Zettelkasten Resources for Better Writing, Learning and Thinking

April 25, 2021    •   minute read
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This guide contains great resources about the Zettelkasten Method.

German scholar and social scientist Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998) developed the method and went on to 60 books and over 600 science articles using Zettelkasten.(1) He had 600 unfinished manuscripts and one of them is 1000 pages long.

Because of his amazing productivity, University of Bielefeld did a large-scale project to preserve Luhmann’s estate and make it accessible for research.(2)

Without further ado, let’s get started.

What Is Zettelkasten?

Boxes Luhmann used to organize his notes
Boxes Luhmann used to organize his notes. Credit: Niklas Luhmann Archive by University of Bielefeld

Here’s a great definition:(3)

Zettelkasten is a personal tool for thinking and writing. It has a hypertextual feature to make a web of thought possible. The difference to other systems is that you create a web of thoughts instead of notes of arbitrary size and form, and emphasize connection, not collection.

In other words, it is a very powerful note taking, organization and knowledge management system to boost your learning, writing and thinking.

Four Benefits of the Zettelkasten Method

Or maybe four reasons why you should look into the Zettelkasten Method to organize boost your writing, learning and thinking:

1. It helps you improve connectivity of your thoughts.

2. You be more productive. Because you don’t have to start from scratch and the hypertextual notes are your guide, it is not difficult to get in the state of flow.

3. Your efforts won’t be a waste. The system lets you find your notes easily so you can pull them together and make sense of them whenever you want.

4. You can take on complex project. That’s how Luhmann managed to changed his career in Lüneburg’s public administration and became a well-known social scientist.(4)

How Zettelkasten Works?

The definition again here:

The Zettelkasten Method is a note-taking and knowledge management system to boost your learning, writing and thinking.

Simply put, you take notes that you can easily find and connect with each other. Your notes will never be a bloated mess but a hypertextual web of thoughts and knowledge.

Basic steps involves the following:

1. Take notes. It could be from good ideas you have while taking a walk in the park or what you read. What’s important is that it should be in your own words. Don’t just copy and paste it from what you read. Another important thing to remember is that one note must contain only one idea/thought.

2. Connect them where possible. Reduce stand alone notes as much as you can. So, you review them regularly for connectivity – a great way of making the knowledge stick with you in the long run!

3. Organize them in a way that you can find them. Do it the Luhmann way: give each of your notes a unique ID. Organize connected notes together.

Similarly to the GTD method, Zettelkasten requires some efforts to learn the system but it will be worth it. I have put together these great resources for you (and myself too) to learn this powerful knowledge management system.

Best Zettelkasten Resources

Now, this is my list of Zettelkasten resources that I have carefully curated to give you a solid foundation to get started with this proven technique to boost your writing, learning and thinking.

Getting Started Resources

Introduction to Zettelkasten Method

Written by one of the best blog on Zettelkasten, this piece is a comprehensive guide to understanding this holistic method on how to deal with knowledge in your life. Whether you’re feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of academic article submission or try to offer the best of your expertise, this is your best, free go-to guide.

Zettelkasten Note-Taking Method: Simply Explained (YouTube)

This video is 4 minutes and 48 seconds. And you’ll learn the origin and get the idea about how to the implement the holistic method of Zettelkasten.

Overview Guide to Getting Started with Zettelkasten Method

In this article (from the same Zettelkasten blog above), you will find the origin of the Zettelkasten Method, its principles, common questions, and how to use it to optimize your workflow for knowledge management, reading and writing.

Zettelkasten Note Examples

Now here is my collection of Zettelkasten notes for you.

Zettelkasten note by Niklas Luhmann. Credit: Project by University of Bielefeld

The Archive of All Niklas Luhmann’s Notes (German; Niklas Luhmann Project by University of Bielefeld)

This is a collection of all the notes by the inventor of the Zettelkasten Method himself. It’s German but if you have some understanding and have a translation plugin installed on your web browser, you will find great insight from these original examples.

BA Thesis Draft by Chirstian of Zettelkasten.de (GitHub)

You can download his Zettelkasten notes for his BA thesis – a great demonstration of how to use this powerful system for academic writing.

Sample Zettelkasten Notes for Discussion and Improvement (zettelkasten.de)

This discussion post contains sample Zettelkasten notes and discussions about how to improve them. Join the conversations if you want build the skill and use this hypertextual note-taking technique.

Zettelkasten note using The Archive
Zettelkasten note example using The Archive. Credit: zettelkasten.de

The Zettelkasten community at zettelkasten.de advises that the best software is the one you’re already using and good at. For example, I use OneNote for my productivity, so I should continue using it for my Zettelkasten system. Same should apply for you.

And if you have not used any note-taking software yet, here are my software recommendations:

OneNote

Of course! It’s free with your Microsoft 365 subscription so as an office or knowledge worker, you already have it. The app is available and syncs on all your devices and OS platforms. Its rich features such as internal linking, and advanced search also make OneNote a prime candidate for a Zettelkasten tool.

If you also use OneNote, you can read this article to learn how to use it for the Zattelkasten Method.

(In fact, I am writing this in OneNote!)

IA Writer

My second recommendation would be this. The favorite feature is that it syncs with across devices. Using multiple apps for the same thing, like note taking, or having to go through certain API integration doesn’t sound so inviting for me.

The Style Check feature is also appealing for me as English is not my native language.

The Archive

The authors of the Zettelkasten.de, a popular blog covering the Zettelkasten Method with comprehensive and valuable articles, are the people behind The Archive. It is packed with all the features you need for the powerful note-taking method such as tagging, connectivity, navigation and search. If you’re fine with using different apps for note taking on your mobile, it is an expensive app to have for your Zettelkasten notes.

If you want to use the Zettelkasten Method to organize your knowledge better or improve your writing, learning and thinking and want to dive deeper, here are my book recommendations for you:

How To Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique To Boost Writing, Learning And Thinking – For Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers (Amazon)

It is from this very book that I learned and got interested in the Zettelkasten Method! As of the time of this writing, the book ranks number 2 in the Study Skills and 9 in Time Management in Business category on Amazon. It explains not only how to take smart notes but also how to write  better.

Final Note

The Zettelkasten Method is personal. You can learn the principles. There are several ways to implement the method but the one that works best for you is your own Zettelkasten, not others’.

A great way to learn is by doing. So, my advice is for you to go on and write your first Zettelkasten notes after reading the getting-started resources in this issue of this Fearless Newsletter.

Thank you for reading.

Until next Sunday,

Samphy

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