Greetings and welcome to the sixth 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. In this blog post I describe my experience with Zettelkasten in Zettlr.
Table of Contents
Introduction to zettelkasten
There is “Zettelkasten – the ultimate guide” here you can find all our zettelkasten content. I made this guide for those who are new to zettelkasten and look for a proper introduction. It also contains links to posts about my experience with applications for zettelkasten, including: Obsidian, Evernote, OneNote and Notion.
The zettelkasten blog posts are the most read posts of the website. Know Act Invest Readers want to know how to use Zettelkasten. 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.
Project Zettlr started in 2017. It came into existence to offer journalists, authors, researchers and students an alternative to word processors. To offer a tool to bridge the gap between a better writing experience and word processors. While still offering all functionality that non-technical users need. They did this in a time where Markdown editors were mostly biased towards a technical public. Zettlr tries to break this narrative by offering their free to use- open source software.
The name Zettlr (pronounced ˈset·lər) is derived from the German Zettel (“note”).
In this first part I will give you some information to get started:
- Zettlr Philosophy
- How to access Zettlr
- Export your notes
If you are already familiar with Zettlr you can skip the first part.
Zettlr uses the philosophy that by default it works, but that you can customize everything.
At the core philosophy of Zettlr are the following ideas:
- It works with Files in the Markdown format. This means you can use files composed with Zettlr in every other editor.
- Zettlr only automates actions, but these actions can always be stopped by the user.
- It doesn’t force you to use a specific workflow, it is a workbench.
- It aims to maximize immersion by getting out of your way. So you can focus on writing notes and generating ideas.
How to access Zettlr
There are many ways to access Zettlr. It is not often that software is available on this many platforms for installation. For an up to date overview go to this page.
Operating systems Zettlr supports:
- Apple (MacOS)
- Windows (32 and 64 bit)
- Arch Linux
Zettlr makes use of the markup language “Markdown”. The language is based on the idea of: “What you see is what you mean” Which is derived from “What you see is what you get”. In practice this means that Markdown allows you to form a text without actually looking the same as the end product. This means Markdown files need to be compiled into a final format before getting their style. The reason this is done so you can focus on writing and structuring your text, you won’t get distracted by unnecessary styling.
I like Zettlr in this because it offers plenty of compile/export options. More about this further down. Within the application their is plenty of guidance on how to use Markdown, even for complete starters it will be a stroll in the Zettlr park.
For educational purposes I will give a short explanation of each icon.
- Export, more about it in the next paragraph.
- Rename your selected note.
- Remove your selected note.
- Insert a component in your note:
- Shows a Table of contents, based on headers within the note.
- Find information within the note. You can use the search bar on the left to search zettelkasten wide.
- Readability mode, gives you an impression of the readability of your text. (the greener the better)
Export your notes
Zettlr by default supports exporting to:
- Microsoft Word
- The other file types are in the screenshot.
If you want more advanced export functions by example, customizing documents, Zettlr recommends that you install the typesetting language LaTeX. For more information see their documentation. It contains an extensive guide on how to do this.
It is possible to make references to websites, or external content outside of your Zettlr. By typing the following syntax:
[ Ourwebsite ] ( www.knowactinvest.com )
If you want to use Zettlr for academic work, or simply want to cite sources. The side bar contains an option to get an overview of academic citations. Unfortunately the citing feature also requires extra steps to be installed. But nonetheless Zettlr provides a detailed guide for this.
Apply Zettelkasten principles in Zettlr
The main goal is to use the software as described by the Zettelkasten system, to see how we can apply this in Zettlr.
The Zettelkasten system uses two principles: The first: the principle of atomicity, based on an unique numbering system. 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 is the principle of connectivity. In other words, connecting notes with the goal to generate new ideas.
Principle of Atomicity
The goal of this principle is to group related information. This makes notes easier to find and relevant.
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. 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, most software contains a search option to find notes based on title. In Zettlr I used the following components to adhere to the principle of atomicity.
To facilitate this principle you can use the structure of Zettlr. The use of folders helps you to group information together. The folders you make in Zettlr are synchronous with your file system. For my example I will be using Windows 10. As you can see in this screenshot: the file structure you create is based on folders.
The files in the file explorer:
You can add any location on your computer to Zettlr. A “ZTR Directory File” will appear within the folder, after opening the directory in Zettlr.
This means you can add files from both directions. This makes Zettlr a flexible system.
When you create new notes in Zettlr it will automatically generate a title, this is an unique ID because it is a time date stamp. If you prefer you can use this. I prefer to give titles that fit the contents of the note, because then it is easier to find information later on. When you have more than a few notes. This is a simple way to apply the principle of atomicity.
Another feature of Zettlr that I really like. Tags, these help you group related information. You can do this indepedent of location within your structure. You can create tags by typing # and the name. The funny thing is that you can easily find notes back that are tagged. You can do this by clicking the tag icon. See the screenshot below.
It shows the number of uses of that tag. After clicking the tag it will show you all tagged notes.
Principle of Connectivity
The principle of connectivity has the goal to create new ideas from connecting notes. By example, In EverNote I used tags to do this, separate from the layered structure. This can also be done in Zettlr, but I think tags in Zettlr work better for the principle of atomicity. Simply because Markdown has the backlink feature.
Markdown offers the convenience of backlinks. This literally gives you the ability to link notes together. Helping you recreate associations that normally happen within your brain in the Zettelkasten system. Backlinks can be made typing “[[“
Zettelkasten in Zettlr conclusion
In conclusion, I do like Zettlr. It is unique and stays true to the idea behind Markdown. This is the main reason why I like it, because Markdown is ideal for Zettelkasten. I am pleasantly surprised by all the options, mostly by the export formats it supports by default. Also the system for managing tags is easy to use. The guidance for new Markdown users is a great addition. I will stick with Obsidian because I am too attached to the graph view (to see connections) and the preview pane for notes. I will recommend Zettlr for new users, because it takes you by the hand. It makes you familiar with Markdown. No worries, if you want you can always move on to another Markdown editor using the same files.
If you want to follow my Zettelkasten journey, go to the ultimate zettelkasten guide. That page will be kept up to date my most recent Zettelkasten insights.
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.
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