Concept maps — creating overview of your permanent notes

Rasmus Ursem
4 min readNov 28, 2022

The slipbox, or zettelkasten, method is one of the most widely recognized personal knowledge management systems (PKM). The zettelkasten method has a long history dating all the way back to the 15th century. The German sociologist Niklas Luhmann (1927–1998) is often mentioned as one of authors who attributed his huge output to his zettelkasten system. Luhmann wrote 50 books and around 550 articles — quite impressive!

In short, the analog version of the zettelkasten method operates with three types of notes.

  • Fleeting notes — unorganized notes you collect as you come by them in various forms. In the analog world, this may be newspaper articles, photos, etc. In the digital world, you may add any kind of data to this list.
  • Literature notes — starting from a fleeting note, your literature notes represent your own understanding of the concepts and ideas captured in the fleeting note (the source material). Each literature note should be “atomic”, i.e., represent a single concept or idea written in your own words. Thus, multiple literature notes may be created on the basis of a fleeting note.
  • Permanent notes — your knowledge on a topic, which is written from your literature notes. Permanent notes may be rewritten or extended as you discover new material and write additional literature notes.

The zettelkasten method has obviously been digitized and Medium has several articles on how to implement a slipbox PKM system with various tools such as Obsidian, Roam, Napkin, etc. Many of these tools offer various ways of linking through the use of tags, direct links, and breadcrumbs. Napkin is an interesting new tool that uses AI to generate tags automatically and form relationship based on textual similarity.

Despite being widely used, I think the slipbox system and most other systems fall short on the organization of concepts captured in your notes and how these concepts may relate to each other. Okay, notes can be linked but I think most visualizations of this linking is rather poor. To remedy this, I think PKM systems would benefit greatly by adding concept maps as an relationship layer to visualize how the concepts of your literature and permanent notes are linked. A key feature of concept maps is their manual construction, which allow you to model and fixate the relationship among concepts each represented by one permanent note in your PKM system.

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Rasmus Ursem

Computer & data scientist, writer, thinker, photographer, and generally curious about life and the wet matter between our ears — in short, I’m a poly-geek :-)