Zettelkasten Forum


Beginning Obsidian Note: Structure

Hi All ,

I'm in the midst of building things out in Obsidian and have a dynamic collection of notes growing.

I've watched the Linking Your Thinking videos, which are helpful. (Thanks to @davecan for that suggestion).

This is how my cards are laid out:

Note Title

Note title again, as per LYT.

202103151756

Body of note, trying for higher-order thinking when possible

[[Links to other notes]]

any #hashtags that apply

References, if applicable.

Does this look right?

Also, I noted somewhere that Obsidian doesn't back up files. Is this true? And can anyone recommend a way to do that?

Also no integration with Zotero, correct?

Thanks, community!

b

Comments

  • edited March 16

    Does this look right?

    There's no right or wrong per se. But your format is roughly similar to others, even though everyone's note differs in various ways. That doesn't mean you are wrong in any way, just that everyone has unique needs.

    I recommend constantly focusing on core principles instead of mechanics, although mechanics are useful in the beginning to get your feet under you. But you will quickly find that the mechanics of any system prescribed by anyone will start to break down in your particular case, so you will need to start deviating from the prescription. That's a good thing, just be prepared for it and don't worry about doing things wrong from a mechanical/prescription perspective. But do understand there are principles and strategies that work better in certain contexts than others, which again is why it is important to keep going back to first principles.

    With that said, here are some thoughts...

    • Why do you have a timestamp unique ID in the body of the note? What is the purpose of the UID?
    • When you are starting out it is tempting to hashtag everything based on topic, which is fine in the beginning, but its good to understand that topic-based tagging is actually one of the most simplistic qualitative faceting methods that provides relatively low long-term value. Topic tags provide weak associations between notes and such a scheme can break down when the note collection grows large. Go ahead and do it in the beginning, its totally fine, but as a tip always try to have an eye towards devising your own tags based on your own ideas and concepts rather than generic topics or taxonomies from others. In the beginning you may not be able to identify those, which again is totally fine, let them emerge from the bottom up. (this is a form of inductive thematic analysis)

      • For example: David Kadavy gives an example tag #IcebergPrinciple to describe notes regarding the large hidden effort that is unseen by many until success happens "overnight" and I have one called #LeakyAbstraction to identify instances of Spolsky's Law.
        @sfast wrote a good blog post here a couple years ago with a similar take: https://zettelkasten.de/posts/object-tags-vs-topic-tags/
    • Obsidian has no native backup but you have two options, which can be combined: (I use both)

      • Put the vault in a cloud folder like Dropbox or Google Drive
      • Create a git project in your vault folder, set up a remote private git project somewhere like Github, and use the Obsidian Git plugin to schedule automatic commits of all changes on a set schedule
    • Note per feedback on the Obsidian mobile app currently in closed beta you may need to use iCloud for cloud storage (or some Android equivalent) due to some issues and limitations with using services like Dropbox

    • There is a Zotero plugin in Obsidian, called Citations – but if you are on a Mac you can also use tools like Alfred to create hotkeys that let you query Zotero and insert the citekey from any app including Obsidian, no plugin required

    Hope that helps!

  • @davecan Thank you again! I'm really appreciating this community so much, especially as I launch into this.

    • Why do you have a timestamp unique ID in the body of the note? What is the purpose of the UID?

    I think this is because I saw in one of the forum discussions here that I should be keeping it- so I did so for now in case I'd need them later.

    • When you are starting out it is tempting to hashtag everything based on topic, which is fine in the beginning, but its good to understand that topic-based tagging is actually one of the most simplistic qualitative faceting methods that provides relatively low long-term value. Topic tags provide weak associations between notes and such a scheme can break down when the note collection grows large. Go ahead and do it in the beginning, its totally fine, but as a tip always try to have an eye towards devising your own tags based on your own ideas and concepts rather than generic topics or taxonomies from others. In the beginning you may not be able to identify those, which again is totally fine, let them emerge from the bottom up. (this is a form of inductive thematic analysis)
      • For example: David Kadavy gives an example tag #IcebergPrinciple to describe notes regarding the large hidden effort that is unseen by many until success happens "overnight" and I have one called #LeakyAbstraction to identify instances of Spolsky's Law.

