Do you ever have trouble naming notes? Or worse, do you struggle to find your notes after writing them?
You aren’t alone. It’s a common axiom in the programming world that there are only two hard things in computer science, and one of them is naming things.
Here’s a few ideas to make naming notes in Obsidian easier.
Idea 1: Each note should contain one idea
Notes that contain a single idea are called atomic notes. The contents of your note can be as big as you want, but all the contained info should relate to the single idea contained in the name of your note.
For instance, instead of creating a “Vitamin D” monster note with fifty thousand words in it, you can create individual notes with titles like “Vitamin D can prevent kidney stones” and “Vitamin D is generated by sunlight”. Then, if you need to collect those notes in one place. you can create a Map of Content with links to all of your notes on Vitamin D.
Atomic notes are also commonly called Evergreen notes, as coined by Andy Matuschak.
Idea 2: Rename notes some time after you first write them
One of my favorite principles behind Zettelkasten is the idea of fleeting vs permanent notes. There’s a big difference between the two: fleeting notes are back-of-the-napkin notes, they aid your memory for a short time and are then thrown away. Permanent notes are stored in a trusted location and meant to be referenced again and again, becoming like an extension of your brain.
Permanent notes are the ideal, but they’re not so easy to write. It’s especially hard to write a permanent note at the moment you encounter a new idea: so if you want to get the most out of your notes, revisit new notes a few days—or weeks—after you first create them.
This will enable you to see the idea with fresh eyes. Don’t be afraid to change the contents of the note at this point—including the title—because you can now see if your original take was confusing or missing anything.
Idea 3: Search before creating
Once you’ve been taking notes long enough, you’ll eventually get to a point where you’ll have to deal with duplicate notes or ideas. Here’s an easy way to make sure you’re dealing with a new idea, and not an old one: use the quick switcher to create new notes.
If you’re not familiar with the quick switcher, it’s a Core Plugin built in to Obsidian. By default the hotkey is Cmd/Ctrl+O. The quick switcher allows you to search by title for a file, and open it with the press of a button. It’s an extremely useful tool.
The quick switcher is meant for switching files, but it can also create them. Start typing your new idea, and if nothing shows up, press enter. The quick switcher will then create the new file. This is how I create most of my files, because it allows you to quickly ensure you’re creating a new note. If, on the other hand, the idea you’re writing about already exists, then you can add to the already existing note.
You can also search using the search plugin, if the Quick Switcher doesn’t find anything. Learn more about the search plugin.
Idea 4: If you look for an idea and have trouble finding it, rename the note
The perfect time to rename a note is immediately after you’ve been looking for it.
Why is that? Because now you know what you’ll be looking for next time you want to find this note.
Idea 5: Add aliases, but sparingly
Sometimes you can’t fit everything into one title. Generally if your title isn’t good enough, you should either create a new note with the new idea or rewrite the title. But sometimes the title is good enough, but it needs some extra searchability.
What are aliases? Read more about them in the documentation.
I typically recommend aliases for only two things: synonyms and abbreviations. If I write a note about GTD, it’s not a bad idea to also add an alias spelling out “Getting Things Done”. That way you can search for either term and find the note.
Additionally there are few things more frustrating than searching for a word, expecting to find a note, and discovering later that you used a different word. Medical and chemical notes are particularly prone to this, I find.
Vitamin c and ascorbic acid are the same thing, and it can be helpful to alias one to the other. That way I could search for “vitamin c and cancer” or “ascorbic acid and cancer”, and either way I find the right note.
Naming notes will always be difficult, but hopefully this gives you a few ideas to improve your vault. Remember that no note is set in stone, and every day there are opportunities to improve your vault, and improve your mind.
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