Zettelkasten - Remember what you learn

From wikipedia:

The zettelkasten (German: “slip box”) is a knowledge management and note-taking method used in research and study.

Another way to look at it is as building a personal wiki, often using just markdown. I’ve started using it to document my work, learnings, stuff from what I’m reading, and more. As you connect ideas together with hyperlinks, it enriches your overall understanding of the relationships between ideas, leading to new insights.

I recently started using foam after looking at a few ways to approach building a Zettelkasten. Zettlr, Roam, and Obsidian are popular tools for managing a personal Zettelkasten.

The most important parts of building a zettelkasten:

  1. Create a new file for each concept you want to document
  2. Generously link documents together, based on relevancy and context
  3. If an idea spans multiple notes, make a new one and link those notes back to the new note with context
  4. Use tools to visualize relationships between notes (The above tools include these out of the box) to help explore connections between ideas.

A few examples of public Zettelkasten include Andy Matuschak, Anne-Laure Le Cunff, and Gwern. Go visit them for a few minutes to get a feel for how this approach works, and how it helps structure what you learn.

Anyone else use an approach like this? I’ve started doing this in my work, and it’s been fun to watch it naturally grow as I collect and sort ideas.


I use .txt files a lot (more recently markdown) although I don’t link them in anyway. I have one for each project or idea and add notes to them as and when I think of them. When I am working on a project I have files for notes, todos, and a scrapbook - though I use a notebook as well for jotting down things.

I do the same for things I come across that I find interesting - I have notes for health/diet related topics too for instance.

While I don’t link notes, I do have sections. I wouldn’t mind trying a tool that easily linked files, however I wouldn’t want something propriety - as I wouldn’t want to lose all my notes if the program stopped working (hence favouring basic .txt or markdown files).

Which of the tools in your post do you recommend that uses simple txt files or files I can use without the program if I decide to stop using it?

On a slightly separate note I also read that if you have an idea at night while in bed, you should write it down or it will keep you awake as subconsciously you’ll be worried about forgetting it! I usually just text myself whatever it is I need to remember, or write a larger note if need be. Sometimes if I have thought of a brilliant paragraph or two for something I am writing I’ll get up to type it up so I don’t forget it! If it’s not something I want to be private, I will use Apple Notes - as that automatically syncs notes to your Apple devices.


For linking, the tools I mentioned use [[Wiki Links]] - depending on which tool you use and how you do it, it’s either really polished or a bit clumsy (Foam is still alpha, so it’s a bit clumsy, but I love that I can use VS Code and my standard tooling to work with it, so I’m bearing with it for now).

Any of those tools would work with simple text files - they are basically text editors with specific features to support linking and visualizing your link graphs. Markdown is probably required to some degree to support linking, although I just tried out Zettlr and it treats .txt files as markdown.

If I were starting out, I’d try out Zettlr to get ideas about how a full-featured Research-oriented editor works, and then either stick with it or steal ideas from there into your personal workflow. I took ideas from Zettlr (like having a reading complexity score in the corner) and added it to Foam (which is really just a Visual Studio Code workspace customzed for note taking). You could probably adopt the same ideas with Vim using the right tools.


Just downloaded Zettlr - reminds me of the Apple Notes app a bit :smiley:

Didn’t like that it wanted to connect to the internet straight away tho - I think apps like these (those that deal with people’s personal files) should just add a ‘Check for updates’ link that sends the current version number and then tells you on the site whether a new version is available. Maybe it’s just me that doesn’t like apps that are used to work with any kind of personal files connecting to the web tho :man_shrugging: :laughing:

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I tried Zettlr, but I’ve found Foam to be more to my liking. It’s basically just markdown and Git, and you can layer in whatever tools you want on top. Foam ships on top of VSCode, but the same ideas could apply to Vim or Emacs (I heard there’s a thing called org-roam for emacs).

I love that it’s just Markdown and Git at the end of the day, so replacing VS Code and its extensions with something else in the future is entirely reasonable.