    Ooh, this is helpful- thank you. I can totally see where I was using general topics from others- and actually could switch over right away. I just didn't quite internalize that lesson. :smile:

    The #icebergprinciple reminds me of Jim Collins's flywheel analogy.

    @sfast wrote a good blog post here a couple years ago with a similar take: https://zettelkasten.de/posts/object-tags-vs-topic-tags/

    I will check it out!

    • Obsidian has no native backup but you have two options, which can be combined: (I use both)

      • Put the vault in a cloud folder like Dropbox or Google Drive
      • Create a git project in your vault folder, set up a remote private git project somewhere like Github, and use the Obsidian Git plugin to schedule automatic commits of all changes on a set schedule
    • There is a Zotero plugin in Obsidian, called Citations – but if you are on a Mac you can also use tools like Alfred to create hotkeys that let you query Zotero and insert the citekey from any app including Obsidian, no plugin required

    Hope that helps!

    This definitely helps! Such a steep learning curve in the beginning, but I'm gutting it out even though I'm not tech savvy, because ZK and LYT viscerally feel like an answer to what's been plaguing me forever about my workflow. Thanks again!

  • I'm gutting it out even though I'm not tech savvy, because ZK and LYT viscerally feel like an answer to what's been plaguing me forever about my workflow.

    This is EXACTLY how I started out as well. (although I didn't adopt LYT) And because I had been burned so many times with so many tools and methods before (cf: collector's fallacy, in a blog post somewhere around here) I was determined to eliminate as many "recommendations" as possible and only add things where I truly saw a need. This isn't strictly accurate as I did experiment with techniques, but is mostly true in principle as I often would try some technique I read somewhere and then get an ick feeling in my gut and force myself to stop and go back because I couldn't clearly articulate the problem I was trying to solve with that technique.

    The result is my system would probably be confusing to a fair number of people but it grew up organically in response to my actual needs.

    The key when experimenting is to avoid boxing yourself in. Try to always keep that in mind, how can you reverse the decision you are making if you want to back out of it? That really helps provide a safety net which encourages experimentation because if things go wrong you know you have a plan for undoing what got you into the mess.

    Re: tags, @Will has a great example of another one #beautiful-language in this video he just posted: https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/1725/video-example-of-essay-factoring-into-my-zettelkasten-the-archive

  • @davecan said:

    • Obsidian has no native backup......

    >

    What is Obsidian Sync with versioning?

  • @davecan said:
    Re: tags, @Will has a great example of another one #beautiful-language in this video he just posted: https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/1725/video-example-of-essay-factoring-into-my-zettelkasten-the-archive

    Here I'm quoting myself from a post back in October where I admit to more thievery!

    Yes, I do this. I don't worry that might I'm just pandering to my hoarding/collector self.
    I listened to a podcast featuring Tim Farris and Maria Popova from 2014. In this interview, Maria lets out that she uses the marginalia coding "BL" to signify "Beautiful Language". I've stolen this marginalia coding and when I process it into my Zettelkasten I tag the phrase #beautiful_language.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @bforbes, Don't stress about the form of your zettel. Paraphrasing @davecan, some people will think your template for a zettel is the cat's pajamas?? Others will not have such a high opinion. Things evolve and try not to get locked into always creating every zettel with the same form. Let form follow your ideas as you capture them.

    The note pictured below closely matches your outline. Many zettel don't fit in this format.

    I have evolved to use a template that only has the top six lines pre-configured, as pictured below.
    YAML Front Matter and title with a level one header. The rest is created by the play/work of capturing ideas.
    On the left is the software I use to edit zettel, and on the right is Live Preview in Marked2. This is an early-stage book note and will likely grow to a couple of thousand words before the end of spring break, six days from now.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • This is a good idea. I learned by studying others, so in the interest of paying that forward I'll include my own examples of what I consider to be well-structured evergreen notes from my own system. You'll notice my approach is closer to Andy's style which I greatly enjoy.

    It's also important to note (har har) that many of my notes are not nearly this high quality! At the end is an example of much shorter less well-defined notes.

    I'd love to see others examples as well.

    (this also became much longer than expected, sorry...)


    The image below shows three closely related notes on mental models and abstractions. They primarily draw from a single source but represent broadly-applicable concepts and are densely linked with many other related evergreen notes.

