Tags vs page/link

Am also starting to get confused when I should be using tags vs links, specifically for labeling a note’s topics or keywords.
I realized that I’ve been putting tags on my notes but don’t use them after. And so tags for me have become pointless, and my tags pane is just cluttered with a bunch of topics.

After watching this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Jg69Ygf1XI
I realized that tags make more sense for labeling a note’s status (#done, #work-in-progress, etc.) and/or which category the note falls under (#literature-note or #permanent note; #video, #article, #book, etc.) but it doesn’t make that much sense for me to use tags for the note’s topics, which is what I’ve been doing but hasn’t really helped me that much yet (probably because I only started taking notes).

I’m thinking that narrowing the amount of tags to just status, category and other reminder-like tags is better for me than cluttering them with topics tags. Then again, I also don’t think that it makes sense to use links for topics tags either, and no matter which one I use for those, there’s still going to be some form of clutter, and perhaps links for topics won’t be of much use for me either. Maybe I could just not deal with topic tags for now and deal with it when I have more notes? Or just use MOCs as a way of tagging instead?


Just as you stated, I found it useful to use tags for “transients”, e.g. “in progress”, “review”, “done” etc.

The main gist for me was to realize I also shouldn’t tag topics — a “what”, so to speak — but a “how”.

Before tagging I always ask myself, “in what context would I like to find this again?” And this usually comes down to the likes of “how would I…”, “how can I…”, “how works…” etc. And then I tag accordingly. (e.g. I wouldn’t tag #money, but rather #investing, or #makingmoney, or #savings, you get the idea.)

If I can’t “how” it, I don’t tag it.

Now, you may ask, how do I ever link to anything or even find notes? Besides search, I make sure that I link to notes in the note text when I write a new note, as a principle, whether the note currently exists or not, ideally with context as why I do link to this note. (If you’re excerpting articles or books, you will want to make sure to use “how” tags, because you probably won’t change the notes contents.)

Everything else grows organically, and should be minimalistic in its principles: As with all tagging and categories, it works so fine if you only have a few dozen or maybe hundreds of notes. It’s completely useless if you have hundreds of tags or categories or hundreds or thousands of notes appearing under a tag or category. (That’s where TOCs/MOCs usually organically emerge.)

A simple rule of thumb for any future questions like this is by quantifying your method: Will this method prevail if I do this for a few dozen notes? For a few hundreds? What happens if I apply this method to thousands of notes? Ten thousands of notes? With a few thousands already most methods in personal knowledge management start to fall apart. Storing information or even knowledge is the easy part. Retrieving it is a fine art.

Hope this helps a bit!

(I got the original idea from the Zettelkasten blog, worth checking out for more details.)


For me it depends on the note type:

  • Source Notes (Literature Notes), I only use tags (keywords, status)
  • Evergreen Notes - I mostly use Links to other Evergreen notes or to reference source notes where I got the information.

In Graph view I can see the source notes without a link to an evergreen note. So, these notes need further processing towards an evergreen note.

While taking notes I don’t want to think about organizing. I just write done the keywords what the note is about with tags.


I don’t mean to spam/self-promote, but I created a Feature Request that I think will both enhance Tags and Backlinks as well as blur the difference between them: [ Copy page links from Tag and Backlinks Panes to clipboard

The idea being that you could extract links to any page that appears in the current Backlinks Pane or is associated with a tag in the Tags Panel. Check it out and lend support if you think it would be useful!

Why wouldn’t you make it #Literature_Notes?

I would like to advocate the use of tagging in some detail, as I have the impression that the power of tags is still massively underestimated by some of you.

Of course, in the end it always depends on what you intend to do with your notes - thus, every use case can only be an individual and subjective solution.

Hence, we first should clarify that tags can serve various purposes:

  1. They can establish categories. You can do this alternatively by sorting your notes into different subfolders organised by topics, sure. But tags are much more flexible as each note can thus be grouped under several topics without being copied into several folders. Another workaround is to establish MOCs, which is a nice idea, of course, because it helps you to gradually structure a topic you are working on. I am using MOCs (or whatever you may call it) a lot - but be aware that in this case you have to pigeon-hole your note immediately after writing it, otherwise it may become lost temporarily until you are explicitly searching for it. Tagging is much faster, especially when you just want to record a spontaneous thought and be sure it won’t become lost in the future.
  2. They can give you a quick overview of your note’s content. If you choose your tags in a well-directed way, you can immediately get an idea about what this specific note might be about, without reading it first.
  3. They can structure your work. This was already mentioned by several people here. Assigning the tag “elaborate”, for example, let’s you quickly find your notes that have to be further developed or supplemented.

