MarginNote and Zettelkasten

@Lanco_Support-Team, @bart, @Nils

I’m creating this new topic for exploring how MarginNote might be extended to directly support the Zettelkasten method. There has been some good discussion in “Suggestions for hashtag improvements!” and “Academic use - workflow / hints, please?”.

@Lanco_Support-Team has kindly offered to discuss this idea here in the forum.

My question, basically, is what would support for Zettelkasten inside MarginNote — i.e., no other apps required — look like? What features would be required?

Let’s discuss!

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This is very interesting. At its most basic, there would need to be the ability to create notes that aren’t associated with any location in a text or any one text. This collection of noted should be easily searchable. It should then be easy to make hyperlinks between notes. How that is done is not necessarily important to be able to call it a Zettlekasten. Each software does it its own way. I don’t think that all software should be all things to all people so being able to do this kind of thing wouldn’t influence my use of MN. It excels at making margin notes. That’s enough for me, but I only speak for myself.

Have fun!

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Thanks for getting us started. Expanding on what @bart says, there would need to be a way to create notes that aren’t associated with any particular text in the MarginNote collection of documents and mind maps. This might mean a new “area” in the MarginNote UI, in addition to Document, Study, and Review.

This collection of notes needs to be searchable, and given the nature of the Zettelkasten, a multiple-term search is probably desirable.

Next, it should be “easy to make hyperlinks between notes”. This will depend upon how note IDs are represented, since we’ll need a way to choose the target ID for a link.

In the Zettelkasten method, an ID is a short string like 21/3d7 . Branches are represented by simply adding more character, e.g., … 21/3d7c , while sequences are represented by incrementing the alphanumeric characters in the ID, e.g.: 21/3d8. There could be short-cut commands for adding a card to a branch or a sequence.

Here, we encounter a first MarginNote implementation issue. How to represent these IDs? Internally, MN uses IDs that look like 39516C19-09D5-4359-BBE9-290CF981BBCC. These are unique — which is necessary! —, but obviously too long for us users to type in. Also, they cannot be used to represent branches or sequences. Thus, the database table probably needs a separate column for the Zettelkasten note IDs, and this column must also have a UNIQUE constraint.

By sorting the ZettelKasten IDs alphabetically, we get a list. The items in the list may be indented, to show the branches. How this would map onto the graphical 2D presentation of notes in the MarginNote mind maps is (to me) an open question. Maybe there could be a way to view both?

What else?

Following @Nilssuggestion, I looked over Lüdecke’s presentation on Luhmann’s Zettelkasten method.

Lüdecke summarizes Luhmann’s approach to organizing notes as:

  • No categories
  • Linkage / reference
  • Tagging and register
  • Arbitrary “branching” of note sequences

Unique note numbers (IDs) allow selective or specific links / references between notes. (These can perhaps be implemented using SQL primary/foreign keys.)

“Tagging and Register” means there is a “register” (kind of an index) that is separate from the notes, containing core keywords that reference tagged notes. The purpose of the register “was to find an ‘entrance’ (starting point) into the Zettelkasten”. However, “tags don’t have the primary purpose to create links between notes” (more about this in a moment).

To follow Luhmann’s method, then, there might need to be either an area or mode of the MarginNote UI that allows a presentation of the register. In an app like MarginNote that uses a SQL database, the “register” could be generated dynamically by performing a SQL SELECT for all tagged rows, and then presenting a sorted set of the tags, with each unique tag followed by a list of IDs hyperlinked to notecards.

Lüdecke emphasizes that branches of notes can be “concatenated”, resulting in “note sequences”. In MarginNote, this could be implemented by providing a way to browse specific branches of notes, in effect creating a sequence. Branching and note sequences allow “story telling”.

I also found @bart’s recommendation of Beck Tench’s videos to be helpful. Her idea of having separate note branches for collecting theories, methods, arguments, instruments, gaps, findings, etc. looks useful.


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@Lanco_Support-Team, could you kindly tell us whether you intend to support this kind of functionality, or not?

Wow, fantastic.
It’s really a good idea. I think the key of this feature is to make these mindmap card shorter IDs, which offers users with a convenient way to link all of the cards.
I haven’t used this study method yet, so there may be some misunderstandings. Let me elaborate my thoughts of Zettelkasten and please figure out my misunderstandings.
First, if users just want to make links among all cards in MN3, MN3 has already provided users with one efficient way(splitting window).
Second, it may be difficult to create a new area.

Third, I hold a view that one better way is to collaborate with other excellent softwares(like Tinderbox), which means MN3 should introduce more export formats.


Now we are developing two tag syetem, one is for simple exam usage whose main function is sub tag. The other one is for academic use which use Amboss for reference.

