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2 A Brief Introduction to the Zettelkasten Method

Org-roam provides utilities for maintaining a digital slip-box. This section aims to provide a brief introduction to the “slip-box”, or “Zettelkasten” method. By providing some background on the method, we hope that the design decisions of Org-roam will become clear, and that will aid in using Org-roam appropriately. In this section we will also introduce terms commonly used within the Zettelkasten community, which will also commonly appear in the Org-roam forums and channels of discussion.

The Zettelkasten method of note-taking is designed to increase research productivity: in particular, it acts as a research partner, where conversations with it may produce new and surprising lines of thought. This method is attributed to German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, who using the method had produced volumes of written works.

In its paper form, the slip-box is simply a box of cards. These cards are small – often only large enough to fit a single concept. The size limitation encourages ideas to be broken down into individual concepts. These ideas are explicitly linked together. The breakdown of ideas encourages tangential exploration of ideas, increasing the surface for thought. Making linking explicit between notes also encourages one to think about the connections between concepts.

Org-roam is the slip-box, digitalized in Org-mode. Every zettel (card) is a plain-text, Org-mode file. These files are often placed in the same directory. In the same way one would maintain a paper slip-box, Org-roam makes it easy to create new zettels, pre-filling boilerplate content using a powerful templating system. Org-roam also facilitates the linking of zettels using Org-mode file: links.

A slip-box requires a method of quickly capturing ideas. These are called fleeting notes: they are simple reminders of information or ideas that will need to be processed later on, or trashed. This is typically accomplished using org-capture (see (org)capture), or using Org-roam’s daily notes functionality (see Daily Notes). This provides a central inbox for collecting thoughts, to be processed later into permanent notes.

Permanent notes are further split into two categories: literature notes and concept notes. Literature notes can be brief annotations on a particular source (e.g. book, website or paper), that you’d like to access later on. Concept notes require much more care in authoring: they need to be self-explanatory and detailed. Org-roam’s templating system supports the addition of different templates to facilitate the creation of these notes.


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