Please ! Like explain a primary school student

Hello there,

First of all, I apologize if a similar topic has been opened before. I may have overlooked the Obsidian program and the forum because it was my first time using it.

I terminated my 10-year evernote premium subscription and while I was in the process of trying applications such as roam research, obsidian, notion, I decided on obsidian with the advice of a friend and I signed up for sync yesterday.

But I guess now that I’m older (40) and having trouble keeping track, I have a hard time keeping up with a lot of things. Therefore, the obsidian program felt very different from classic note-taking applications such as evernote.

Firstly; Why do we always have to write with symbols like we write code? Isn’t there an easier way other than using it as a saved template? Because believe me, I struggle to make it look the way I want, rather than taking notes.

Latter; While I am working in professional business life, I am doing my master’s degree even though I am at this age, and besides these, I do readings on various subjects. In order to be able to apply the Zettelkasten method, believe me, I watched the tutorial videos of different people dozens of times, read their articles, but somehow I could not understand what their system was.

I would be grateful if someone could help me explain this very simply, like an elementary school student. I’m asking for those who read both fiction novels and academic books of this type: how many folders do you create? How do you write your notes on them?

Please help very simply. I had no choice but to post here, sorry to bother you.

Good day to you all, love and respect.


Regarding the organization:
Not everyone will agree with me here, but here is how I keep my literature notes (I keep all my academic-related notes in Obsidian, and before that, kept them in something else, also similarly, so this system is what I’m used to and what works for me).

  • for article notes, each article gets its own file, titled @citekey (where citekey refers to my BibDesk citekey; there is a reason for this weird naming scheme, but that would take us too far from the present concern).
  • for books:
    • every book gets a folder titled @citekey, and that folder gets its foldernote that I create with the AidenLx’s Folder Note plugin – the note gets the same name as the folder automatically, and if I click on the folder, the note opens.
    • in this folder-note, apart from the bibliographical info, I have a dataview query, which will list me all the notes that I have about the various chapters in that book (I attach a screenshot; easier seen than explained).
    • I put the chapter notes in the appropriate book folder. Each chapter notes has a dataview field parent:: [[@citekey]], which 1) links back to the main page of the book; 2) enables the dataview query on the main page to list this chapter as pertaining to the book.

All this sounds much more complicated than it really is. Basically, I like to keep my literature notes together (but again, some people here will disagree with that practice), and this enables me to do that. It also enables me to jump to literature notes quickly using the Citations plugin. I still tag my literature notes, and make connections between them, but I do that more when I work on a topic instead of when I work on a particular article or book.

Regarding the other questions – well, I think a lot of us here like markdown editors precisely because you don’t have to mess with the formatting; it does not matter what things look like, what matters is the content. At least that’s why I use it.


Obsidian can take some getting used to for sure.

There is no right or wrong way to do it.
What I recommend is diving into it, trying it out yourself, and see what works for you.
Then, take a look at some resources/guides on how other people use it. Try these out and make your own system that works for you.

Two good places to start:
Linking Your Thinking YouTube Channel
Andy Matuschak’s website

Good luck!

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I would recommend not creating any folders until you have a lot of notes. If you do, you will likely guess wrong and end up having to redo everything (that’s what I did a few times). When you have several hundred notes (or more), you could then do a type of affinity diagram of your notes and let the folders emerge from your notes. This way, you don’t impose an artificial order but find an organic approach that is unique to your thoughts.

Contrary to what many recommend, I use a lot (dozens) of tags. You can use tags like a folder structure. However, tags are more versatile than folders because you can have the same note tagged in multiple ways. Additionally, you can add and remove tags easily without needing to change a folder structure. You can search for multiple tags to narrow down your thoughts so a specific area of thinking as well. For example, I can bring up my tags for #psychology/topic/anxiety and psychology/therapy/intervention and quickly see my thoughts about how to help a client with anxiety. All my thoughts on the concept of anxiety will not show because of the added tag of intervention. I can’t do that with folders of a standard search (that I know of). This is similar to the tagging in Zotero (very useful).

Adding tags for type (e.g., book, article, idea, etc.), stage (e.g., to-do, doing, done), or anything else can be added and changed very easily.

