Relationships between different kinds of notes

Hi everyone,

I am trying Obsidian to implement a zettelkasten-like notes system. One thing I’ve always struggled to wrap my head around is the relationships between different kinds of notes.

By the time I add something to Obsidian, the notes are pretty lean: I have distilled the source down to a relatively small number of big ideas. I keep a document with those notes and some reference information as a literature note. In Obsidian, I’ve put these in a sub-folder of the main vault.

Then, I have another sub-folder called “Permanent notes.” (I think around these parts, these are synonymous with “Evergreen notes”?)In this folder, I have created note with a title that is usually a statement. Here’s where I start to trip up. Should these all be my own original thought, or should they capture some of the big ideas I’ve taken out of other things I am reading?

Here’s an example.

I read an article about how people evaluate their own ideas, which is relevant to a subject I am interested in: brainstorming and idea generation, and how to do it better.

In that article, the researcher reports that people discard abstract ideas much more readily than concrete ideas, even when the abstract idea is a good one. I make note of that in my literature note.

I might then create a permanent note that says “People are poor judges of the quality of an idea.”

Then, in that note, I would write a sentence or two talking about the study and linking back to the literature note. This note might include some other notes on the topic of judgement.

Then, I might also have a Structure note (a “MOC”?) on brainstorming, broken up into sections, which might link to the note “People are poor judges of the quality of an idea.”

Am I on the right track? Am I missing something? I think I am having trouble because 1) my “permanent” notes seem quite thin right now, without much of my own original thought in them–they seem to be more collections of relevant sources and 2) my world is in design, product management, and UX, whereas a lot of the zettelkasten examples I come across online tend to be more academic.

Thanks for any advice!

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IMHO, it looks as if you’re on the right track. Here is my workflow - and how my own vault is organised:

I have 3 folders in my vault:

  • Inbox: this is the folder where notes first arrive, usually as a quick jot-down of an idea that comes into my head, a copy of a quote I saw somewhere, or even an URL to a new site I’ve found. The notes here are ‘starting points’ which I’ll either evolve later, or delete. I think of this as my ‘drafts’ space.
  • Media: a dump folder for images, PDFs, and any other external files/resources that might be referenced from inside my Notes.
  • Notes: this is where the ‘evergreen notes’ live - once I finished evolving a note sufficiently, I move it here. This is the actual Zettelkasten.

By definition, a Zettelkasten note is atomic and autonomous - it should “stand on its own”. If a note contains only a quote, or a copy of something I’ve read, it doesn’t ‘stand on its own’: I need to add my own commentary or interpretation of it, and link it to other notes, before I move it from my Inbox. Why is it relevant? How is it applicable? What does it relate to?

If I find myself writing a 1000-word note, I know it is probably no longer ‘atomic’ - a note is not supposed to be an essay (originally, in Luhmann’s system, it was supposed to fit into an index card!). So, my ‘overview’ notes tend to be quite short, and reference lots of other notes.

Sometimes, an overview note will be born from the “bottom-up”: from gathering information and writing notes, I start seeing a relationship between several of them, and the need for an explanatory ‘overview’. Example: I started researching the current state of Zettelkasten software, and started adding notes about all the software I found and tested - one note for each app I found. Once I had about 6 of them, I decided that it would be nice to have a ‘Zettelkasten Software’ note, to group them all. In that higher-level note I wrote a brief explanation of the features that make a software package specifically useful for Zettelkasten.

Sometimes, however, I will write the overview note first, and the linked child notes will be written later, in a “top-down” approach. For example: when writing the Zettelkasten Software overview note, I quickly made a list of the ‘useful features’ that a Zettelkasten app should have - “support standard markdown”, “link autoupdate when filename changes”, “backlink autodetection”, “link suggestions”, etc. After writing the note, I realised that a couple of years from now these terms might mean nothing to me, so I decided to write quick notes about each of these features, as explanations of what they mean, and why they seem important right now.

I hope this helps!

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You will likely find this thread useful (if not arduous):

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