    Interestingly, now that I'm looking at these notes side by side I should probably restructure them a bit so the right-most one has some additional context at the beginning pointing back to the other two. The right-most one is the executable strategy and I'm finding that defining those executable strategies are where the real money is at in my notes – these are the notes the provide explicit opinionated guidance with the contents supporting the opinion.


    The following note is an adaptation of a few principles from Andy Matuschak along with comments from @ctietze and some other material I gathered online. The title is Good note titles act as propositions supporting various arguments.

    The note is in two images because it is taken from two pages of a PDF export, since I can't upload files here I had to screenshot the two pages separately resulting in the quote being skewed halfway through.



    Here's an example of some shorter notes as mentioned above:

    These are from my "original evergreen notes" and the UIDs need to be moved to the ends of the titles.

    Many other notes in my system are very rough and quite long and rambly and need to be cleaned up. Someday when it actually becomes important. :)

  • @bforbes, Don't stress about the form of your zettel. Paraphrasing @davecan, some people will think your template for a zettel is the cat's pajamas?? Others will not have such a high opinion. Things evolve and try not to get locked into always creating every zettel with the same form. Let form follow your ideas as you capture them.

    This. The form of the Zettel is governed by the Zettelkasten Method to a small part (an ID is the only mandatory to make hypertext possible) and the majority is governed by the nature of the knowledge you are working on.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited March 17

    I have opted for total simplicity. I used to use header sections, but I eventually realised that they were only there to satisfy certain obsessional traits in my personality. They were completely pointless because I never used them for anything. Indeed, they were positively harmful, because I devoted more attention to filling them up and making sure they were "right" than dealing with the real content of the note. So I got rid of them. Now I just have the ID and the filename at the top, and the content below. Uncluttered is best for me. I even have some notes that are empty apart from ID and name, because I haven't had time to create the content. But they are there as a reminder that I need to look at the subject.

    Theory is all very well, but I sometimes think that theory is the enemy of practice. Notes are notes for me. End of story. If I start fiddling about with ideas of category of note, I shall never get anything (useful) done.

  • @Will said:

    @davecan said:
    Re: tags, @Will has a great example of another one #beautiful-language in this video he just posted: https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/1725/video-example-of-essay-factoring-into-my-zettelkasten-the-archive

    Here I'm quoting myself from a post back in October where I admit to more thievery!

    Yes, I do this. I don't worry that might I'm just pandering to my hoarding/collector self.
    I listened to a podcast featuring Tim Farris and Maria Popova from 2014. In this interview, Maria lets out that she uses the marginalia coding "BL" to signify "Beautiful Language". I've stolen this marginalia coding and when I process it into my Zettelkasten I tag the phrase #beautiful_language.

    This is a new sub-project for me. I am growing a structure note dedicated to beautiful quotes. (The reason was a quote by Michael Moorcock in the Elric-Saga that I could let slip) My goal is to capture the essence of what makes language beautiful (subjectively and objectively).

    So, the notes I am refering to from this structure notes concern themselves with analysis on why something is beautiful.

    Could be something useful for you. :)

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:

    This. The form of the Zettel is governed by the Zettelkasten Method to a small part (an ID is the only mandatory to make hypertext possible) and the majority is governed by the nature of the knowledge you are working on.

    Thanks! What I'm trying to figure out in Obsidian is so elementary that it's almost embarrassing: Where does the ID go, and how does it make hypertext possible? :smile:

  • This is EXACTLY how I started out as well. (although I didn't adopt LYT) And because I had been burned so many times with so many tools and methods before (cf: collector's fallacy, in a blog post somewhere around here) I was determined to eliminate as many "recommendations" as possible and only add things where I truly saw a need. This isn't strictly accurate as I did experiment with techniques, but is mostly true in principle as I often would try some technique I read somewhere and then get an ick feeling in my gut and force myself to stop and go back because I couldn't clearly articulate the problem I was trying to solve with that technique.

    GREAT reflection! It prompted me to go back further and realize how tough school was for me as someone with a learning "anomaly." (And I'm saying this having gotten a doctorate and a professional license, but suffering so much in the process of adhering to those requirements.)

