Zettelkasten in OneNote

Zettelkasten in OneNote – #3 My Experience

Greetings and welcome to the third blog post of: My Experience. In this blog series I give insight into how I apply knowledge gained. For more information about this series click here. As a matter of fact, in this blog post we try Zettelkasten in OneNote.

For those who want to know more about my experience with other applications for zettelkasten, including: Evernote, Obsidian and Notion. There is “Zettelkasten – the ultimate guide” here you can find all our zettelkasten content:

Zettelkasten the ultimate guide
Click on the picture to open the guide.

In the first My Experience blog post I describe my experience with the Zettelkasten note taking system in Evernote. This is the most read blog post of the website. Readers want to know how to use Zettelkasten. Therefore I decided to also give OneNote a try. This blog post will use a comparable writing structure. Using the same two Zettelkasten principles, the principle of atomicity and connectivity. More about this further down.

How to access OneNote

There are quite some free note taking tools around on the internet. The software I try for this blog post is OneNote. It is included with a Microsoft account, even without a Microsoft Office license. There are multiple versions of OneNote available. For the purpose of this blog post we use the free version of OneNote. Which comes with an Office365 account (@live.com, @hotmail.com e-mail address). This version can be upgraded to a premium variant, including the full Microsoft Office package. But this is not needed to apply Zettelkasten.

There are two different ways to access OneNote: Go to www.OneNote.com and login with an Office365 account (creating an account is free) or use the pre-installed Microsoft Windows app, OneNote for Windows 10. There is also a mobile version available for Apple & Android devices. The website is accessible from any device, therefore I will use it in my examples. Because the layout of OneNote is similar across platforms, it should look familiar wherever you start.

Apply Zettelkasten principles in OneNote

The main goal is to use the software as described by the Zettelkasten system, to see how we can apply this in OneNote. The Zettelkasten system uses an unique numbering system based on the principle of atomicity. This means that you put information that belongs together on a single note with an ID. The ID can be used as a reference. The second principle is the principle of connectivity. In other words, connecting notes about similar subjects.

Principle of atomicity

The goal of this principle is to group related information together. This makes notes easier to find. In the Zettelkasten system this works by giving an ID. By example the ID: 1A for a note about Value Investing. Then 1B for a related note about a valuation method used for value investing. ID 2A for the first note about active investing. And so on. This grouping method works great if you have physical drawer with notes. But nowadays there are different ways to go about this, in the example I use the same notes that I put in Evernote.

The OneNote structure consists of three levels. Below I explained these different levels, the related numbers can be found in the screenshot further down.

  1. Notebook the highest level. Every notebook is separate, this means it opens in a new screen. It has it’s own sections and notes. In the screenshot the notebook “Investing” is selected.
  2. Section the middle level. A section can be used as a grouping for notes. Every section contains at least one page.
  3. Page the lowest level. A page has a title as you can see in the screenshot. The page consists of building blocks: Text blocks, pictures. Therefore it can become really big. Because of this it is possible to put a few notes on one page. The page can be zoomed in and out, offering nearly limitless space.

To apply the principle of atomicity I used the levels in OneNote. The Notebooks as broad subjects, the downside is that these open in separate screens. The sections as categories. For every note I created a page with an unique name.

Zettelkasten in OneNote, steps

Principle of connectivity

The principle of connectivity has the goal to create new ideas from connecting notes. In EverNote I used tags to do this, independent from the layered structure. In OneNote you can use links to achieve this. Links to specific notes work a bit more friendly than tags. You can use the following steps, to make links that include the title of the referenced note:

  1. Right click on the page (note) you want to reference to.
  2. Click on “Copy Link to this Page” as shown in the screenshot below.
  3. Open the page (note) you want to place the reference in.
  4. Use the key combination: CTRL + V to paste the text.
  5. You can edit the title by right clicking on the “Web View” text. This is the direct link to the note.

The pictures below illustrate the steps. This feature will help you to connect ideas and form new ones.

Tags in OneNote

OneNote offers the option to add tags to the building blocks on a page. In the following steps I will describe how you can use tags. Tags can help to connect similar ideas independent from the structure.

  1. To get an overview of all tags click on “Tags” in the submenu of the home tab.
  2. You can click on the tags, after you have selected the blocks and text you want to add it to. Selected text can have multiple tags, as shown in the screenshot.

In the web browser version I didn’t get the option to search based on tags. This option does exist in the desktop application for Windows. The browser version is also limited to predefined tags, the Windows version supports custom tags. The main takeaway; use the desktop version for the full experience.

Zettelkasten in OneNote conclusion

In conclusion, I would like to point out that I enjoy using OneNote. I use it in my work daily; it is great when you cooperate with others on projects. The link feature adds value, for Zettelkasten I will keep using Obsidian. More about this in “Zettelkasten – the ultimate guide“. The main reason for using Obsidian is that I like the connection feature, which works more fluently than in OneNote. The upside of OneNote is that it is integrated in Microsoft Office, therefore common in companies for collaboration/sharing notebooks. So for now I will stick with Obsidian for Zettelkasten.

Want to learn more about Zettelkasten?

Then I recommend the following book. This is the step-by-step guide on how to set up and understand the principles behind the note-taking system that enabled Luhmann to become one of the most productive and systematic scholars of all time: How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers. (as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases) You can also first read my blog post about the book, where I describe the core concepts, so you can better determine if it suits your needs: How to Take Smart Notes – #7 My Experience.

What are your experiences with Zettelkasten?, Which software do you use? Let me know in the comments, I am eager to hear from you.

Thanks for taking an interest in this post, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment with feedback. This helps me to continuously improve the website.

Further Reading on Zettelkasten

More about the method

7 thoughts on “Zettelkasten in OneNote – #3 My Experience”

  1. Consider reviewing following features of the OneNote App to enrich your way of working:
    – create (and refresh) Tags Summary Pages
    – insert screenshots/images of textual content in OneNote pages, these get OCR’d automatically
    – search across sections, groups or all books for texts (or specifically tags)

  2. Thanks for your work – it helped me get started. Customise tags to create a tag called Keyword. Then you don’t need a k in front of keywords and can use a tag summary page to collate all keywords. Another useful tag might be Source/reference – creates a bibliographic summary. Then put both in a new page template so every new Zettel (based on that template) includes them.
    I agree – since OneNote comes with Office365, I want to use it without having to pay for another product for Zettelkasten.

  3. I recently watched a video by Tiago Forte on how to select the “best” software to use for your Second Brain. In the video, he divides the universe of note takers into four categories. The best fit for me was the Librarian category. OneNote is one of the softwares that works for this type, so I am going to give it a try. I appreciate this article for the headstart that it may provide. Parenthetically, I have used both Obsidian and Logseq for maybe 90 days each in the last year but can’t say that I get either of them yet.

    1. Thanks for your reply Noel, it is pleasant to read that you appreciate this article. I have also watched the video from Tiago Forte, I think this is a great start for exploring different apps. Regarding Obsidian and Logseq these apps are flexible/versatile enough to facilitate the different categories of note takers. On my website I have multiple posts about how I applied the Zettelkasten method in both of them, bear in mind since I identify mostly with the “Architect”.

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