My Step by Step Process to Create a Permanent Note in Zettelkasten

I’ll show you how it works in practice, using the text editor Obsidian

Brooke Harrison


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Heard of the Zettelkasten note-taking method and always wanted to give it a shot?

Me too. The Zettelkasten or “slip-box” method emphasizes connection and inspired the bidirectional linking of programs like Obsidian and Roam Research.

If you’ve heard of this method, attributed to German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, you might think that you know a thing or two about it… Index cards! “Linking” similar ideas!

Thing is, there are a few principles we need to understand in order to reap its rewards. Zettelkasten changes the way we consume information and take notes… Luhmann’s “permanent” notes were written in complete sentences, in his own words. (I don’t know about you, but I’ve never taken notes so neatly. Mine are typically a mess of quotes, bullet points, key phrases, etc.)

So… what constitutes a “permanent” note? How do we take the content we’ve consumed and create notes for our own Zettelkasten?

There’s a lot out there about how Zettelkasten works in theory, but very little to SHOW us how it works in practice. So I’m going to show you one of my own permanent notes — and, more importantly, how I got there. But first…

Luhmann’s “note-making” process

The Zettelkasten method is intentional and thoughtful. Luhmann followed a 3-step process to facilitate learning and understanding

  1. Read; take “literature notes” to jot down the bits of information that were most compelling
  2. Elaborate; transform literature notes into “permanent” notes for the Zettelkasten
  3. Connect; think critically about where the note belongs and how it connects to preexisting threads of thought

Luhmann never “copy/pasted” from his own reading material, but rather processed what he’d read and then elaborated on the ideas or concepts he found most interesting. His notes, then, were not simply summaries of a particular text, but a unique thought of his own (inspired by the original source).

Let’s break down…



Brooke Harrison

Writer & Entrepreneur. I write to process and share what I’m learning :) How to take notes in Obsidian (free guide!):