At first, such a huge tagging system is cumbersome, but over time, it gets easier to use. If you then want to replicate your main tag headings (e.g., psychology) and make a folder system like the Johnny Decimal system, it’s easy to do.

As for the symbols, you will get used to them. Moreover, they focus you on writing since there isn’t much you can do other than make headings and a bullet lists.

Finally, the Zettelkasten approach can be interpreted in many ways, it seems. I break it down into two piles: your words or someone else’s words. Reference notes are someone else’s words. Literature and Permanent notes are your words (with a few quotes tossed in at times). Next, two more divisions: your thoughts and someone else’s thoughts. Literature notes are someone else’s thoughts in your words. Permanent notes are your thoughts in your words (but almost certainly derived from Literature notes). Finally, Fleeting notes are short notes like you would write on a napkin or scrap paper so you don’t forget to revisit that thought later when you have more time or energy. For me, these might be something like “In the book Couple’s Couneling on page 178, it says emotions are hard to control when upset. Research the neuroscience on this idea.” I then tag it as a fleeting note, neuroscience, emotions, and to-do. Now, even if I forget about that thought for a month, it’s sitting there awaiting my return.

Project notes are long-form writings (articles, book chapters) that, for me, are just included Permanent notes. Permanent notes, for me, are focused paragraphs, which, by definition, are one idea with supporting information, or single arguments.

Literature notes, for me, are bullet lists of paraphrasing Reference notes. I like to put these in the same note as the Reference note so I know where they came from. Others seem to prefer making separate notes that link back to the origin.

Finally, Published notes are Project notes that I have shared publicly (usually) and sometimes privately (like this note). In the Published note, include a section that tells you where and when you published the note. Each time you re-use it, you can update that section so you know all the places where that note has been shared. If these are made as links or tags, you can see all your publications to that source. So, if you write a resume and then share it, each time you do so, just update it so you know who you shared it with and when. If you have a tag such as #Type/Published the tag pane will show you how many you have published. If you publish to a place like Medium, you could have a tag such as #Type/Published/Medium and can quickly see how many articles you have published on Medium. If you click on that tag, you can now see a list of all the articles you published there. The same goes for emails or forum replies. You could tag this as #Type/Published/Forum/Obsidian and easily see all your Obsidian forum posts.

I hope this is a little helpful.


This is a problem with all those that prefer a classic WYSIWYG editor, where you have buttons to do formatting (like me) and markdown is invisible in the background. There’s a thread on a such editor, it will be done in the near future. Here’s the thread: A Typora-like editing mode (edit and preview at the same time)

I don’t know anything about the Zettelkasten method, sorry. I worked on implementing my own system, aiming at the simplest organisation at the top level structure. So basically, I have two folders at the top level: INPUT and OUTPUT. Input is everything I read or collect as information, OUTPUT is where I create stuff (documents, articles, etc.). OUTPUT draws upon links and information from INPUT in any way possible or fitting.

Thank you very much for your courtesy to reply.

Thank you very much for your courtesy to reply.

Regarding your first question, I personally like Markdown because I can get the formatting out of my way and focus on writing. I personally only use simple formatting features (headings, bold, italics, and bullets). Michael Descy has written about the benefits of using plaintext and markdown. For the purposes of notetaking, the only thing I have to add is that graphics can be helpful and Obsidian supports that.

Regarding your second question, I struggled to understand the Zettelkasten method at first too. It didn’t click for me until I read Andy Matuschak’s ideas on Evergreen notes.

This is oversimplifying it a bit, but I’d say that permanent notes are written according to concept instead of by source (e.g. author and title of work). When I did my graduate studies, I found that several of the courses revisited an idea from a different perspective. Because (at the time), I separated my notes according to the source, these ideas weren’t being pulled together in a single note for synthesis, comparing, contrasting, updating with new information, etc.

Zettelkasten makes the distinction between permanent notes vs literature notes. For graduate school, I personally found it helpful to a combination of SQ3R and the Cornell method for my literature notes. I also included the source information at the top of the literature note so that I could apply the appropriate reference when it came time to write a paper. If I had created permanent notes for my graduate work, I would include a link to the literature note in the permanent note for citation purposes if I referenced someone else’s idea.

