Do you have a habit of keeping notes to remind yourself of tasks? If yes, then have you tried organizing your notes using folders, categories, or even tags, but ended up with an even more unorganized mess on your screen? If you answered positively to any of those questions, you’ll probably love how Obsidian can help you make sense out of your note-taking chaos.
It can do that by letting you see a visual representation of your notes and their relations. Let’s see how you can use Obsidian to turn your notes into a knowledge base.
Obsidian is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux. It comes with a quick installer for Windows (exe) and macOS (dmg). For Linux, it is available as an AppImage (learn how you can run AppImage in Linux) or can be installed via Snap or Flatpak.
When you run Obsidian for the first time, you have to tell it where you keep your notes. If you already have all your notes in markdown format in a folder, you can choose the first option, “Open folder as Vault.” That’s the way we’ll go with this tutorial since we already have a bunch of notes created with QOwnNotes.
If you prefer to start from scratch, you can create a new vault and select the location to store your notes.
It’s also worth noting that Obsidian can work with multiple vaults. However, you’ll have to open each one in a separate instance of the app.
When Obsidian’s main interface appears, you’ll see your notes listed on the left. Obsidian supports folders, so if you had your notes categorized using a folder structure, you’ll also see those folders. You can expand them to access the notes within.
You can move notes around by dragging and dropping them. The three icons at the top pane allow you to create a new note, make a new folder, or change the sorting order.
Obsidian has a powerful search feature that checks the content of your notes and returns all results in microseconds. Click on the magnifying glass icon at the top to start searching your notes.
The other options at the same spot allow you to open the quick switcher to view Obsidian’s graph. At the bottom of that toolbar, you’ll find three more icons. Those allow you to open another vault, check the program’s help, and access its settings.
Using Obsidian to Organize Your Notes
By default, when you open Obsidian, you’ll be in editor mode, where you can edit your notes or write new ones. In this mode, all Markdown syntax is visible. Press Ctrl + E to switch to preview mode, where the syntax disappears, and the note will appear formatted.
Links, tags, and relations
In other note-taking apps, you might organize your files in folders or by using tags and categories. Obsidian is similar in that it supports both folders and tags. However, it also borrows the logic of Wikis and solutions like Tiddlywiki to allow linking of internal notes.
If you type a tag (with a hash before a word, like #tag), Obsidian will detect it and assign it to the note no matter where it is in your text.
If you prefer to add your tags in a single dedicated line, you can do the same by typing them as:
Notice the arrow at the right of the screen? Click on it to expand the pane. Move to the second tab, with the hash symbol, and you’ll see all the tags detected in your current note. You’ll also see a number next to each tag. This refers to the number of times the tag is used in the your vault. You can use this to locate other notes using the same tag.
In Obsidian, the primary way to create relations between your notes is through internal links. Let’s say you have two notes, named “MTE” and “Future Articles.” To link the latter to the former, you can use the syntax
[[mte]] in your note. To follow the link, simply click on it to open the other note.
You can also do the opposite (seeing which notes are linking to the current note) by going to its Backlinks pane on the right panel of the screen.
The best part is that Obsidian can detect mentions of a note even if they’re not actually formatted as links but typed in plain text. You can move to any note mentioned in the Backlinks panel by clicking on it to open it in a new pane.
Obsidian allows you to work on multiple notes in parallel. You can split an existing pane by clicking on the button with the three dots at its top right and then selecting either “Split horizontally” or “Split vertically.”
To ensure you don’t accidentally close a note you use as a reference, you can use the Pin function, accessible from the same three-dot menu. From the same spot, you can delete a note, reveal its file in the default file explorer, and even export it as a PDF.
Mastering the Knowledge Graph
Obsidian’s knowledge graph allows you to see the relations between your notes. To access it, either click on its button on the left toolbar or press Ctrl + G on your keyboard.
By default, Obsidian only presents the relations between linked notes. To also see how all notes connect through common tags, enable this option from the Filters group in the graph’s menu.
Here’s an example of how the knowledge graph can help you find relations between your notes.
By hovering over a node, you can see the tags associated with it.
As you create more notes (and links) in Obsidian, more connections will start showing up in the Knowledge Graph. The best part, though, is that those relations, and the notes they connect, won’t get lost in some database as they are saved to the notes itself, so even though you are using it on different computer, you will still get the same output.
If you just need a simple note-taking app that you can access on multiple platforms, try Joplin Notes.