Types of Notes

Part x of Getting Started

Now that you know what a Zettelkasten is, what exactly goes into it?

There are 4 types of notes

1. Fleeting notes

  • these are temporary notes made throughout the day, while thinking or reading
  • ideally, collect these notes into one or two main ‘inboxes’ so they’re easier to process later
    • ex. digital and/or analog notebooks or folders
  • when it’s time to process them at the end of the day, you will sort through these notes, pick out useful, interesting, or relevant ideas, and either transform them into permanent notes, or discard/archive them.
  • you don’t have to make fleeting notes, if you have an idea in mind, simply add directly to your permanent notes

2. Literature notes

  • these are created for a specific resource, such as a book, article, web page, etc.
  • notes are taken specifically on the content
  • these notes are typically filed separately from your permanent notes, such as with your <referencing> system.


  • be selective, rewrite it in your own words and make sure you understand the concept (or follow up on it if you don’t at first)
  • as when writing academic papers, use direct quotes sparingly
  • remember, you are not simply collecting resources (see Collecting Resources vs. Collecting Notes)
  • Question: is the content useful/interesting/relevant to you and/or your research?

3. Permanent notes

  • once you have an idea to add to your Zettelkasten, you are ready to create permanent notes (Zettel)
  • Linking is a key component of creating your Zettelkasten
    • every time you add a new Zettel, look through your previous notes and ask yourself:
      • is this relevant to my research/thoughts/interests?
      • how can I develop or add to existing ideas/arguments/discussions?
      • does this new information contradict, correct, support, or add to my thoughts?
      • can I combine ideas?
      • do any questions arise?
      • what’s missing from my knowledge?
      • what do I want to explore further?


  • these are formal notes with certain qualities:
    • atomic (1 idea = 1 note)1 - this encourages you to get to the core essence of the idea
    • write in full sentences and as if writing for someone else2 - you shouldn’t need much context to understand the note, imagine reading it a year from now, will you still understand it?
    • include sources and links to other related notes

4. Index or Structure notes


Ahrens, S. (2017). How to take smart notes: One simple technique to boost writing, learning and thinking: for students, academics and nonfiction book writers. CreateSpace. (also see Recommended Book List for further reading)