Getting Started

The Introduction to the Zettelkasten Method

Are you new to the Method?

Read the Introduction to the Zettelkasten Method and learn what makes the Zettelkasten work as a system, how to create notes, how to connect notes to make a web of knowledge, and how to create structures so you stay in control of the growing knowledge web.

Using a Zettelkasten is about optimizing your workflow of learning and producing knowledge. The products are texts, mostly. The categories we find fit the process well at the moment are the following:

  • Knowledge Management: general information about what it means to work and learn efficiently.
  • Writing: posts on the production of lasting knowledge, and about sharing it with others through your own texts.
  • Reading: posts about the process of acquisition of new things and the organization of sources.

Common Questions


Principles are higher than techniques. Principles produce techniques in an instant.

Ido Portal

Knowledge Management

The building blocks of a Zettelkasten are the inbox, the note archive, and the reference manager.

These are the basics to get started with effective knowledge management:

And always keep in mind The Collector’s Fallacy: you have to work with new material to really learn it. It doesn’t suffice to bookmark websites or just read and annotate books. (Christian still has skeletons in the closet.)

To get you in the mood to grow your archive, read “Trust the process”, an essay.

Scaling your note archive

To cope with the constant influx of new information, use temporary “buffer” notes to collect stuff that you can later re-arrange.

With time, you’ll notice multiple Layers of Evidence emerge. This means your notes will have different kinds of content. The layers are:

  1. Data description and patterns.
  2. Interpretation of descriptions and patterns.
  3. Synthesis of patterns, descriptions and interpretation.

When your archive grows, you’ll add Structural Layers in your Zettelkasten through links. The levels are:

  1. Bottom Layer: Content
  2. Middle Layer: Structure Notes
  3. Top Layer: Main Structure Notes and Double Hashes (that is: special tags)

About learning and knowing-more in general

“Trust the process” (an essay) hits the nerve: thinking and memory retention are improved by working through problems.



Use Cases

History of the Zettelkasten

If you want to know more about the history of the Zettelkasten Method, check out the ongoing research on Luhmann’s Zettelkasten by Johannes Schmidt at Bielefeld University. Johannes is the Guardian of the Godfather’s Zettelkasten, and his work is genuinely interesting for knowledge work nerds.

We cover the relevant bit of history in our introduction to explain how the Zettelkasten Method works.

Read our translation of Luhmann’s Communication with Zettelkastens to get to know his original approach. Then check out the translation of Luhmann’s own Zettel about his Zettelkasten.


Since 2018, we offer our own app, The Archive for macOS, to manage your Zettelkasten. Since then, we stopped reviewing commercial tools because of a clash of interests. We honestly think The Archive is great, and that you should check it out.

Since we don’t review paid apps anymore in accordance with our software review principle, if you are interested in apps for other platforms and other tools, check out our forum about software and gadgets for tips from the community.

The Archive

Get to know the app better:

Extending The Archive’s functionality with scripts and other apps:

Use cases and demos for inspiration: