7/22/20 - this guide is being developed as a series of individual notes first over in the public zettelkasten: Note 133 - Note 162.
Once finished I will transfer them over to this post
This post over on Zettelkasten De forum made me realize I should probably work on creating a very simple zettelkasten guide. Creation of a more elaborate zettelkasten guide being outlined here (on hold while I do research).
All of this is being supported by the creation of a forum based zettelkasten.
- Brief Evolution of Note Taking
- Core Note Functions
- Zettelkasten is about Development
- Different ways to Develop Knowledge
- Developing through Note Sequences
- Developing through Connecting Notes
- Practical Example
- Principles that support Development
Brief Evolution of Note Taking
Note Taking at its core is the storage of information. This information started out in the form of knowledge (memorized information) that aided us in survival as a species, such as the location of the watering hole and what time of day animals congregate there.
Over time as survival became easier, we have been given the space that allows for the collection of information that isn’t vital to living. The explosion of information ran into conflict with our brains desire to streamline information for survival purposes (forgetting). So we started to write down information that we didn’t want to forget and referenced it when necessary.
This also allowed us to share information with each other over time and space, leading to an even greater proliferation of information. Over the centuries you see the cycle of information explosion and creation of tools to manage it, such as the index and table of contents.
Core Note Taking Functions
For most of time the tools have been centered around the core four note functions involved in referencing: storage, sorting, selecting, summarizing (Blair 2010, pg 15). Lets take a look at it from a paper and digital viewpoint, starting with a paper reference book.
You start by storing the information on paper of various sizes and qualities.
You then create pointers to the different sections of information so that you can easily find them again. Two common ways of sorting the pointers are thematic and alphabetical.
The reader would then select the information they want to reference using the sorted pointers. If you wanted to search for the information thematically, you’d use a table of contents. Alphabetically, you’d use an index.
Because the information out there is too big for one book, the authors of reference books would include summaries of other information collections (other books).
- You store the information on a latticework of webpages, with each page explaining an idea or concept.
- The information is sorted through unique page names, which in turn can be searched, removing the need for advanced sorting techniques. On both mentioned websites, pages are often sorted thematically for easier comprehension with the use of hubs or table of contents.
- To select the information you can either use links or a universal search.
- Wikipedia implements summarizing through the creation of page introductions/overviews at the top of each page.
Enter in the Zettelkasten
Zettelkasten, “note box” in German, is a broad term that can represent a different set of ideas depending on who you talk to. For the purpose of this guide, I am using it to reference both the note taking system of sociologist Niklas Luhmann and my digital interpretation of it.
The zettelkasten system is about introducing a fifth function, that of development. Instead of just structuring material for future reference (e.g. book or wiki), you are structuring it in a way that helps you further develop your knowledge base. Once a section of your knowledge base (zettelkasten) has been sufficiently developed, you can then use it in a couple of ways.
You can share the knowledge you developed through a research paper, blog post, or book.
You can formalize the knowledge into a more useful form that can then be referenced later. This would be using your zettelkasten to create an entry in your personal wiki.
Leave the notes alone and just reference them next time you run into a situation where that set of information would be helpful.
You can formalize the knowledge into a model that you memorize. This would be akin to creating a sequence of notes about a cooking recipe that you are experimenting with. After you’ve created a sequence of notes on the recipe over a span of 3 years, you memorize the ideal recipe intentionally with a program like Anki or unintentionally by just using the recipe frequently.
What Development of Knowledge Means
You can further developing your knowledge base in multiple ways. The two primary forms it takes is the generation of new ideas and the creation of structure.
As you create individual notes and link them together, you are creating a structure. Structure can take the form of mapping out the most important components of a idea. If I were to model/map out “my family”, I would include notes on all the members and the interpersonal dynamics between us. Another form of structure is the creation of arguments and the corresponding evidence, including counter evidence. For example, I have a sequence of notes about how awesome dogs are. Every time I come across new information that supports or detracts from this argument, I add it to the note sequence.
- New Ideas
- Remixing Ideas
- Representing Ideas
- Creating New Connections
- Pooling Diverse Sources (Spatial)
- Pooling Information over Time (Temporal)
Reference Features of a Physical Zettelkasten
- How Luhmann Structured his Notes for Increased Development
- Note Titles
Developmental Features of a Physical Zettelkasten
- How Luhmann Structured his Notes for Increased Development
- Luhmann IDs
- Note Sequences
- Linking between Notes
One important understanding about Luhmann’s Zettelkasten system is a lot of his design choices were centered around limitations placed on him by having a physical system. It is important to keep that in mind when creating a digital zettelkasten because it does not face the same restrictions, so some design choices may be different.
Reference Features of a Digital Zettelkasten
- How you can Digitally Structure your Notes for Reference
Developmental Features of a Digital Zettelkasten
- How you can Digitally Structure your Notes for Increased Development
Practical Example One
Use the pizza recipe as a basic example.
Practical Example Two
- Link to comment about using the Zettelkasten as a Student
- Link to comment about using the Zettelkasten as a Fiction Writer
- Link to comment about using the Zettelkasten as a Programmer
- Link to comment about using the Zettelkasten for Everyday Living
- Other Requests
Practical Example Three
Use my forum based zettelkasten
Principles that Support Development
Rules help guide you in achieving an outcome. These principles (rules) help push you in the direction of knowledge development instead of just knowledge management.