Will Obsidian be significantly better than my current method of pkm?

Dear obisian-community,

I’m totally new to the concept of pkm in general and have not yet used obsidian.

I am wondering if changing my current (rather rudimentary but well working) approach towards taking and storing notes/knowledge on my computer could be improved by using obsidian.

What I have done so far is just collect my knowledge in (countless) individual word documents . Each word document represents one small topic (maybe 1 page long) and is well structured by bullet points. And all the documents are stored in folders/subfolders in a logical structure.

My field of knowlege only involves text (no fotos, diagrams, etc.), so Microsoft Word has been working well for that. I have never tried anything else, so I don’t know what I might be missing out on.

It seems that a lot of people get obsessed with pkm and certain software and play around with it endlessly, even changing software multiple times. Thats’ not what I’m willing to do, I want to get started quickly and stick to it long-term.
I’ve been using word-documents for decades and never changed this method. I’m not someone who changes a lot, so if I make the decision for Obsidian I want to be sure it’s an “upgrade” and at the same time “future proof” in many ways.

My focus is not on output (not writing any books, not creating videos, etc.), but on gaining and structuring text based knowledge that comes from (physical) books, websites, videos.

So my questions are:

  • Do you think my current, rather simple (but working) system of Microsoft Word documents in folders can be (significantly) improved upon by changing to Obsidian?
  • Is there any way, my existing word documents can be easily transformed into the Obsisian system? Maybe even without losing the formatting (bullet points)
  • If for any reason I have to/want to switch back from Obsidian to using word documents in the future: Can the notes I created in Obsidian be easily converted to word documents?

I’m totally open and willing to learn a new process/software, if I can be sure that it will be an imporvement and will serve me well for years if not decades to come.

Thank you for any help you might be able to offer with this far reaching decision!

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What obsidian would introduce is a few ways to resurface information.

  • It has a search interface where you can type text and surface documents that contain that text. I suspect you can already do a corpus-wide search of your word documents through your operating system?
  • Its backlinks allow you to resurface documents where you mentioned a certain concept. So, if you had a note about a particular author, you could quickly find all the places in your notes where you mentioned that author.
  • Its tags would allow you to place markers in documents so that you can list all places with that marker later. For instance, I use a marker for all my research hypotheses. This allows me to place the hypotheses in the context they came up, and still be able to find them later.

To decide if this is worth it, I would ask myself: are there situations where I have trouble resurfacing pertinent information? Would it help me to be able to extract parts of documents where I mentioned concept X?

As for conversion, Pandoc - index is certainly a good start. It has support for docx documents. You could convert them to markdown to initialize your obsidian vault. If you have a decades old corpus, maybe pandoc will do something to your formatting that you won’t like – in that case more elaborate solutions could be needed. Pandoc also allows to go from markdown back to docx if you wish to do so in the future, but your formatting might not be perfectly preserved.

Hope this helps

The issue that defines the effectiveness of a PKM is you. A tool is only as good as the user and so how you organize, how useful the content you curate is, how disciplined you are in managing the PKM and the like will be what determine whether any PKM works for you and is “significantly better”.

word docs can stay in the folders where you have them, as Obsidian uses the filesystem. You can create MOCs for the docs and where needed / useful convert a word doc using pandoc or save as HTML and convert to markdown. Obsidian can launch word when you have a word document that isn’t in markdown or where you want to keep the word doc.

Make a copy of your directory tree or a small part and give it a try on the copy.

Thank you for your helpful answers!
Great to hear, that there might be a way to convert my current word documents into Obsidian.

Now I’m very curious to test this. If I want to use one of my folders (containing subfolder and word docs) for this test, how exactly would I do this conversion? Or where could I find simple instructions?
If this works out well, I’m so much more convinced to use Obsidian in the future (since my word-doc knowledge base is already quite big)

Thanks for the help!

To me the great advantage of Obsidian is links, transclusions/embeds, and the canvas.

@davidlandry mentioned backlinks, which shows which other notes are linking to the note you are currently looking at/editing.

There are also the “regular” links, i.e. links to notes from the note you are currently looking at/editing. In other words: “forward” links.

A note can be a record of some specific info. But a note may also tell some sort of story, which you can enrich with blocks/paragraphs/heading sections from other notes. In other words, rather than retyping a block from another note and having to keep the 2 versions updated, you can transclude/embed blocks.

Then there is the consideration of what do you do with your collection of notes? Are the individual pieces of info, perhaps linked to one another, or is there a larger context?

The latter consideration is important because that is what people keep looking with PKM. You may not be aware if and to what extent there is an overarching context. That is where the canvas comes into it.

Thank you for your interesting explanations!
Obsidian seems interesting enough to me to seriously give it a try.

Now I just want to start a small experiment with some of my folders containing word documents. How exactly do I go about converting them and integrating their content in Obsidian?
Any help or link to instructions would be greatly appreciated.

Conversion: @davidlandry indicated a linked route, i.e Pandoc.

How to get started: you could start with reading this article, and this one.

If you are interested in a zettelkasten set-up, here is a start. Nick Milo has PKM videos on YouTube.

BTW, MOC is his term, and it stands for “Map of Content”, which basically an umbrella note that indexes a number of other notes relating to a specific subject. Here is a detailed write-up about it by aomeone else. You can also search on YT for Milo’s PKM videos.

I hope this is a useful start into the PKM world with Obsidian.


Thanks so much for your help and providing theses useful links!
Yes, I am very much interested in the Zettelkasten-method (I even considered a physical Zettelkasten), so thanks for the video.

Ok, I will just try how I can convert my word docs with Pandoc.
If I wouldn’t have a substantial word doc knowledge base, my entry into Obsidian would probably be much easier.
So I hope I will succeed with this conversion.

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I’m still trying to find an easy way to convert all my folders with docx files to markdown.
I have found the app “writage” and was able to convert single docx files ro markdown files. However this is too time consuming.
Is there a quicker way to convert all my files in one go? Either with writage or something else?
Pandoc was mentioned here several times, but as I’m not tech savvy I didn’t succeed with pandoc so far.

Thank you for any help!