Verzettel? What are they and are they a defining feature of a Zettelkasten?

A user on Reddit commented that ‘Verzettel’ are a defining feature of a Zettelkasten. I had not heard of this term before.

What does Verzettel mean to you?
And is it a defining feature of a Zettelkasten?

@nickmilo @lizardmenfromspace

Never heard it before and that guy seems like a bit of a jerk. I’d maybe try posting in zettelkasten De and ask Christian or Sascha, I bet they’d know.

His comment is why I made my caveat about ZK purity. Nevertheless, I do agree that terms should have specific meanings. But AFAIK, ‘Verzettel’ was not a reuqirement or defining feature of a ZK. There is no canonical definition.

This is what he essentially referring to

From a published paper on Luhmann’s Zettelkasten

Instead of giving an exact account of what he had read, Luhmann made notes on what came to his mind in the process of reading, with an eye to the notes already contained in his file.11 What mattered to him was “what could be utilized in which way for the cards that had already been written. Hence, when reading, I always have the question in mind of how the books can be integrated into the filing system”.12 Moreover, he never put his notes directly into the file, nor did he file them in exactly the same way that he had taken them. In a second step soon after he had completed his reading, he would prepare the notes that he had taken by organizing them according to his filing technique (see be- low). At this point, his main concern was not to develop an idea to maximum sophistication; rather, he operated on the assumption that a decision on the usefulness of a note could only be made in relating it to the other notes – and therefore would (in many cases) be a matter to be decided in the future.

12 Luhmann, “Biographie, Attitüden, Zettelkasten”, p. 150. In the process, Luhmann frequently read the text from multiple perspectives, i.e., with several different questions or publication projects in mind.


the fact that in Luhmann’s mind the process of writing things down enables disciplined thinking in the first place: “Underlying the filing technique is the experience that without writing, there is no thinking”.43 Accordingly, the file also documents the evolution of important theoretical constructs in Luhmann’s thinking: for instance, the concepts of communication media, evolution, or observation. It contains not only validated knowledge but also reflects the thought process, including potential mistakes and blind alleys that were later revised but not removed from the file as the original cards always remained in Luhmann’s file and perhaps a new card with revisions was added if needed.

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Also this from Luhmann’s own essay

Perhaps the best method would be to take notes—not excerpts, but condensed reformulations of what has been read. The re-description of what has already been described leads almost automatically to a training of paying attention to “frames,” or schemata of observation, or even to noticing conditions which lead the text to offer some descriptions but not others. What is not meant, what is excluded when something is asserted? If the text speaks of “human rights,” what is excluded by the author? Non-human rights? Human duties? Or is it comparing cultures or historical times that did not know human rights and could live very well without them?

Regarding that reddit poster, not sure where got this part from

Luhmann verzettelte his notes. Verzetteln is not a mere summary of the text; with regard to a subsequent verzetteln , one reads differently.

and this

In the processing step of verzetteln , one focus on the connection to other, already existing Zettel: If the new information helps to deepen the context generated by already existing Zettel, then it should be ‘transfered’ to a new Zettel. For Luhmann, a single Zettel has no intrinsic value in terms of its information content – only when the Zettel is combined with other Zettel its information content becomes ‘useable’. Therefore only if a new piece of information extends the context that other Zettel ‘provide’, then it was ‘worth’ to create a Zettel. Luhmann’s note box is thus not an archive but a (thinking) tool.

He isn’t wrong persay, he is just being really weird about it. The usefulness of a note comes from its connections to other notes. So you have to interconnect them. Such that when you go to pull up information on a concept, it leads to other closely related concepts or context.

Does that make sense? I don’t know why he felt the need to shroud it in mystery and vague language.