I use Obsidian as a Zettelkasten, and you might know that traditionally there are different kinds of links that each serve slightly different purposes.
For instance there are:
links to follow-up notes (which further explain another aspect of the original note or simply continue the trail of thought, adding another atomic piece of information)
cross-referential links (which link to a note that, while being in a completely different context, shares the same abstract idea of the original note)
links to overview/hub notes (which serve as hub where all related notes are gathered in order to get an overview on everything that I’ve written about a particular topic)
What we have:
Graph view (especially the local one!) is fantastic for following the hierarchical aspect of follow-up notes and see how they branch off. Really neat and useful function as an academic.
Unfortunately it is impossible to distinguish between cross references, follow-up notes and links to hub notes at this moment, so as the number of links grows, the less functional graph view gets.
Being able to color code links! Maybe have all links to follow-up notes appear in blue, all the cross references in orange, or whatever your heart desires.
I have no idea on how to implement this, as I am no programmer, but I bet it’s possible!
The ability to color links would be a game changer for me!
(Topic is similar to this this here, but I thought that it warranted its own thread).
This seems related to (but slightly different from) the existing request for adding an ability to label link arcs by extending the link syntax. They are both driven by much the same underlying issue just two different solutions.
Link labeling would allow the graph to be represented separately as a list of triplets (node A, relationship, node B) and opens the door to it being queryable. And labels could be exposed and styled for color using CSS.
In practice, overview notes develop very organically.
Imagine you are researching a topic, say: coercion in psychiatry.
Naturally you are reading many sources, lots of papers and such. For each paper you write down their respective key insights on individual notes. As one research paper can spawn not only one but several individual notes (“zettels”) and you don’t only process a single paper but many over the course of your research, I am sure you can imagine how fast you will accumulate a vast amount of individual notes.
Prevent notes from getting lost
Sure, the notes will link to one another via follow-up notes or cross references, so you can start with a random note and just follow the breadcrumb trail, but there will always be notes that are not within the cluster (or rather the referential map) you are currently navigating. So how would you reach those notes?
Prevent yourself from forgetting the connections
Another maybe even bigger problem is that even if the notes you write are all self-explanatory due to their atomic nature, you will still forget in which context you initially wrote them after a couple days or weeks.
And a note that you forgot the meaning of is basically worthless, especially once your Zettelkasten reaches sizes of well over 150+ individual notes (mind if your Zettelkasten grows even bigger over the years and you have several thousand zettels in there, which you eventually will end up with).
At last, the most immediate need:
Once you have written a dozen or so notes about your topic, you will want to use them to write, because that is what the Zettelkasten is all about and why you are using it in the first place.
You will want to use the notes to create an argumentative structure that will eventually become your own draft, so you need a place where you can see every note (everything!) at one glance, so that you can get the notes in the right order.
In contrast: If you had a paper based Zettelkasten, you would take all the relevant notes out of your vault, lay them out on the table in front of you, and shuffle them around to see how they relate to each other.
The overview note basically serves as your digital desk in front of you.
Here’s an example of an overview-/hub note from my Zettelkasten:
The genius behind the Zettelkasten method is that, once your Zettelkasten has reached a certain critical mass, you will come across an idea that, while being in a certain context, will also apply to a completely different context. On the surface the two notes might not have much in common, but will share the same abstract principles that connect the two.
This way you can combine already existing ideas (that you wrote down on individual notes) and generate a new idea based of the connection or commonality the two share (which can in turn become a new research topic etc.).
At the moment I don’t have a good example in mind, but I hope you get what I mean
There are a lot of things to learn about the Zettelkasten method :).
Lately, I’ve reached a critical mass of notes where it isn’t easy to figure out the cohesion between them. I’m trying to figure out how to synthesize topics, perhaps writing those overview notes … or probably with a Canvas to arrange notes in space, I don’t know.
How can one generalize or synthesize notes? Or prepare them to be useful for different contexts? How to name them?
I understand your question as “How do I decide which notes belong on my overview notes?”, to which my answer would be the following:
Each overview note has its distinct purpose depending on what you need it for.
At a fundamental level, overview notes are entry points into your collected knowledge, or even better: into your own externalized thoughts (/train of thought).
Especially if you already have a huge amount of notes, you will need some point to dive in, right?
So creating overview notes just for the sake of having them is pointless.
They need to fulfil a function, serve a need and solve a problem for you.
As an entry point they already solve the problem “Where do I start?” for you. But they could also solve your problem of “How do I find every relevant information on coercion in psychiatry?” that arises once you want to write about that particular topic. Or “Damn, I keep losing track of how these particular connected notes branch off”.
This also implies that you can have the same notes on different overview notes, because they are each viewed in a different context with different implications.
The important bit is that overview notes (or any note, really) should develop organically. Not because you think “Oh, I’ve read somewhere that a proper Zettelkasten needs overview notes, so I must implement them”, but because you are intrinsically motivated.
As to the question how to name notes
I have found it quite useful to make it a habit to use their central argument as a title. My notes are titled “[The note’s ID] Irrationality is no justification for compulsory treatment” or “[The note’s ID] The implications of the Zeigarnik effect”, for instance.
It’s interesting how notes can be named so differently.
For some years, I’ve used mostly nouns to name my notes. I name notes with the person’s name, a place’s name, the date for an entry in the Journal, etc.
After reading your message about naming notes using a ‘central argument,’ I started to experiment in my own vault, reformulating and naming some of the notes differently using arguments. Until now I’m amazed, they seem to better describe the relations between things, they seem to narrate better stories.
Nouns are still useful to describe a machine, for instance, with notes for each of the parts.
I’m experimenting with two folders in the same vault:
‘Things,’ where notes are named as nouns.
‘Discourse,’ where notes are named with ‘central arguments’.
Let’s see how it goes.
I imagine these notes will use different kinds of colored links. Relations between ‘Things’ are more like is-a, or part-of, whereas when writing a discourse, the connections you describe make more sense.
I’m happy with this simple and powerful experiment
I’m not sure how to use something like this in a big graph. Perhaps I should partition it into smaller pieces. Or perhaps one could show notes close if their textual content is similar, discovering and painting colored clusters, etc.