    The methods in school didn't speak to the way my brain thinks and creates, and my schools didn't realize this was a learning issue and that they could have helped. I kept getting forced into systems that were difficult, and taking forever to do work in those settings.

    So decades later, I still struggle with things like reading research articles (comprehension!), sequencing ideas (for books and articles), and figuring out grammar (not the kind that relates to sentence structure but the kind that speaks to what should go in a piece of writing or teaching, why it's important, and what to leave out).

    To suddenly, decades later, come upon a method that might speak to this is incredibly exciting, because it has the potential to remove the extra weeks, months, and sometimes years of struggle I go through when creating. (But I stick with, because writing and teaching are part of my calling.)

    The hard part is understanding the mechanics so I can build my system. In a way, I don't think I'll have as much trouble making "it" my own as soon as I can figure out what "it" contains.

    And in a weird meta way, this is also part of my learning anomaly. It's a little embarrassing to display that amid so many incredibly intelligent people.

    But you all have been so kind in accommodating and understanding. @davecan @Will @sfast

    And hey, if @Will can overcome camera-shyness to create a video, that frees all of us up to be more vulnerable.

    I'm going to post a note too. :smiley:

  • @MartinBB said:
    I have opted for total simplicity. I used to use header sections, but I eventually realised that they were only there to satisfy certain obsessional traits in my personality.

    Ha- totally share the OCD traits. :smiley:

  • edited March 17

    @bforbes

    Where does the ID go, and how does it make hypertext possible?

    It goes in the note title itself. I think when you see the UID field in the YML front matter in some of the screenshots here it is a feature of The Archive app, which is a core app used by many in this forum. (the devs of that tool run this forum IIRC)

    Whether it is actually needed is somewhat of a topic of debate. The idea is that you need to have a way to uniquely identify the note such that you can change the title without breaking links. But it depends on the tooling support.

    There's generally two schools of thought on this:

    1. You must use unique IDs because you need to be able to change note titles without breaking links.
    2. You do not need to use unique IDs because the filename itself is a unique ID at the OS level.

    I won't go into the weeds on each argument but suffice to say each has its pros and cons.

    From a practical perspective though, since you are using Obsidian you don't have to be as concerned since it automatically updates all links whenever a note title (file name) changes. (as long as you change it from within Obsidian – if you change it outside Obsidian i.e. in the command line then I don't believe it is updated, which is a bit frustrating but not the end of the world...)

    A lot of people using Obsidian still use the UID and place it at the front of the title: 202103171231 My note title for example.

    In my case, since I'm using Obsidian I don't need the UID for link management, but since I create notes from tools outside of Obsidian sometimes (ex: Alfred workflows) I need a way to ensure I do not have collisions i.e. I need to prevent a note I automatically create from outside Obsidian from overwriting an actual note if I accidentally use the same name. So I adopted the UID but I moved it to the end so the note title stays readable. Ex: My note title (E. 202103171231). You'll see that in the first set of three screenshots above. (the PDF image also has a suffix in the title but I didn't include it, and the three screenshots at the bottom are from an older set of evergreen notes when I first started and I just haven't bothered to update the titles yet)

    There is another aspect of Obsidian where the UID helps. Obsidian by default links by note title and does not include the path, but if you have files with the same name in separate folders then it will include the folder path in the link to disambiguate the link. By using a UID you eliminate that. That may or may not be desirable to you.

    So its up to you, there are pros and cons each way. I'm sure others will have opinions and insights I may have missed as well.

  • edited March 17

    In my obsidian vault the structure I use is

    • Metadata
    • Paragraph about Note
    • Links to Related Notes

    For example

    In terms of backing up your vault, I believe they have a paid service for that. Otherwise you could back it up using GitHub, an external hard drive, or free storage service such as Dropbox. I back up my vault in both Dropbox and an external hard drive.

    Post edited by Nick on
  • @davecan said:

    It goes in the note title itself. I think when you see the UID field in the YML front matter in some of the screenshots here it is a feature of The Archive app, which is a core app used by many in this forum. (the devs of that tool run this forum IIRC)

    Whether it is actually needed is somewhat of a topic of debate. The idea is that you need to have a way to uniquely identify the note such that you can change the title without breaking links. But it depends on the tooling support.

