How to implement zettelkasten's sequence of notes?

I am new to Obsidian and new to zettelkasten. I noticed that zettelkasten notes are connected both by “free-style” connections and by sequences. It was said that a new related note can be created and added at the back of the original note… I am wondering how people simulate this in Obsidian.

I am thinking to create a linked list. In other words, each note will have a standard header, which contains a Prev field and a Next field, connecting to the previous and next note in the sequence respectively.

Is there any better idea?

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I think this will be a lot of work to maintain.

Let’s say you have a sequence of 20 notes. Now you want to add a new note after #2. That also means you’d need to update notes 3 through 20.

I fear that that approach kind of defeats the one of the purposes of the Zettelkasten, which is to freely collect notes and combine them (later) in new ways.

If you’d know that making a single note means you’d also have to edit 20 or 40 other notes, there’s probably not much motivation to make a note in the first place.

I work with index files where I place the links to the notes in a logical order. If I want to add a new note in between existing lines, I’ll add it to a new line.

For instance:

- [[A]]
- [[B]]
- [[C]]

After making a new note:

- [[A]]
- [[D]]
- [[B]]
- [[C]]

Each note that I include in such a list also links back to the index file, which makes it possible to freely navigate from the higher level picture (the index) to the details (the individual notes).

(This is not a special way of working I myself designed. :slight_smile: As far as I know it’s quite a common way to create a digital Zettelkasten.)

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In Niklas Luhmann’s zettelkasten (the godfather of zettlekasten) sequenced notes were based on numbering. So if your note is numbered 1, and you create a new one on the basis of the 1st one, it could be numbered 1A. Another note created on the basis of 1 could be numbered 1B.

A note created on the basis of 1A could be numbered 1A1, and so on. Luhmann did not have a digital system, he had physical index card in a drawer set, i.e. zettels in a zettelkasten.

The jury is out on whether a sequenced note system is useful in a dogotal set-up: some people swear by it, others believe it’s a waste of time.

I believe Luhmann’s reason for his numbered sequence system was to be able to discover unexpected paths towards new ideas, but also to find his way around his zettelkasten, comparable to what we now call “search”. Our digital systems allow us quick, very specific, very detailed searches, more than he could only dream of.

Moreover, our linking system also allows us to wander from link to link and have our serendipity that way.

So, sequenced notes the Luhamann way? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Bottom line: there is no generally right or wrong system. The only right system is the one that works for you, which depends on what your objectives are.


Thanks, @JkNML. This is helpful. How do you make an index file efficiently? I can use search to find relevant articles and then it is painful to transfer the search results into an index file.

@Klaas, I completely agree.

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@zyzhu2000: take a look at @davecan’s approach to the sequencing issue here. He has an interesting analysis and new way of looking at it. It might help you too.

Thanks for the ping @Klaas.

@zyzhu2000 since I wrote that I’ve started to think the strict hierarchical naming convention is an anti pattern. This is based on my now having a copy of Sonke Ahren’s book and reviewing it as well as much more reading online. Including this description of Luhmann’s process in slides from the creator of the Zettelkasten software:

I was thinking this evening about how to solve the exact same question you have without hierarchical IDs and then I realized I’ve actually already used the tool in Obsidian.

The answer to the capability you are looking for is to activate the Refactor plugin. I changed the text from Refactored to -> to Forward -> and from Refactored from to <- Previous. I tested it with some example notes and it works perfectly. I created a multi-note chain / sequence / folgezettel in seconds. All you have to do is type the name of the “child” note you want to create where you want the forward link to appear, highlight it and run the Note Refactor: Extract selection to new note - first line as file name command (Cmd-P then type exfl or whatever key combination you want, it autocompletes) and hit enter. The new “child” note is created, the forward link and back links are automatically established, and your folgezettel now exists.

This is motivating me to move away from the hierarchical IDs since those are actually driving me to imply a forward link without actually creating one – which is exactly the same as using folders, and is wrong.

Consciously choosing to create the forward link seems more effective to me. And typing the note name in the parent note forces you to find at least one parent note to attach it to.

Incidentally that was Luhmann’s golden rule - every note must proceed from a preceding note. So this has that effect without the arbitrary hierarchical IDs.

I’m going to experiment some more but this seems promising.

Hope that helps you.


@davecan, thanks for the slides and the ideas.

I am thinking, though, maybe the concept of sequence of notes is obsolete. Luhmann had to adopt a sequence of notes because an index card could only fit few words and it was important for the purpose of searching to have a standard format. However, with today’s tools, it appears we can just add the new contents to the same note. I am not seeing what is wrong with bigger notes.

@zyzhu2000: there is nothing “wrong” with bigger notes as such, but they go against the concept of “atomic” notes, which are very short notes with 1 idea on them. That was Luhmann’s way, and for a digital zettelkasten that should still be applied if you expect your zettelkasten to work as Luhmann’s.

I have 1 vault for my zettelkasten, which has atomic notes, and I have another vault with long-very long notes. Both have heavily inter-linked notes, but I do not use sequence notes in the zettelkasten.

The difference is that my zettelkasten notes should generate new ideas/view points in me, whereas the other vault is more to understand the bigger picture of an issue (geopolitical).

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HI @davecan - I have the Refactor plugin installed. I like your approach here but I’m so new to Obsidian I don’t quite understand HOW to set up something like you mention here. Can you provide the steps or screenshots of how you did this?