These three purpuses are quite commonly used by most of us, I think. Yet, the real power of tags, in my opinion, can be found in a fourth argument:

  1. Tags let you discover new connections in an unintended and unforeseen way:

This is one of the major strengths of Luhmann’s approach to the zettelkasten. The above-mentioned use cases certainly facilitate your workflow a lot and relieve your brain - they are utilities that help you to make your work faster and more effective. But they all don’t change the way you are thinking about a topic from the very beginning - means they all support you in elaborating a structure of your content that is already in your mind when you start working on a topic but they don’t encourage you to consider a topic from a completely different angle.

I started realising the real power of tags while working for several years with Daniel Lüdecke’s zkn3. This is - for now - the programme that possibly best translates Luhmann’s method of working and connecting into the digital age. To be sure, tagging in an intelligent and proper way is a process of learning over time (tags should neither be too specific nor too general, not too many and not too few, etc.). But after some time your zettelkasten comes to life: it somehow develops its own personality and it starts to “speak to you” (that’s what Luhmann called it several times, if I remember right - he regarded his zettelkasten less as a simple tool for knowledge management, but rather as a good friend he could discuss his ideas with). It becomes your “second brain”, but one that can see much more connections than you ever can see by yourself (as you’re still limited by your routinised ways of thinking and structuring information into topics).

Let me give a brief example. I have, for instance, a note that originates from an article excerpt that defines conservatism as the “desire for structure”. Having tagged this note, amongst others, with “structure”, it suddenly shows you in another pane a link to a note that differentiates between two major forms of “learning”: a) Learning as adaptation in order to deal effectively with given structures as well as expectations and requirements from my environment; b) Learning as emancipation from existing structures that helps you overcome your environment’s expectations and self-confidently pursue your individual goals and dreams. This note, then, takes me both to several thoughts about how learning is organised in schools and to a note about the existentialist understanding of freedom. If I further follow the ideas my zettelkasten is sharing with me, I discover thoughts about such different topics as social organisation in the digital age, the organisation of work in global capitalism, the historically specific nature of desires, the process of identity formation in school and some thoughts on strategies of procrastination (!). In the end, I arrive at a strongly extended understanding of the different causes and mechanisms of conservatism I would have never discovered on my own. I suddenly see a bulk of unexpected and often surprising connections I couldn’t have thought about before because my way of thinking is significantly pre-structured and pre-defined by what I have learned about how things could (or should) be seen. Trying to find out something about conservatism, I probably would have searched for “conservatism”, maybe for “politics” or “parties” etc. - but not for “desire”, “school”, “procrastination”, “digitalisation” or “existentialism”. But the zettelkasten has triggered my thoughts in a completely unexpected way, so that I finally end up with a couple of new notes about new insights and connections. After some time, I could have written an article about the meaning of ‘conservatism’ that doesn’t just replicate and sum up anymore what others have said about this topic before but develops a completely new approach to this topic. (And no - I haven’t written an article about conservatism yet; I just took, for means of illustration, the first note my zettelkasten opened at random and followed its suggestions… :wink:)

Again, it all depends on what your main purpose is, of course. If you just want to use obsidian (or any other app) as a kind of wiki or structured repository of your knowledge, then tags might have a very different meaning for you, rather helping you to quickly find information you are looking for. But, if your main goal is to open up your mind, explore new ways of thinking and discover surprising and unintended connections between topics, then the simple structuring use of tags rather restrains than advances your work - just because all the links, hierarchies and categories you establish have always already been somewhere in your mind before and it is extremely difficult for all of us to overcome our habitualised ways of thinking.

The above thoughts basically form the background of a feature proposition I made here (cf. point 2.) - but maybe I should open a separate feature request for this, if only in order to see if others would be interested in such a feature as well.

Edit: here is my feature request


I agree that most people underestimate how useful tags can be, in a completely different way to links.

I’d go further than you and advocate using tags that seem appropriate when you do them rather than selecting or developing a list. Obviously this doesn’t work for categories, but it otherwise extends unstructured discovery. Usually you will have a particular tag firmly in your mind and will use that (eg royalty). As you work in other areas you might forget. You might then just use the word monarchy, rather than trying to look it up to see how you do it. When you explore later, you might start looking at links from the tag monarchy, developing one way of thinking. Following some links, you might discover the tag royalty thus opening up a different part of the countryside, possibly from a different collection period, possibly with a different focus.

