What is a Zettelkasten - In 10 Seconds

Sometimes the best way of understanding something is hearing what people have to say about it.

What is a zettelkasten, in 10 seconds? [^1]

You link every idea to every other idea, so that eventually you start to find associations you weren’t intentionally looking for, and it begins to create new ideas. - @mediapathic

It’s a second/external brain. You using it - doubles up as learning. - @sigod

Make your notes (ideas), as singular/specific/atomic as possible, densely link them (with links, tags, metadata, timestamps, attributes, relations, etc), in order to create a web of connections. Allows for easy retrieval of info, less things lost, and biggest of all, seeing connections, associations and patterns you couldn’t otherwise and the serendipity of finding/coming across notes/ideas you didn’t think were related. - @animeking527

The idea is to stress linking rather than folders/hierarchy - @kllian

zk is not primarily for storage/recall but for creating a representation of networked thought you can interact with. - @ambientcomplexity

zettelkasten = small notes written by you and connecting by themes. @Abdulla

[^1]: These quotes are pulled from Obsidian’s discord.

How would you describe a zettelkasten?


A zettelkasten is a latticework of strings of thoughts/zettels (sequence of notes).

A zettel (zettelkasten notes, thoughts, ideas) is a meaningfully connected note that is kept atomic/autonomous as is necessary for it to contribute to multiple strings of thoughts/zettels.

This is all done with the goal of getting the maximum utility out of both a single note and the entire latticework.


Would you use a Zettelkasten as your sole system to store knowledge or should it be a secondary thing to something more traditional?
I want to use Obsidian as a good “excuse” to reorganize my personal wiki / notes / ideas but am unsure how to proceed.

It’s a personal preference. Many people on here are likely using it as their primary store of knowledge.

My utopian goal is to have knowledge in my brain, when that fails I need computer tools to get it into my brain.


Ha, touché and well said!

Luhmann used it as an aid to thinking and writing/publishing. He carefully limited what he put in. A store of his own work-related thoughts.

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@nickmilo I really like several of those answers from Discourse but I don’t think they’re helpful to someone searching for a PKM system. A far better question for many in these forums might be “when are you not creating a zettlekasten?” To which my answers would be:

  1. when you are capturing a giant list of random notes that have unique numeric addresses, and/or,
  2. when you are having a machine create automatic links between your notes.

Both are falling right into the collectors fallacy that the system was created to avoid. Neither helps with real learning.


@greasemonkey Excellent points.

What IS NOT a zettelkasten is equally important to understand.

Your two points are good examples of that. For point two, what software even does that?

That is what I am considering to do, but “IT” is a broad field in itself. And then there is unrelated stuff, books I read etc. Guess I need at least 2 vaults to keep this somehow sane and usable.

Not sure any does - but there have been feature requests to have Obsidian perform in that fashion. There is also a potential pitfall even in the drop down selector for backlinks - if you’re mindlessly backlinking.

Personally I’d argue that there are 2 main values in Zettleing - 1) the habit of reading with pen in hand and 2) the value of investing mental energy in how a permanent note fits into your existing knowledge. Your concept of MOCs fits #2 perfectly although I would suspect that there will be many folks who go too far with that as well. (Meaning that the value is there only as long as you are thinking hard about how the knowledge fits - once you drift into heavy tweaking of the system you are succumbing to the procrastination/collectors fallacy that our minds are so prone too).

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  1. the value of investing mental energy in how a permanent note fits into your existing knowledge.

I love that phrase.

I agree I’m a little concerned people might misuse MOCs simply to collect notes, when MOCs provide the most value as an active thinking tool.

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Just to be contrarian… although you may certainly be corrrect in how a Zettelkasten is best used and what the strongest values are - some people will (and are) using Obsidian in other ways.

As long as features and functions don’t take away from either use case, I’m fine with it, but I don’t think we should view every usage strictly in how one person or another thinks the tool should be used.

Not slighting any of the presented ideas or use cases at all - just mentioning that somebody else with an entirely different way of working, even if it doesn’t get them the maximum that it could - well, it’s their use case :slight_smile:

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Certainly true. But this thread is a discussion specifically about Zettlekasten - it’s right there in the title. I can’t find a post here anywhere suggesting that other use cases aren’t valid, useful or appropriate?

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OK, fair enough… I’m probably conflating multiple threads on here.

I guess my take was that even within the idea of a Zettelkasten, people may have multiple ways of best using it to fit their needs.

Not important, I’ll crawl back in my hole.

Absolutely - a point I’ve hammered on other threads (there are a LOT of zettlekasten threads bouncing around right now).

Please don’t. Did not intend to be overly harsh - the Obsidian forums (here and on Discord) are a great community of thinkers trying to figure out their own best practices and I’ve gotten a lot of value from it.


I’ve been noodling on the idea of permanent notes versus just plain notes as I’ve been stuffing things into Obsidian for the last 2 weeks. There is overhead associated with doing the thinking and linking, but that’s also where the future value is created, if I understand Zettelkasten correctly. I’m trying to develop the habits of doing this thinking and linking even for more mundane stuff – project review meeting notes for a project that won’t be relevant to me 5 years from now, for example – so that the process becomes ingrained. I know which stuff is more important to my permanent knowledge, but I want the act of note taking to be thoughtful as a matter of practice.


No worries… and I totally agree that it seems a great community!

I learn something new nearly every time I stop in :slight_smile:

I liked Christian from Zettelkasten De two paragraph explanation, so here it is

In short, the Zettelkasten Method is all about working with knowledge: you capture ideas, connect and interweave them, and thus facilitate coming up with new ideas. The process makes it easy to keep an overview of complex topics and also work on hard problems for a long time without getting lost even after week-long interruptions in your work.

At base, the principles are to create atomic notes and links between them. To find out what this means and how that works, have a look at our curated article overview, and make sure you visit the forum and get to know the amazing people there.


ZK is a research/writing tool, not a PKM system.