What is the size of the atomic note?

One of the core principles of Zettelkasten is the idea of atomic notes.

The benefits of atomicity are:

  • Better mobility and reusability of a note
  • More specificity in your references to that note

But the question the becomes, “What are the boundaries of an atomic note?” Is an atomic note a single sentence? A proposition? A collection of propositions? A paragraph? Or anything related to some topic?

There probably is no right answer, but I would love to get people’s take on this fundamental question.

My personal opinion is that the atomic note depends on the usage and domain of the note. I prefer smaller, more granular notes, and the bullet-level granularity of Roam is one of it’s unique features. You can get really specific with your references. But the downside is that you make many notes (thousands?) and titling them can become a bear.

Can we come up with any guidelines or principles for creating atomic notes?

@msteffens @lizardmenfromspace @nickmilo @DrJJWMac @metaraine @gdigesu

IMO atomic notes are indeed one of the truly essential elements of personal knowledge management. For me, an atomic note comprises a single thought/idea – whatever this may mean in your own context.

Striving to keep notes as atomic as possible is important IMO. OTOH I think it‘s ok to sometimes be pragmatic about it. E.g., if taking longer notes makes sense in a certain case, than just do so! You can always improve them later. I.e., if these get a problem in the future, then split them in smaller notes (and link them together).

W.r.t. titling many notes: Trying to come up with an appropriate title for the note which sums up the note‘s core statement/idea may seem laborious or redundant at times. But I consider it important knowledge work which your knowledge archive will ultimately benefit from.

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Good points @msteffens. Indeed, one has to be pragmatic. I agree, being as atomic as possible is the goal.

One thing that has helped me using Obsidian is the ability to present the content of notes within other notes, rather than just referring. Previously, I was reluctant to make super atomic notes because sometimes you need/want presentation of some information together in a single view. I don’t want to have to navigate out to linked notes for every single thing.

Being able to present the content of other notes using ![[note]] has really helped.

Here is an example. For a ‘Disease’ note, I want all the relevant info on one overview page. But I don’t want to have to go to so many links. Presenting info from other notes inside the main overview note is super helpful.

Yes, that’s a valid request, and a good point. It’s also the right approach IMO: I.e., we should not stray away from our goal to take atomic notes – instead, we should strive to improve our software tools so that they can handle the different needs (atomic vs. overview), like in your Obsidian example.

For Keypoints, I plan to support transclusion (using {{...}} similar to MultiMarkdown’s transclusion syntax). On export or in a preview, the contents of notes specified via transclusion would then get included with the output.

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