In what ways can we form useful relationships between notes [LONG READ]

@paoloap Andy mentioned that Evergreen note titles are like APIs. The titles become abstractions for the notes itself, and an entire note can be referenced using the title.

APIs is a crucial component to effective high-level programming (higher abstraction level of thinking), since we are reusing fine-grained (atomic) abstractions (note titles). Using this analogy, there are several principles of API design that we can apply to the note title design (separation of concerns, etc). Over time, as our ideas mature, we go back and refactor the APIs (refactor note title and its content) to achieve a higher level of atomicity.

I think that’s one of the arguments for note titles. Personally I employ this approach. My note titles often start out as in-the-moment-conceptualization, and as I revisit them within a day or two I often reflect better and refactor the note titles to something more representative of the notes’ ideas


On a more practical level, how do you link to a note that has no title?

1 Like

IMO that is the crux. As with a book, or any document that carries a title, the title is the ultimate, super-concise summary of it. Like you, that’s how I see and use titles.

1 Like

At least some sort of slug in the file name gives a hint, 202007190807 Recipe - Grilled Red Snapper as opposed to just 202007190807 lets you look at files in a directory and have some clue. Even if the slug you use in the filename isn’t perfect, it is something.

Suppose five years from now you have 10,000 notes. Just looking at the folder of files with only numbers as filenames would kind of look like a black hole.
I doubt you would ever regret using some sort of slug in the filename. You might if you ever need to look into that black hole.

Filenames like these below at least give you the top entry points into your network of notes from a folder of files on the file system:


thanks for sharing, conventional db design and organizational applications would be super interesting to explore as well

Thanks for the pointer and for sharing your personal approach Andy was already in my reading list, will delve into it.

Revisiting note titles after a couple of days seems an excellent technique to refine notes conceptualization and enhancing future applicability.

1 Like

thanks for sharing, conventional db design and organizational applications would be super interesting to explore as well

Your reply should have gone to @ryanjamurphy.

Well, here’s a quick one: On Information Quality. It’s kinda tangential, but I think it gets at concepts fundamental to these discussions. It defines what information quality is and how it can be improved.

And a second, on the fundamental cognitive challenges of classifying information in databases: Using Cognitive Principles to Guide Classification in Information Modelling.


Well said, I agree and follow the same process.

It’s always nice to see @ryanjamurphy’s PDFs, full of generous highlights. Thank you for the references!


+1 one that:
Every system or workflow that requires some (pre)post-processing to keep it “organised” will not work when you want that workflow to last for years.
There is also the notion of “ongoing insights” which is the factor that over the years your insights on things change (normally because you became smarter on a subject :wink: )
In a tight system where everything is boxed and separated you will not (believe me) reshuffle anything when your insights change. Nor will you go through years of note to see if you didn’t miss anything.


Where is the spark?

Or to be more precise - what should be the spark igniting insightful thinking when using this or any other PKM?

I’ve read ‘long reads’ by @nickmilo, watched few lectures by Sonke Ahrens on Zettelkasten, tried to replicate IMF set-up after I’ve gathered up enough (i.e. too many) notes, but now what?

What exactly should “spark” that thought? Should you go twice a day through your cards like Luhmann picking random notes (I know there is a plugin) or re-visit/update MOC’s periodically, or stare at the “Graph view” as if the stars in black sky and wait for inspiration?

Or maybe this very work of organizing/management of constantly changing personal knowledge should have a value in it’s self (journey not a destination)? Keeping in mind -


Johnny Decimal looks cool. I’ve been thinking that some type of Dewey system might work for me…might give this a shot.

Imagine today that I write down my thoughts about an object-A.
I title my file “29 My thoughts on Object A”, and I put it under 2020/10.
Three days later, I have a new thought for object-A.
What to do?
It’s only been three days, and I remember “29 My thoughts on Object A”.
I could add this additional thought in 2020/10/29.
Yes, but this thought arrived on 2020/11/01.
And if I put it in 2020/10/29, I betray the rule of time.
If I follow the rule of time, I produce a new note titled “01 An additional thought on object-A” and then put it under 2020/11. And so as not to lose the thread between these two notes, I create a link from one to the other.
Yes, but is this link relevant?
Because this link has no other purpose than to overcome a temporal gap between the sequence of my thoughts on the object-A.
I could eliminates the need a link, if I was willing to deviate from the time rule.
I need to be able to assess whether the link makes sense.
Was the context of these three days really necessary for this little extra thought?
Because this thought isn’t really a new thought, just a little extra thought.
An oversight.
It’s not really an oversight, but it could be like an oversight.
I must know how to estimate the load of difference between the thoughts which concern the same object.
A significant amount of difference would have made me perceive this thought as sufficiently individual. And then I would have gladly placed it in 2020/11/01.
And I would have linked them together.
But when I look at this little extra thought that was rejected in the next month, it seems to me that it belongs by right to the three days before it, like the latecomer of a procession.
Have you encountered this kind of case, and how do you resolve it?
Do I have to relentlessly follow the law of time, to avoid any friction related to the location of things?

Hoping that my message is not too confusing, English is not my mother tongue.

1 Like

@Nato Yes, I do come across this issue of having additional thoughts down the road, maybe a few days later, and I have to decide whether to create a new note or add to an existing note. Since it’s my system and I’m not worried about the Zettelkasten police coming after me, I just pick whatever seems right at the time.

[3 minutes later]
I’ve been known to add an addendum to the end of an existing note which looks like this – a dividing line and a bracketed date. If I ever care in the future, I can see that I added the thought after the original note, but I’m not sure this will matter much in a year.

