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Zettelkasten - software has info on editor support for the method. Zettelkasten - scripts discusses scripts to support the method Compare Index Cards

Why does this work for me

I find it difficult to think without writing. My mind jumps around a lot without being able to grasp onto concepts, when I begin typing it is easier to structure my thoughts. I find that I cannot easily work through larger projects, codebases, ideas without writing. For example, with morality, I am not able to get a deep understanding of my own intuitions unless I write them down, look for inconsistencies, etc. I will instead go around and around in circles.

I find that even when I attempt to focus on a question, really think it through for 5 minutes (by the clock), that my thought processes copy how I would work through the problem via writing. "So, what is the problem.. and what are the obvious solutions" (I visualise a bullet list of solutions), "and what are the issues with each", (I add my thoughts under each bullet).

I have also found it useful to return to old notes and remind myself what conclusions I came to on a certain topic, what my reasoning was, why it was flawed, how it should be updated, etc. I am sure that this would be less useful for people who rely less on writing to think, but very necessary for myself.

What should a note contain

The note should almost always be written in my own words. Quotes should be used sparingly. Obviously book and paper highlights are full of quotes, and other notes might refer back to those, but too many quotes makes the note harder to read and edit. Rewriting in my own words improves understanding and recall.

Notes should be linked wherever it makes sense. A lot of the value of the zettl comes from the surprising links between different concepts that pop up when you are reading or writing.

Ideally, the zettl should be normalised. Common concepts should be separated into their own zettls. This makes it easier to keep everything up to date and well linked together. Book notes are one exception, since they are more 'primary sources', not true zettl notes in their own right.

Splitting Notes

Each note is about a single concept. They are split enough that it is easy to link to the relevant idea from elsewhere, without using deep-linking. This is somewhat of a judgement call, for example "Ethics" is clearly too-big a concept for my current zettl, since there are many notes on that subject. It might make sense to have a note on "How Mill's views on Utilitarianism changed over his life" for example. On the other hand, I currently have a single note called "Free Will", since it is not a subject I am all that interested in, therefore I don't have many notes around that idea.

If the note has more than a handful of headers, and fills more than a couple of screens of text, it might be too long.


Some people have strong feelings on the format of the note. To keep things portable I like the idea of using what I currently have: title of the note == name of the note. Dates can be put in the top of the file if necessary. No other format than that.

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Last modified 2019-08-16 Fri 16:27. Contact