    There's generally two schools of thought on this:

    1. You must use unique IDs because you need to be able to change note titles without breaking links.
    2. You do not need to use unique IDs because the filename itself is a unique ID at the OS level.

    There is another aspect of Obsidian where the UID helps. Obsidian by default links by note title and does not include the path, but if you have files with the same name in separate folders then it will include the folder path in the link to disambiguate the link. By using a UID you eliminate that. That may or may not be desirable to you.

    Thank you! I like your pattern of "My note title" (UID), as I could easily wind up with files with the same name in separate folders. And you can only use parentheses in the title in Obsidian, not brackets, or the links won't work. (According to Obsidian).

    I'm off to fully digest these great commends and examples more.

  • You all ROCK!!!

  • edited March 17

    @Nick funny enough I have a note on exactly that topic! Title: Luhmann's focus was on sequences of thought.

    Did you get this from reading Ludecke? That's where it really jumped out at me, moreso than Ahrens.

    Excerpt from my note:


    People often think his structure was like this:

    • The Zettelkasten, containing many...
    • Notes, each of which tracked a single idea/point from a single author

    But his actual structure was like this:

    • The Zettelkasten, containing many...
    • Lines of Thought, each consisting of several...
    • Notes, each of which tracked a single idea/point from a single author
  • @Nick said:
    In my obsidian vault the structure I use is

    • Metadata
    • Paragraph about Note
    • Links to Related Notes

    Did you use a plugin to get your metadata to look like that?

    In terms of backing up your vault, I believe they have a paid service for that. Otherwise you could back it up using GitHub, an external hard drive, or free storage service such as Dropbox. I back up my vault in both Dropbox and an external hard drive.

    Haven't been able to find their paid backup service; they have Sync though, but that seems different.

    Thank you for the input!

    b

  • @bforbes said:

    @sfast said:

    This. The form of the Zettel is governed by the Zettelkasten Method to a small part (an ID is the only mandatory to make hypertext possible) and the majority is governed by the nature of the knowledge you are working on.

    Thanks! What I'm trying to figure out in Obsidian is so elementary that it's almost embarrassing: Where does the ID go, and how does it make hypertext possible? :smile:

    This is to be found in the introduction. :)

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:

    Thanks! What I'm trying to figure out in Obsidian is so elementary that it's almost embarrassing: Where does the ID go, and how does it make hypertext possible? :smile:

    This is to be found in the introduction. :)

    Haha! :smiley: I meant where does it go _in Obsidian?_After some research, I found that you need a plugin to get the UID in the title working...__

  • @bforbes yes I use a plugin that puts the note titles on the sides, as I find it less distracting and I also have the ability to stack notes, which helps when working with a lot of notes. I don't think I used a plugin to get the metadata to look like that, but perhaps I did without realizing it.

  • edited March 19

    @davecan said:
    @Nick funny enough I have a note on exactly that topic! Title: Luhmann's focus was on sequences of thought.

    Kind of the same. The note above is moreso about structing your notes so it facilitates the retrieval of information. I actually have the note you are thinking of in my zettelkasten, but its called literally "Note Sequences".

    I got the idea not from Ludecke but from reading Ann M. Blair's book Too Much To Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age and applying her note taking model to the zettelkasten.

  • @Nick said:
    @bforbes yes I use a plugin that puts the note titles on the sides, as I find it less distracting and I also have the ability to stack notes, which helps when working with a lot of notes. I don't think I used a plugin to get the metadata to look like that, but perhaps I did without realizing it.

    Nice!!!

  • edited March 19

    @bforbes The plugin is called Sliding Panes (Andy's Mode) and can be found in the community plugins browser. You can set a hotkey to turn the mode on and off.

    I set the following hotkeys which have made my use of Obsidian much more fluid:

    • Ctrl / - Toggle Sliding Panes
    • Ctrl . - Open Command Palette
    • Alt , - Open Quick Switcher

    This enables me to do things like:

    • Ctrl . + mv + type in a few chars from a folder name + enter = move file to that folder
    • Alt , + type in a few chars from any note + enter = open that note (Cmd+enter to open in new pane)

    This may help you as well.

  • @davecan Thank you- just installed it and will play around with it! Big learning curve but in the end, I'm glad I chose Obsidian- thanks again for that rec.

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