Quick Tip: Footnotes in Obsidian

Photo of an old bible written in Koine Greek.

For a little while now I’ve been using footnotes in Obsidian. I think they’re a bit of a “hidden feature”. They’re in the documentation, but for some reason I rarely see people use them.

When writing in Obsidian, I make heavy use of internal links. I believe that links are one of Obsidian’s superpowers, so I use them as much as I can. And when I use internal links, I almost always prefer footnotes to any other style of links.

Does that surprise you? Let me explain why.

Why do I like footnotes?

I try to title most of my notes as statements. For example, I have a note titled “Ted Talks are dangerously eloquent”. Here’s the entire contents of that note:

# Ted Talks are dangerously eloquent

Or, as [[Hamlet]] would say, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

A perfect example is the talk called “How to sound smart in your TEDx Talk”. [^2]

Eloquent talks trick us into thinking we learn more than we actually do.

They make us feel good without really improving us. [^1]

[^1]: [[Human Rites]] p80

[^2]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S0FDjFBj8o

There’s a chance I might want to link to that note directly from another note. Perhaps I’m writing about the dangers of eloquence, in which case it might be natural to state directly that [[Ted Talks are dangerously eloquent]].

But that often isn’t the case. Oftentimes I want to link to a specific idea but word it differently than the title of the note. I might say “Eloquence is a slippery slope, [^1]” and add a footnote to the Ted Talk note.

This allows your ideas to flow out of you more naturally, and you don’t have to worry about restructuring your note to fit previous modes of thought.

I also use inline links in Obsidian, such as `[[Hamlet]]` above. But usually only for notes with one or two-word titles, such as a book title or the name of a person. When referencing an idea, I almost always use footnotes.

The downsides to footnotes in Obsidian

The problem with footnotes: they’re a pain in the neck to type.

I initially dealt with this by adding footnotes in a template, and inserting that template to a note whenever I wanted to add a footnote. This works, but it’s less than ideal. By default, I added five footnotes to my template, but I rarely use all five, which leaves me with the busy work of removing all my unused footnotes from old notes. Plus it requires a few keystrokes to insert a template. Too much work!

Then I discovered the Obsidian Footnotes plugin.

This plugin is perfect for me. It takes the pain away from using footnotes, and leaves me with all of the benefit. There’s a reason we featured this plugin in our favorite Obsidian plugins, because easier footnote creation helps so much when you’re working on a tricky idea.

The Footnotes plugin allows you to set up a keyboard shortcut for footnotes. I use alt+F, and anytime I press those keys the plugin automatically adds a footnote and allows you to type or paste whatever you want into the footnote.

Note: if you’re new to plugins, see our guide on community plugins.

In Conclusion

Footnotes come with a lot of benefits in Obsidian. I would suggest trying them out, along with the plugin. They’re concise, they’re unobtrusive, and they allow you to structure your notes in a way that’s easy to understand and navigate. Even better, when you’re working on a tricky concept, they make it easier to stay in “flow” while still documenting your work.

So next time you’re writing in Obsidian, consider using footnotes. I think you’ll find they’re a valuable tool for structuring your thoughts and organizing your ideas.

4 responses to “Quick Tip: Footnotes in Obsidian”

  1. For the purpose you mentioned, is there a reason you don’t use the vertical pipe (Shift+|) to make the text in the link to the note show differently? For ex:
    [[Ted Talks are dangerously eloquent|Eloquence is a slippery slope,]]. I find this flow to work better and try to leave footnotes for external links (though I’m still making my mind up on what method to use when).

    1. Hey Amir, good thought! For me, it typically depends on the type of note I’m creating. If it’s a “just for me” note, or a Map of Content, I will use the pipe for internal notes (or even aliases in the note itself). But if it’s something I may want to publish, I prefer footnotes, since they’re easier to convert to a publishable format.

      I will also use footnotes exclusively if I need to add additional context. In the above example I link to a book note and also add the page number: e.g. [[Human Rites]] p80 (page 80)

  2. That quote’s from MacBeth, right?

    1. You’re right! I could have sworn it was one of Hamlet’s speeches, but I had that wrong. Better go update that note, thanks for the correction 🙂

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