It will lag behind Automation&Exts, new sync tech.

We will see what sparks will the new hashtags system involved with Automation&Exts. And could it help to achieve ZTK.


What do you think about this apporach: ?

web of thoughts… sounds quite promising…


Hi mobo,

We have build a version(3.6.12) for Zettelkasten.

We will produce an explanatory article as soon as possible.

Best regards

Thanks, @Lanco_Support-Team. Looking forward to your article about this. :slight_smile:

:blush:Hello, mobo. Hope this can be a reference for implementing the Zettelkasten method in the Marginnote3:

Zettelkasten Method


The word “Zettelkasten” is German and English is “slip-box” .
Information is available in the book How to Take Smart Notes by German author Sönke Ahrens.


  • Writing is not the result of thinking.
  • Writing is the process of thinking.
  • Writing begins with taking notes and organizing them, and ends with the output of text.


  1. Collect your thoughts, inspirations, or thoughts from your reading and put them on a card
  2. Organizing the hierarchical structure of notes
  3. Make connections between notes
  4. Follow up by reusing your notes to output the text

Use The Zettelkasten Method in Marginnote3

Function Module

  • Create a new blank card: take temporary notes
  • Extract notes, Edit comment field: take literature notes
  • Idea-Box feature: Create a theme card box
  • Mind-Map Feature: Constructing Research Topics (organizing the hierarchy of notes)
  • Link Function: Building Research Topics (organizing links)
  • Title Link Feature: Autoprompt Association
  • Reference Card: Drafting Stage

More information about Reference card & Idea box

Organize your notes and output your articles

  1. Making temporary notes: Write down the thoughts in your head, create a new card and type in the thoughts. The purpose of these notes is to remind you of that thought.
  2. Take literature notes: If you read a book or see any information that you think will be useful or relevant to your own thoughts, use the extract feature to extract the contents of the document, then annotate the generated extract card in your own language and add it to the comment field. Marginnote3 will put these notes together with its references in the brain-map notebook.
  3. Making permanent notes: Go through the notes you made in steps 1 and 2, find the connections between them, and integrate them into structured permanent notes by merging, linking, or organizing parent child relationships.
  4. Create a theme card box: permanent notes are things that deserve to be in your card box. A card box represents a theme. You can create a new idea box, then migrate the notes in and follow these steps:
  5. Building theme: Build your topic, research questions, and so on from your notes. Mainly through the movement, the reorganization note card logical relations realizes, when organizes the note has the following matters needing attention:
  6. Organizing Hierarchy: Place the new note next to the related note as a child node;
  7. Organizing links: Add links to related notes;
  8. Autoprompt Association: To ensure that you can retrieve this note
    1. Set keywords as note titles
    2. Open title link function, Marginnote3 will recognize notes between notes or notes in the document mentioned relationship, based on the manual title automatically generated hyperlinks
  9. Write a rough draft: If you find that you need to use the same note in more than one paragraph, you can copy the note to more than one place using the reference function to facilitate the reuse of knowledge
  10. Polishing: Re-read the draft, Polish the language, and if you find any gaps in the content, go back to the step of Building theme.

Other software that follows the card-box note-taking principle

  1. Roam Research
  2. Zettlr
  3. Obsidian
  4. Other plug-in class applications include VS Code, vim, Atom, subliminext

Function Comparison

This is a table created by an enthusiastic user who gave us advice@xiamumu

Hello, Meducine. The AMBOSS mentioned here is to explain the title link function.

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Hi @Edward_Support-Team,

Thanks for this. I read it over quickly and to be honest I don’t really follow it at all. The language is inconsistent with the MN application. E.g., “inspiration box” means “idea box”, or… ? This needs to be precise.

Could you kindly go over the section “Organize your notes and output your articles” and explain exactly which MN commands and steps you are suggesting that we use?

Also, what if we don’t want to use keywords as note titles? (I really don’t).

Finally, I think you could remove steps #9 and #10, and rename the title of this section to remove “output your articles”.

MN can help for organizing notes and building themes. I don’t see that it is able to support the later stages of academic writing, though, which are more complicated than two steps. For example, MN doesn’t handle PDF page references correctly and output formats are too limited, so I find it is not useful in the stage of actually writing an article.


I follow a workflow between MarginNote and RemNote to implement my zettelkasten system. I made a video explanation of the procedure

Thanks for pointing out the confusion. inspiration box is talking about the idea box, sorry I didn’t describe it clearly.

Actually this style is also supported: 【title】; keyword1; keyword2. The main purpose of using keywords is to facilitate the title-link feature to be able to automatically identify the citation relationship, do not know if this way you accept it:You enter any content as a title, then add [;] and keywords. You can also interpret the keyword as a tag.


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