"Parent" notes and hierarchy -- is it missing the point?

Apologies if this is in the wrong place, or if this has been handled before … If the latter, please do share a link to another thread.

Sometimes, I find myself wanting to create notes to serve as parent thoughts, as if this were a mind map. I might have several notes linked in different directions, but sharing some theme. I create a parent note on that theme. The parent note does nothing but link to the child notes, and doesn’t have any information itself. This parent note serves no other purpose than to connect the children, both in traveling links/backlinks and in the graph view.

I could use such notes to jot down synthesis ideas, but I sort of already do that separately.

I could use tags instead, I guess–especially now that they’re visualized–but that doesn’t really create a hierarchy.

Am I not getting some big point here? Am I trying to force this kind of notetaking into a hierarchical mind-map, and therefore missing something about how powerful links/backlinks can be?

Does anyone else feel a need to introduce hierarchy and, if so, how are you doing it? What happens to your productivity/notetaking when you give it up?


Why do you want a hierarchy if the data and notes aren’t hierarchical?

It’s not zettelkasten because Luhmann had sequence but not hierarchy.

“Hierarchy” might not be the right word, I guess. And, if I get away from that concept, a different way of using tags is probably my answer.

If I have various notes linked variously, but all are about leadership then I should perhaps resist the temptation to create a “parent note” called “Leadership” to gather them, and rather just create a tag. It’s when leadership should relate to something else, I guess …

I appreciate hierarchical tags in other apps. Perhaps that’s what I’m looking for, also. A tag on “leadership” may, for example, fit under a larger tag that encompasses “leadership”, “vulnerability”, etc. in my own system of goals and aspirations.

@JPMoo: what exactly are you trying to achieve? Why are you thinking of creating parent notes and/or tags?

Those 2 things are useful aids to a note collection, but which to use and how depends on what your objective is.

I want to uncover themes, and be able to link notes to one another through that theme. Tags seem like my answer (though is different from how I’ve been using them), even though tags lack hierarchy. Parent notes would give me more hierarchy, but clutter up my notes.

@JPMoo: parent notes don’t need to clutter up your notes. You could make the title distinctive so you’ll always spot a parent note in the list.

Furthermore, you can add comments in the parent note about the various child notes it links to, such as e.g. why you chose to link to certain children, or add an image, or …… whatever. You cannot do this with tags.

I am not saying you should not use tags. I used to think they were not very useful, but now I have changed my view. I find them esp. useful in my zettelkasten.

You could read @nickmilo’s spiel about what he calls MOCs. Search this forum for MOC and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I find “parent notes” as described by the OP very useful. I use them similarly to organize high-level topics. They facilitate search and graph usage. Sometimes I create actual notes and sometimes not. When I do create notes, I use them to curate and describe the relationships to the child notes.

I also think there can be a top-down, rather than bottom-up, creation of notes, where you start with the high-level parent note and list the sub-topics you want to explore later.


This is actually hierarchical. You have a concept of top with lower level concepts beneath it.

This does sound pretty close to the MOC or hub concepts. If this is what you’re wanting, you’re probably best thinking ‘hub’ not ‘parent’.


I’m sure I’ve seen a request for nested tags which in your terminology would give you a hierarchy. You could add your support to that.

I’ve made a folder inside Obsidian, called “Struktur” (“Structure” in my language Norwegian). In this I drag notes which “only” are structure. Like, for instance, I researching native tribes in USA, so the list goes into the structure folder, but the main note about the tribes - and alle the notes for the different tribes - go into the normal folder.

I also have folders for “People” and “Dailynotes”. I try not to organise all the other notes, as that is the point of having connected notes - the the connections make the structure, not which folder you put something. I also tag notes that are structure notes with a hashtag for that.

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I was trying the same way but I gave up and now I have a semi-structure.
I don’t do a pure Zettelkasten, my archive is a combination of work and thesis related notes and Zettelkasten notes. The folder hierarchy also represent a graph (although a really simple one) but at least for me it helps with discoverability (when I have a note about atomic topic that I am currently learning/making research it helps to have it in a space that I could look more often)

I also recently use Ulysesses App for editing (since half of this year it has a possibility to import external folders), Obsidian is only for creating and moving, linking notes. Ulysses (and Zettlr) has one pane for folders and another for files, for me it give a cleaner look.

It also help to have notes in project-related folder, this is what Tiago Forte proposes (The structur emerges itself and I have a sight of what I done in a specific project)

@JPMoo what I do instead is to create an overview note and just tag that one with leadership, then link to all the notes related to leadership. Doing this works well because I then can organize the links within the leadership tag in a thematic way.

While I don’t think I would find nested tags that helpful, I do wish to have the ability to create multiple categories of tags. I specifically would like to have tags for creating an index and tags for thematic tracking. I expand on it here Obsidian Zettelkasten

Isn’t this just one layer of nesting?