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Yeah, I think how you handle literature notes should also depend a lot on what you do with them. I work primarily with texts (as a historian of philosophy), so literature notes are very important to me – I treat them as my “data”. It is different when you use your lit. notes primarily to gather information about a subject.

I think the moral of the story here is that you have to experiment, and I wouldn’t be too anxious about having to get it right for the first time. Your system will probably evolve (mine certainly did), and that’s perfectly fine.


Hello fellow ex-Evernoter! I came over this year after about 10 years of Evernote Premium as well, so I know what an adjustment it can be to switch systems. Deep breaths — that alone is stressful!

So, I see that folks here have already talked about markdown and current alternatives to help with WYSIWYG views. (It’s also on the roadmap, so things will get easier for you in Obsidian soon enough!) There’s also a plugin called cMenu that you may like to help with the writing experience

Okay, so in terms of grad school and all of the fun knowledge management that comes with literature notes… I feel ya! I’m just starting my second year of my masters, and that’s a big reason I switched out of Evernote and into Obsidian.

Your approach will vary in terms of what you feel comfortable with, but I’m happy to share my folder structure and approach with you if it helps. Here’s an overview of my approach to folders and structure. In particular interest to you will be folders 21, 40, and 50.

Overall, I use an approach called Johnny Decimal (more information here). What I like about it is I can see my areas of interest at the top level, and can have a variety of sub-folders that pertain to that area of my life. I break the system in my 21 folder but I’ll talk about that below.

Let’s start with 50. These are all of my reference notes, and are arranged by type. They are not course specific, and even include books and articles that are outside of my academic study. The same paper may get referenced multiple times across my studies, so I want to keep them course-agnostic.

Folder 40 is for my short notes about different topics. Again, these are course agnostic, because the same note could be useful across multiple courses, papers, blog posts, or general reference. This is where a lot of concepts from my readings wind up.

Now, onto my academic folder, 21. I don’t publish this folder, but this is where all of my admin and degree-specific writing goes. I keep course outlines in here, project briefs and notes, and this is where I use Obsidian to do rough outlines for papers.
When I write a paper, I can keep a note that lists the sources I’ve used (folder 50), and when I’m creating the outline, I can link in my short notes from folder 40 as reference for when I’m writing the paper.

Your approach can and will vary, and that’s a good thing. It all depends what your needs are, and what your preferred approach for working is. The good news is that Obsidian is very flexible (which can also be stressful when starting out, because Obsidian is like a blank canvas!) Plus, the Obsidian community is really helpful when it comes to figuring things out. Don’t be sorry for asking questions; we all start somewhere! :purple_heart:


Computer Science in the 1960s to 80s spent a lot of effort making languages which were as powerful as possible. Nowadays we have to appreciate the reasons for picking not the most-powerful solution but the least powerful. The reason for this is that the less powerful the language, the more you can do with the data stored in that language. If you write it in a simple declarative from, anyone can write a program to analyze it in many ways.

– Tim Berners-Lee

Plain-text markdown is the least-powerful tech solution we have for collating and cultivating ideas. Not only are we able to do far more with the data that we store in markdown, but we are also encouraged to focus on the function and structure of our writing, rather than on the appearance of its output.

Word processors and RTF-based WYSIWYG apps were originally designed in the 1980s / 1990s for clerical staff who did repetitive tasks that required no original thought. WYSIWYG apps were, are, and always will be antithetical to any type of innovative reasoning or writing.

WYSIWYG prioritises standardised, singular form over everything else. Still illogically dominated by printed or pseudo-analogue output (the anti-reader omnishambles this is PDF), WYSIWYG is concerned with immutable presentation. Readability and portability aren’t considered at all.

On the other hand, plain-text markdown prioritises originality and functionality. Form can be restructured and refactored without limitation. Responsive output, portability, and readability are omnipotent. The content, the writer, and the reader are all regarded as being important.

Markdown allows you to see the DNA of ideas and to recombine those ideas in limitless ways. WYSIWYG is WYSIWYG. The many pitfalls of the narrowly focused WYSIWYG paradigm are writ large in the acronym itself: ‘you see’, ‘you get’. No sense of ‘writing’, ‘thinking’, ‘understanding’, or the ‘reader’.

