How to Create Atomic Notes
Updated: Jul 19
Ever since we created the first version of NoteDex we have always espoused the statement that Index Cards are amazing because they help the note taker focus on one idea or thought at a time. These also often called 'fleeting' notes by other note taking gurus on the internet, not to be confused with 'literature' notes. In this article we will explain what are Atomic Notes and how to use NoteDex to create them.
With the advent in the last 40 years of the internet, the idea of hyperlinked and searchable content has meant that there is less of a need to 'connect' fleeting notes to each other manually - but there are some cases when this helps researchers or content creators 'construct' a set of ideas into a piece of their knowledge - into a map of thoughts.
This note-taking feature is recently getting more attention again as the idea of Zettelkasten (single idea index cards connected to each other) to allow for thought exploration and enhancement is having a second wave of interest and many note taking apps are building this feature into their apps. This is particularly important for those creating what are known as 'literature notes'. Niklas Luhmann, who invented the idea, kept his notes this way and was able to jump across his note cards to related cards and help him make connections between his ideas.
So the idea of single fleeting notes/ideas/thoughts onto a single note/card is not new and many people have written some great pieces about it - and one of them that caught fire over the last few years is something called the 'Atomic Note'. The rise in this term I believe has happened as the result of the book Atomic Habits (also a great read).
In this article I will do my best to explain (referencing other sources we found) what an Atomic Note is and how NoteDex is already designed to be your container for all your Atomic Notes.
What is an Atomic Note?
There are a few great articles about this - I am referencing them below.
In summary Atomic Notes are meant to be single ideas, or captures of thought -'atomic'' and 'autonomous' in the sense that they can be read and understood without needing to refer to anything more.
A 'unique ID' so that it can be connected / referenced to another card in some way. Most note taking apps already have this internally either as a unique key number or a creation date. The title can also be used but one should be careful in case two notes have the same title.
A 'Title' - as mentioned above the note should have a title that 'could' be used to link to other cards but in general it is more for quick reference for what the note is about
There should be a 'Body note' for the note - where the main content goes
Links - inside the body one may want to link to other content - like you see in Wikipedia
References to outside source material - if the note is a summary of other content it should reference it
Text in a form that it can be searched (this is pretty obvious and standard in today's apps).
If your app allows you to do the above then you have an app that allows you to take Atomic Notes and implement Zettelkasten.
Are Atomic Notes the same as Smart Notes?
No - the idea of taking smart notes is more about the process of what to capture - we'll create an article about this also but the idea of Smart Notes came from Sönke Ahrens book 'How to Take Smart Notes'.
What is the difference between Literature Notes, Fleeting Notes and Permanent Notes?
Literature notes are notes that you have crafted yourself after reviewing other information - it is your own unique content to be used in your writing paper. Your thoughts might be stimulated from other source material and it is common to reference your source material in your literature notes.
Fleeting notes are just that - quick notes that you are capturing at any moment into your note database - usually with the intention of reviewing and doing something with them later. A fleeting note might be an idea, a thought, a reference to another article etc.
Furthermore, some people refer to the term 'Permanent Notes' - and it seems the common view on this is that these are the 'Fleeting Notes' that end up remaining in your note system and which have perhaps passed a first 'yes, let's keep this' review.
How to take Atomic Notes with NoteDex
Does the idea of taking Atomic Notes as part of your reading workflow note-taking method sound exactly like taking notes in NoteDex? Yes, we thought so also so we thought we should write this article! To summarize, in NoteDex:
NoteDex cards (your fleeting notes) can be atomic and autonomous. They have unique ID's that can be referenced by other cards. The easy way is to just create your cards and associate them to each other either using a group or with a tag so that they are all connected to each other. You might also use the unique card ID (the weblink of a card) to link one card to another by inserting that link in the card if you want to link to a specific card.
NoteDex cards have a Title
NoteDex cards have a Body note (in fact the only app with body on both sides of the card actually!)
NoteDex cards can have hyperlinks for your source material references
NoteDex cards can be searched using our text search.
Once you have your atomic notes you can export them as plain text files into other apps for more writing.
Atomic Notes might seem something new but in fact they are just the same good old Index Card notes with modern branding - OK, plus some extra tech to link them! But I hope you see that for researchers and content creators looking to create a set of ideas and thoughts as part of their literature notes or content maps, using the idea of Atomic Notes as part of your note-taking method, is helpful and NoteDex is ready to hold all your Atomic Notes.