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How do you integrate small/atomic notes into larger thought units (using Zettlr)?

I am still in the process of wrapping my head around how to work with a Zettelkasten properly. Specifically, Zettelkasten theorists recommend that your notes revolve around a single idea only. The guys at zettelkasten.de refer to this as "atomicity" 1.

The idea is that recombining atomic notes into new "strings of thought" is much easier when a note contains only a single idea rather than a list of different ideas, some of which may be irrelevant for a new "strong of thought". I find the idea very nicely illustrated in this blog post 2. But while the idea appeals to me theoretically, I am still unsure how to actually integrate it in my workflow and, more specifically, how to implement it in Zettlr.

Say I am taking notes on a 20-page review article, and this article presents 10 interesting ideas, plus it triggers 3 thoughts of my own . With my old "workflow", I would just dump all these ideas and thoughts into a single note. But according to the atomicity principle, they should all end up in separate notes. Fine, I can do that. But how do you recombine them back into a "string of thought"? Suppose one day I want to know "what was that review article about?". Sure, I could search for notes containing the corresponding literature reference and then read through these 13 separate notes one by one, but that sounds quite tedious to me. Likewise, suppose one day I want to compose an entirely new "string of thought" by searching for notes that could potentially emerge from different sources (i.e. from different articles). Again, I can read through these notes revealed by the search one by one. But there must be a better way to do that, right?

I am not sure what my dream solution would be, but probably some kinda function that combines a set of notes (e.g. those revealed by a search) into a single document, or just a virtual view, so that you can see all the content at a single glance (the way my "old workflow" singular dump-note would have done it).

So I guess my questions to all Zettlr users and of course to @hendrik in particular are:
1. Do you follow the atomicity principle?
2. How do you (re)combine atomic notes into bigger units?
3. Which Zettlr features can help in this process?


  • Hah, we just had this discussion last week, have a look at this thread where I outline my approach to Zettelkasten, which might be just exactly what you want: https://forum.zettlr.com/discussion/94/zotero-as-zettelkasten

    How it goes in short is:

    1. Read a paper and take notes
    2. Import these thoughts into Zettlr
    3. Add my own thoughts to it
    4. Leave it like that as an excerpt that presents all ideas in chronological order from the paper
    5. Use some custom written script to snip them apart
    6. Have a Zettelkasten.

    Fundamentally, this will duplicate the information but given that Markdown is pretty lightweight on storage, I find it perfect.

  • Right, thanks for reminding me, I read that discussion, but somehow it didn't occur to me that it might hold the answer to my question. I am not sure it does, though, or only indirectly so. Referring to your bullet points in the present discussion: I would say these points are mostly about how to get notes INTO the Zettelkasten until you "have it". But my question is rather about getting them OUT again, specifically by recombining atomic notes that originally came from different sources.

    What I take from the "Zotero as Zettelkasten" discussion is this:
    1. Since your notes are originally in one big file, the issue of recombining them does not really arise to begin with, at least not for recombining them in their original context.
    2. Recombining atomic notes into new ideas does not seem to be a priority for you. At least that is my interpretation of this exchange between
    @cobblepot: > how are you using Zettlr to form new connections and ideas between them, and what do the Zettels capturing these new ideas look like?
    and @hendrik: > Well, only if I realise "Wait, there's this and that note that fits!", so currently I'm not so much caring for my Zettelkasten due to time constraints.

    Do I understand you right?

    I would be curious to know how other Zettelkasten/Zettlr users in this forum go about connecting their notes to form new ideas!

  • Yes, you're right! I would guess that one viable approach might be to use Outline notes to re-combine them, which would then also head some way towards one issue on GitHub where someone asked to "transpile" notes into one big file again. But I think all ideas rely upon manual labor to re-combine them. Long story short: For a script it's easy to split stuff up into smaller pieces, but the knitting back together is a cognitive act that no software can perform for you, it can only aid you!

  • Maybe what's needed is a cork board & outline capability. I think this would be best if it were separate tool related to Zettlr but not part of Zettlr itself. IIRC, a few ZK apps have something like this and call it a "desktop."

  • edited October 2020

    I think the main idea is to have a kind of MoC (Map of Contents) that can lead you to an area of study or a particular area inside a domain of interest.
    Here is my approach from literature
    1. Main page (MoC)
    * Literature MoC
    * Spirituality
    * Mythology

    Now, inside Literature page I have:
    1. Poetry MoC
    2. Drama MoC
    3. Novel MoC

    Inside Drama MoC I have:

    1. Structuralism approach to drama
    2. Phenomenology approach
    3. Etc

    Inside Structuralism approach to drama I have notes arranged according to what I think is important now:

    1. Theories about structure of drama

      • [link to an atomic note 1]
      • [link to an atomic note 2]
      • [link to an atomic note 3]
    2. Figure approach and hermeneutics

      • [link to an atomic note 1]
      • Etc

    if one moment in time, let's say in 10 years, or less I consider that this MoC is not relevant anymore I delete it or rearrange the structure

    I also have MoCs for every book I read

    Book A MoC

    1. Theory about ideea X (in whatever page appears)
      • Note linked here
      • Another note linked here
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