Unfortunately, generations of people have become habituated to churning out standard WYSIWYG documents, focusing more on what they can do with the buttons on their menu bars rather than giving significant thought to what they ‘write’. Pavlovian, indeed. WYSIWYG apps are zombies left over from an age that didn’t understand digital creativity. Lots of people (‘believe me, I struggle to make it look the way I want’) are still hamstrung in their thinking and their writing by the WYSIWYG mindset and the emphasis on ‘looks’.

Unless you’re a typist stuck in a secretarial pool in the last decades of the twentieth century, or a nonage individual floundering to come to terms with the potentialities offered by the current millennium, never use word processors or RTF-based WYSIWYG apps. ‘Office’ for people in offices doing clerical work, ‘Scrivener’ for people who copy documents … the product names tell you what limited scope the apps and their developers have. They aren’t called ‘Thought Lab’ or ‘Thinker’. They are not even close to being second-brain tools.

Plain text and the building blocks that emerge from semantic application will always be better. Just ask Tim. He knows how to make connections.


I generally agree with you.

However, I think Markdown is not good enough i.e. ugly (trying to avoid using an explicit word). Markdown tries to keep things ‘pseudo-analogue’ and thus make source text directly readable. But the result is a messy combo of formatting tags all over the place. And when escaping characters come into play, now that’s something on another level.

I’d rather use XML and WYSIWYG editors. Or at least hide Markdown with WYSIWYG editors.

How can i do this ?

What exactly?

This really seems to be a matter of what one is used to.
I used to write almost exclusively in latex, and compared to that, markdown is really seamless. (And, with a good editor theme, it can be almost pretty…)

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It may help you to think of what things are — the structure of your document — instead of how they look. “I want a third-level heading here.” “This is an item in a list, and the order is important.” “I want to emphasize this” (single asterisks mean emphasis, not italics in Markdown, tho Obsidian doesn’t always treat them that way).

Are there particular parts of Markdown you find hard to use? I find most of it easy, but the syntax for links took me a long time to remember.

For Markdown, see Nick Milo’s great video on Markdown for beginners: Obsidian for Beginners: 6 Keys to Markdown (2/6) — How to Use the Obsidian App for Notes - YouTube

He lists 6 things you need to remember. You can probably narrow down to ~4 (headings, bold/italic (pick one?), lists, links). Try it, you’ll see you’ll remember it after typing it 2-3 times.

There is no font or font size to change, no justification, no font spacing, no line spacing, no paragraph spacing, no floating paragraphs, no colors, no highlights and all the other stuff that makes documents look like unicorn vomit. So no, you can’t make your document look like you want. The formatting is restricted, it is done so on purpose (ok, not exactly true, there is CSS, but let’s not get into that if Markdown is already too much).

The question to ask yourself is which formatting option to “make it look the way I want” prevents you from taking notes? If you really want to take notes, then just do that. Many (myself included) will argue that formatting is a hindrance to taking notes, it impedes the flow of thoughts, not facilitates it. No formatting option will help with thinking…

Library and Information Science is a science, you get get PhD in that. For short and excellent summary, see

Zettelkasten, Evergreen, Atomic are huge topics, I mean it in a sense they are BIG idea, not necessarily COMPLEX ideas. A few people already summarized and gave specific tips. My primary school explanation is this: Take short, single-idea notes. Link a lot, avoid folders. That’s it.

But… Just like F=ma and E=mc2, primary student is perfectly capable of accepting it as a simple fact, and plug in the numbers, and get correct answer. But they will not understand the power, meaning, consequences of what they are doing. Is that what you want?

Many people linked to Andy Matuschak website. I highly recommend it, here is a link to the very top “head” note:

It can be overwhelming, but just read all main notes listed in the left panel from top to bottom. Do what he says and you’ll be the note-making master!

Good luck!

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Thnak you so much !

Many thanks to you and all the others who tried to help.

Now I realized that; I have been trying to find the appropriate tool for taking notes, rather than the act of taking notes, for months. However, is what we want and seek really such a complex thing? Right now, I’m just writing according to my own logic without thinking too deeply and waiting for what time will tell.


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