As a matter of practice, I try to have all my notes linked to both time and some topic. The folder structure I outlined naturally provides the time axis, and if I also link each note to a relevant topic MOC then I have both a semantic and a temporal link. Note and Block transclusion makes your concern about when to combine notes less stressful, I think, because you can capture the thoughts as individual notes when you have them, and then just include them in a single note via transclusion, so the individual bits all appear in one place. I’ve found that this makes it easier to not worry about how things are divided.


When I am confronted with my chaos of notes, and the means to find my way around, I experience a lot of hesitation between the semantics and the temporal. You seem to have found a good compromise between the two.

My discovery of zettelkasten is recent and I am digesting what I have learned on the subject.
It’s fascinating, but I don’t know if it’s what I need yet.

I’m thinking of a flexible system, with which I can concentrate on the content, while minimizing the energy expenditure related to the management of this system.

The difference in applications accessible between Windows and Mac is edifying.

I’m trying to build what’s good for me but I’m not satisfied yet, there is a lot of confusion, unstable localities.

There is a purely practical dimension, but also a sensitive and psychological one.

Thanks for your sharing.

1 Like

@Nato, here are some random thoughts on the problem from my perspective:

Imagine today that I write down my thoughts about an object-A.
I title my file “29 My thoughts on Object A”, and I put it under 2020/10.
Three days later, I have a new thought for object-A.
What to do?

There are no absolutes to this problem because it depends on several factors:

  1. Do dates represent creation or modification? Can it be either?
  2. Is the note anchored in time? (Does it represent an event?)
  3. Does a later thought serve a purpose being a separate note?
  4. When is it important to have a trail of modifications?

On creation and modification dates

The importance of either creation or modification date depends on the context. I think that both are important; sometimes creation date is fairly meaningless, and sometimes it’s critically important. If the note represents things that should be “maintained” in some way (for example, a packing list,) then modification date is more important to me because I don’t really care when I started the packing list, but I do care when I last updated it. In your specific example, for me personally, it wouldn’t matter that I had the thought three days later if it serves no real purpose to separate that one thought.

On notes anchored in time (representing an event)

Let’s use the example of going to a doctor appointment. You’d have a note for that visit with all of your thoughts. If something occurred to you three days later about that visit, what you’ll do with it depends entirely on the relationship to the visit. If the thought really is about the visit (for example, you forgot one thing the doctor said,) I would absolutely add it to the existing note. By my way of thinking, it doesn’t matter that the thought came three days later. It’s about an event anchored to a specific place in the timeline. I think that it would serve a disservice to do otherwise. However if the thought is at all tangential, it would be a separate note with perhaps a link in the original note. Again following the same example, let’s say the doctor told you your Triglycerides are too high. You recorded this in your visit note. Three days later, you remembered that you read an article saying that there’s preliminary evidence that Cinnamon lowers Triglycerides. This would be a separate note with the details / citation. You could link this to the visit note if you want the association to be stronger than simply having similar keywords. In this way, when you revisit the original note, the train of thought leads you right there.

On later thoughts being separate notes

I think that part of this decision is intuition. You must ask yourself if that later thought really serves a separate purpose. Using the phrase I used above, is the additional thought at all tangential to the original note? If yes, it might need to be separate.

I could add this additional thought in 2020/10/29.
Yes, but this thought arrived on 2020/11/01.
And if I put it in 2020/10/29, I betray the rule of time.

I don’t believe in a rule of time. The thought is either strongly associated to the original note, or it isn’t. Unless you’re doing research into how long after you’re exposed to a concept do you continue to have novel thoughts about that concept, I don’t see the value in an absolute rule that says every thought must be timestamped when you have the thought.

On the importance of modification audit trail

There may be contexts in which it is important to you to see modifications to a note over time. If the changes tend to be singular and not often, these can be managed in the note itself if the data is amenable to being date-stamped within the note. But if it is expected that there will be many changes at once, it might be better to strike a new note as a copy of the previous one, with a new timestamp, containing that latest version. The version list could be maintained in a MoC, or the versions could be a linked list forward and backward, or both.

I hope this helps.


Damn nice article, Nick. (I read the Medium version, and followed you.) Thanks for making it a friend link.

I’ve seen videos of yours and others using “moc” (most of whom credit you with it), but while I love the concept, I still hold out hope for a better name!

It was really helpful to see an example, and to think of it as a “curated collection with headings and arbitrary order within the headings”. When you add higher-order collections and links from the Home page, the end result really is a “map”.

But by the same token, if the sum total is a map, then an individual collection is more of a map fragment. Or a zoomed-in map. Or focused map, or higher resolution map (like state vs. city). Or transit map vs. cycling map. Or some such. (I’m still looking for a label I can love!)

Anyway, thanks for sorting out that approach. HIgh-level folders are still useful, but curated collections (cc’s?) are the way to go for a large mass of material. (And I just love the idea that you can define them top down, or have them emerge from the bottom up, or both… :__)


Hey Eric, I saw your comment on Medium and here, but will just respond here to say it always thrills me when someone really “gets” the unexpected side effects of these higher-order notes—whatever they may be called.

I’m not a huge fan of “MOC” and yet…I find its ambiguity makes it antifragile in my own mind—because there are so many reasons I want to make higher-order notes and something as vague as “MOC” never impedes my various intentions. Sometimes it’s to gather ideas (to overcome the anxiety of having them scattered). Other times it’s to develop ideas. And yet other times it’s to navigate ideas (or some variation of the three). Thanks for the message!

To continue with the Congress analogy, the MOCs may be a bit like the Congressional houses themselves. They’re a bit more defined, standing, permanent…but they’re also a bit fluid, because they aren’t comprised of exactly the same set of people forever.