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German for “slip box”, the Zettelkasten method is an approach to taking permanent notes whereby you record notable concepts or ideas on note cards, give each a unique identifier, and link ideas together by reference to their identifier. The method was used by the prolific German sociologist and systems theorist Niklas Luhmann, and is the inspiration for note.garden. Luhmann considered his box of linked notes a “conversation partner” and credited much of his originality to the tool.
Zettelkasten as a learning tool
In How to Take Smart Notes, Sonke Ahrens describes how the factors which best lead to knowledge retention are embodied by the very format of the Zettelkasten method:
We learn something not only when we connect it to prior knowledge and try to understand its broader implications (elaboration), but also when we try to retrieve it at different times (spacing) in different contexts (variation), ideally with the help of chance (contextual interference) and with a deliberate effort (retrieval). The slip-box not only provides us with the opportunity to learn in this proven way, it forces us to do exactly what is recommended just by using it.