The advantages of this approach include ease and speed (you never spend time remembering or looking up the ‘right’ tag) and never having to use tags that don’t feel quite right because you’re trying to limit the number of tags you’re using.

But this doesn’t work for categories or rigid classifications - you need a different style of tags for those.


Yeah, this is exactly what I mean - maybe my formulations were not clear enough on this regard. When I talk about “learning over time” how to deal with tags, I do not say that you should establish a couple of “important” or “meaningful” tags your future work centres on; rather, I just mean that tags

  1. should neither be too specific nor too general: if the tag you give your note is too closely related to the specific argument of that note, you won’t find any cross references at all later on; if it is too general, you will have hundreds of cross references that don’t share any meaningful context at all. To illustrate this with my above example: if you tag your note with “desire_for_structure”, you will most probably never find any related content; if, on the other hand, you tag it just with “politics” because it might seem a political question, then you will have so many (rather meaningless) links to other notes that actually don’t tell you anything about possible relationships.

  2. should neither be too many nor too few: if you just tag your note with “conservatism”, you will only rediscover it when you think about conservatism anyway; but when you tag it with 25 different keywords because you are afraid that you might miss an important argument in the future, then in your future work the note about “conservatism” will almost always show up, regardless of what you are currently thinking about, giving you the impression that everything in the world is finally related to conservatism! :wink:

So to put it more clearly, the “learning process” I was talking about is, first, related to experience over time (what method of tagging triggers, in the medium term, my individual thinking in the most stimulating way) and, second, to the question of how you give meaningful and precise descriptions to the content of your notes.


As tags in Obsidian are really usful for fast search, I use tags to define the type of the page. #person #book #context.
à bientôt


Same. I found this method to be very useful and doesn’t create extraneous connections in the graph view.

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Thanks everyone for the thoughtful discussion of Tags. In my new ‘affair’ with Zettelkasten, tagging vs linking has been a major consideration. The posts, especially in this thread, have helped me considerably. What’s developing for me is not one over the other. I’m gravitating towards a method with each helping the other to enhance my Zettelkasten.

Tags are useful to define:

  • status
  • type of content or note
  • due date
    There is no way to look at them in a graph view thus they have another purpose.

I use links for categorical topics like goals/projects/areas/concepts


All changed in 0.9


I’ve found tags as categories to become more useful as the number of notes increases. A single tag search string may not help much. It’s the intersection of categories that helps me find things fast. I work in software development. A tag of ssl will find many notes. A tag of aws will also find many notes. But ssl and aws will only find the notes where I’ve configured SSL on AWS resources. That’s a much smaller subset.

One drawback is the problem of choosing consistent tags. What if I configure SSL on a webserver and tag it https? Ooops. That’s not going to comeback on an ssl tag search. Usually I’ll catch it: if https is the first occurrence of the tag, and I’ve been configuring HTTPS for a long time, I’m probably using the wrong tag.

Several benefits of tags have been mentioned in this thread. One of the great things about tags is that most tagging schemes overlap. That’s the beauty of tags over folders. In general, I’m an advocate of storing everything in a single folder, with the following exceptions:

  • media – I think it’s great that Obsidian supports storing media files in a separate folder (e.g. from pasted images). The names appearing in the folder mean nothing to most humans and just get in the way of viewing other note titles.

  • access control – There are some notes that should only be seen by certain people. Or maybe they should be backed up in a certain way; or perhaps warrant encryption. Maybe work and home notes need to be physically separated. Separate physical storage requirements warrant separate folders.

But I’ve always rejected the notion of using folders for topics. There are just too many overlapping ways our thoughts can be sliced and diced; and they evolve over time. Folders are too static for that.

I’ve been using tags (as an Evernote user for 9 years) much longer than I’ve been using backlinks. I’ve got much to learn about the benefits of backlinks and I’m excited to discover them. (Jeez, that sounds lame; but that’s just how I am. :woozy_face: )


Hi Nick, I followed your Youtubes. Looking at tags, and see all my hex codes are listed in the tag pane and it’s really messy. Any suggestions to hide the css hex codes from the tag pane ?

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You can add a backslash in front of the hash symbol to escape it.


Thanks Cito! Yep, use a backslash or code ticks @oxysmart


Code ticks (back ticks) look even better, good idea: #abcdef


Such a simple solution, but is there a list of of these tricks? Thank you.

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Hmm, well that would be quite nice if that existed, I’d say!

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