How to approach obsidian as a beginner

Author: Sanket Sonavane

Publish Date: 2023-03-14

Last Updated: 2023-03-14

This is a live article i.e. as and when new information is observed or found it will be

  1. appended with time stamps to the end
  2. corrected in place, if earlier documentation was incorrect

I see a lot of people on reddit r/ObsidianMD being overwhelmed when they start using obsidian. I can understand the amount of community plugins and various approaches and analogies people are sharing on youtube on what's the best way to use obsidian can easily confuse someone who is just starting there journey with obsidian. I have been following obsidian from its inception when it just began as a note taking app and hence my knowledge of plugins and note taking as a whole has slowy grown over the years.

tools I was using earlier

  • notion
  • roam research
  • evernote
  • sublime text etc...

what made me shift to obsidian from other note taking tools

  • markdown format
  • local storage
  • bi-directional linking
  • templates
  • obsidian canvas

markdown format

markdown format is really versatile for taking notes and allows great formatting options like multilevel headers, lists, links, images, tables this is all the major formatting options that we need while writing our notes.

check here for more

local storage

local storage is the absolute essential and I cant emphasise more why this is super important as with other apps like notion, roam, evernote you have no control over your notes and they are stored somewhere online in some database which you as an end user have no control. if the company decides to shut its operation and you have 1000's of notes in there propriety structure and propriety organization systems that even if you manage to export locally you would never get that same experience and the connect between the documents would be lost. that's not the case with obsidian , markdown is a great format and even the most basic text editor can open markdown files and you can understand your information clearly and you always have your notes to yourself and private.

bi-directional linking

bi-directional linking this is what sets obsidian apart from any normal text editor which can also work with markdown files. while we traditionally organize files in folders but what if we want to link one file in another file just like we link articles on the web using http links. obsidian allows you to link your files inside a vault from one to another using [[file-name]] syntax. just like how your brain links one chunk of information to another its like a mesh or a graph. this bi-directional linking is what made obsidian so awesome. just typing double square brackets and typing the file name you want to link obsidian will help you auto complete file names in the same vault. lets say you have a note called finance and you want to link this file in your annual budget note just type [[fin.. and obsidian would auto suggest various notes starting with fin and help your quickly link your note. this is what linking your thinking is all about.

learn more on linking notes here Link notes - Obsidian Help


templates is one more powerful feature which can help you a lot. lets say you create a note and for every note you create your add in a specific text snippet or metadata up top and you manually type this every single time then with the help of obsidian templates you can automate this.

for example

title: some-note
created: 2023-03-14

to learn more on templates check following links

note: there is an obsidian community plugin called templater which is not to be confused with obsidian templates. templater is advanced version of templates and provides far more complex templating but we can start with obsidian templates as it also does quite a lot.


while this is relatively new functionality that was added to obsidian this forms an important part of the obsidian experience. Imagine having a huge open canvas where you could just organize information and notes, images, other media and link them with arrows. just like how detectives in movies/tv-series lays out clues and links people on the case he is investigating. obsidian canvas is a brilliant feature which was added to obsidian and you can learn more about it here.

where and how to get started

start with core functionality and this is a great place to get started


editing and formatting

linking notes and files


importing data

how do I backup my notes

I sync them to git based repository. A good example is github. If you have worked with code or done programming of any kind, we store our code online into a git repository. git allows us version control , code compare etc. but in its simplest form it allows us to store our notes online for free. I would leave that to you as a user to figure out how to use git and github as its not the focus of this article.

PS. if your notes are super secret or some research you are working on you can store them in a private repository or have a look at obsidian sync service

when to look at community plugins

I would suggest you start looking here only when you have the basics right and have created your note taking system. community plugins are to fill gaps in your own system to taking notes a way to add more functionality but they are not needed right away

do I need multiple vaults

for those starting with obsidian I would suggest you to work with one vault at the beginning and try to create a folder structure and organize notes in one vault itself and keep linking your notes. if you observe that there are notes on two topics like cooking and technology that cannot be linked then you can have a different vault for highly disconnected areas of your life. so now you can make one vault for cooking and one vault for technology.

I would need a very strong reason to create a second vault as it can be a pain to keep various instances of obsidian open while working with multiple vaults so decide carefully.

As a beginner I would strongly suggest to just work with one vault and focusing on core mechanics.

final thoughts for beginners

think of obsidian as a local note taking system. start creating your vault and adding notes and organizing them with folders. linking one note to another to form your graph. use hash tags where you need them. use templates to eliminate repetitive code snippets for every note like note metadata. and stay away from community plugins at the beginning. keep things as simple as it can be.

quick tip of file name

for notes where you capture journal or dated entries I create my file name as year-month-date so its automatically sorted by file name. example 2023-03-14-somefilename or 20230314-somefilename

having year then month then date will auto sort files by date.



these are some of the youtuber I have followed for improving my know how of obsidian. they have been of great help but I would still suggest to check them later. first build something of your own and if you start reaching limitations in your system then check here. it will help you expand on your own knowledge of obsidian and take it further.