When using the Zettelkasten Method to organize my notes, I have found it important that each note file contains only a single idea.1 I try to take this single thought and articulate it in as clearly as possible. This may take anywhere from 50 to 500 words. After I have spelled out the single idea I now have a mental hook that I can attach other ideas and pieces of information to—and this becomes more useful the more specific the hook. For instance, suppose I kept all my thoughts about Plato in a single file. Whenever I want to connect a thought to this information I would add a link: [[Plato]]. But this link could refer to anything within my Plato research. As it stands, however, I have split my research into bits as fine as possible while still maintaining the intergrity and coherence of the ideas. The specific thought that Plato’s account of tripartition in the Republic arises out of a need to explain internal motivational conflict goes into a single file. In other notes I can refer to this specific thought with a link: [[Plato - Tripartition - Internal Conflict]].

This also gives me a way to manage my references to secondary literature. As I’m reading Lloyd Gerson’s article “A Note on Tripartition and Immortality in Plato,” I find that he talks about this subject on pages 85 and 86.2 So I add a brief quote and a few comments to the bottom of a section labeled “References” in the note. If I had not split up my notes on Plato into fine- grained topics, I would have trouble knowing where to put this information and I would have more trouble finding it again when I need to know what Gerson says about this specific topic. The “References” section in the note is already populated by several other references to secondary literature. This way, when I go to write the paragraph in Chapter 4 of my dissertation that deals with the link between tripartition and motivational conflict I have already prepared both my own position and a list of references to my sources.

  1. See here.

  2. Lloyd Gerson, “A Note on Tripartition and Immortality in Plato,” Apeiron 20, no. 1 (1987), 81–96.