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Should You Use Evernote As Your Zettelkasten?

By Matt Giaro

Building a Zettelkasten in Evernote

In this article, I will answer the question if you can build your Zettelkasten in Evernote.

Credit where credit is due:
Evernote is one of the most popular note-taking apps out there. In fact, it has been around the corner for over a decade and has been proven to be a reliable note-taking app that suits the masses.

While Evernote is pretty versatile and suits a lot of note-taking types, comes the question:
Is Evernote adapted to the Zettelkasten methodology?

Before answering the question, let’s start with the basics.

What Makes a Good Zettelkasten App?

Too many people try to get a quick answer like “yes” or “no”. But truth is, reality is way more nuanced. What could be dealbreaker for me could be the Graal for you. So let’s dive deeper into the creteria I’m going to use.

Quick Capture: Evernote Allows You to Capture Ideas Quickly Into Your Zettelkasten

When you encounter an idea, you want to write it down as quickly as possible to be sure that you don’t forget it.

This is when quick capture comes into play.

Evernote works across all major platforms (iOS, android, mac, windows) and has strong automation features with iOS shortcuts and Zapier.

So when it comes to dumping your ideas into your Zettelkasten, Evernote will certainly not deceive you.

Powerful Search Feature

Searching for your notes can become a nightmare. Especially if you have a lot of them.

Given the fact that the Zettelkasten methodology relies more on searching for contexts and concepts than on categorizing, it’s important to notice the importance of a powerful search function.

Evernote has a very powerful search function.
Not only does it search across your titles and notes, but it even allows you to search on images with the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) feature.

So if you have a lot of pictures with text (like book excerpts) or PDFs in your Zettelkasten this function will be quite handy to have.

Cross Platform

You probably want to access your Zettelkasten from multiple platforms: mobile, web, and computer.
Evernote’s got you covered because, as mentioned earlier, Evernote works on most platforms.

Exporting Your Zettelkasten From Evernote

Evernote has an export feature, but it limits you to export your notes by buckets of 50. This can become quite annoying if you have a lot of notes. So keep that in mind in case you want to shift.
Personally, I like to own my notes and not have to rely on a proprietary file format or my notes sitting on a cloud without an easy-to-use backup function.

Linking Notes in Evernote

Linking notes between them is the essence of the Zettelkasten.
If the only thing you remember about Nicklas Luhmann’s style of taking notes.. it’s linking.

Evernote has a linking feature.
You can link from one note to another simply by highlighting the text in your new note that you want to add the note link to and use Cmd + K on Mac (or Ctrl + K on Windows.)
Then, you have to copy and paste the link to the note that you want to link to.

This makes linking possible… in theory.

But picture this:
You’re taking a note. Suddenly, you want to link it to another concept.
Then have to search for the note you want to link to, enter the note, copy and paste the link, and then go back to the initial note…

In practice, you see that it adds a lot of friction and is everything else than user friendly.

That’s not the only PITA when working with backlinks in Evernote.
Evernote does not allow you to see the links that are pointing to/from a specific note.

Which makes the “discovery insights” side of things harder than apps that have been built around backlinks first.

As an example, in Roam, Mem, or Obsidian, you can see all the links pointing from and to a note directly in the side panel:

Example of “backlinks at a glance” in my Obsidian Zettelkasten

Using Evernote as a Zettelkasten: Conclusion

Despite all the awesomeness of Evernote, it’s safe to say that it’s definitely not suited to be used as a Zettelkasten. The limitations of the linking functions prove that there are way better alternatives out there.

But no matter which app you’re choosing, the first thing to get right is the methodology you’re using.

If you want to start implementing your own Zettelkasten in a simple way, feel free to subscribe to my free 7-day email course below:

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