notion of a "ZK environment architecture" can be connected with the basic question of how tools are used in a ZK environment.
• Finally - how to avoid the rabbit-hole of allocating far too much time to the tool module?
• @thomasteepe said:
* With a view to younger or less experienced users - what are useful elements of possible starter tool kits that facilitate the co-evolution of the tool module and its user?
Are there bootstrapping mechanisms that lead from a simple starter kit to something capable of supporting highly advanced problem solving?

I'm a beginner at the stage of looking at a starter kit of tools, stealing those tools that work, and discarding the rest. I love the idea of a corkboard pinned with an array of questions/prompts. Here is my attempt at a digital corkboard. In the screenshot below, using Keyboard Maestro, I have it read Zettel Tool Kit 202112141635 and then present it in a window. One of the advantages is that as a zettel any edits made while zettelkasting, in my zettelkasting software, sheathed in fabulous The Archive, are reflected in the Keyboard Maestro macro.
Currently, the Zettel ToolKit includes a formatting checklist. I'll want to think about evolving the Zettel ToolKit.

Will Simpson
The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan
kestrelcreek.com