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How to Use Obsidian Notes: a Step-by-Step Guide

Unlock the power of knowledge organization with Obsidian Notes. Effortlessly capture ideas, enhance productivity, and revolutionize your learning process.
The Shiken Team
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How to use Obsidian Notes: a step-by-step guide


Obsidian, a beautifully crafted and high-powered Markdown-based note taking app, was first unveiled in 2020. This remarkable software is the brainchild of dedicated programmers Erica Xu and Shida Li, exactly the way ingenious duo who also originated Dynalist. Erica, like numerous other avid note takers, found herself disheartened with the status quo of other note taking apps around, yearning for something more fitting and efficient.

The Obsidian Notes team passionately discuss their motivation for creating this innovative app on their About page, explaining:

What spurred us to create yet another note-taking app in an already crowded field? The answer to this may seem hackneyed, but it was precisely because Erica was unable to discover an application capable of fulfilling her need for a personal knowledge base.

She had trialled a wide array of software, from TiddlyWiki to TheBrain, yet none felt truly satisfying. The enforced isolation during the quarantine presented the perfect opportunity to embark on the task management crafting our dream software.

Exploring Obsidian: A Powerfully Aesthetic Markdown-Based Note Taking Application

There are three key pillars that underpin Obsidian's robust structure:

  • Plain text, complemented with Markdown support, is the default format
  • Links, notably bidirectional links (also known as backlinks), are prioritized
  • Designed with a focus on high extensibility and customization, including the integration of plugins, themes, etc

These foundational attributes transform the Obsidian app into a tool of incredible power, though this might initially appear a bit intimidating for first-time users. With a virtually limitless scope for customization and modification, it can be easy to feel stuck in a state of analysis paralysis.

In the ensuing quick-start guide, we will focus on the bare essentials needed to establish your note taking system in the Obsidian app. You can subsequently adapt, extend, and delve into new ideas and additional functionalities at your own pace. The crucial part is taking the plunge and getting started.

Shiken also has the ability to take notes and build a second brain as well as featuring mindfulness and more.

If You're New to Personal Knowledge Management and Note Taking Systems

If you're a novice in the sphere of personal knowledge management and note taking systems, consider exploring my guide on crafting a personal knowledge management current note take system to kickstart your journey.

Product screenshot

Obsidian Notes: Available Across Multiple Platforms

One of the key reasons why I strongly advocate for Obsidian as one of the leading note taking apps currently in the market is its extensive cross-platform availability.

Mac, Windows, Linux

Obsidian offers dedicated desktop apps and other tools specifically designed for Windows, Mac, and Linux users.

You can download the most recent version at Obsidian.md/download.

Mobile Obsidian App for iOS and Android

In addition to their desktop offerings, Obsidian also has mobile apps available for both iOS and Android devices, enabling you to tap into your personal knowledge management system while on the move.

The iOS variant is compatible with both iPhone and iPad devices.

Obsidian on iPad Pro

Is Obsidian a Free Note Taking App? An Overview of Obsidian Notes Pricing

The full desktop version and mobile applications of Obsidian are completely free for personal use. For commercial use, an annual fee is applicable. The Obsidian team also offers a “Catalyst” tier designed for ardent supporters of Obsidian who want to financially contribute to the project and gain early access to fresh features.

Obsidian Sync: Your Personalized Syncing Solution

Obsidian provides a premium, encrypted sync option as a paid service, which keeps your files consistently synchronized on mobile devices.

It's worth noting that Obsidian Sync is not a mandatory requirement, yet it offers the most exhaustive method for keeping your vaults synchronized across desktop and mobile platforms. You can also check out their FAQ section for other available Obsidian syncing alternatives.

Who is the Ideal User of Obsidian?

I wholeheartedly recommend Obsidian as a lightweight, highly customizable, and future-proof note taking app, given its cross-platform compatibility. This software is especially suitable for:

  • Programmers
  • University students
  • Graduate students
  • Academics
  • Researchers
  • Writers

In addition, Obsidian is an excellent choice for those searching for a cost-effective note taking app, as the essential features are offered completely free of charge.

Example of Obsidian Help site powered by Obsidian Publish

The Interplay Between Markdown (.MD Files) and Obsidian

Obsidian is a software application designed to gather and organize plain-text files saved in the Markdown format. This guide will introduce you to the basic syntax of Markdown formatting — if you have any familiarity with HTML, you will find Markdown quite intuitive.

A significant advantage of Obsidian's use of Markdown files, as opposed to proprietary formats, is that any personal knowledge base you construct in Obsidian is essentially future-proof.

You can seamlessly transfer your Markdown notes to another editor, or even browse, search, and open them as plain text files. There's no complication if you choose to transition text documents from Windows to Mac to Linux.

Obsidian on iPad Pro

Obsidian for Minimalists: A Comprehensive Guide for Busy Individuals

Suppose you're a busy professional grappling with concurrent projects and meetings, not to mention managing an equally hectic personal life. You've likely heard positive feedback about the productivity benefits of using Obsidian, but are unsure where to begin.

Perhaps the YouTube tutorials and online courses you've come across seem a bit too abstract for your needs. You're pressed for time and can't afford to allocate unlimited hours learning how to use Obsidian.

What you need is a practical, fuss-free, and actionable guide to creating a minimalist note taking system built in to Obsidian to help you organize your bustling life.

If you're seeking a more practical and in-depth introduction to the Obsidian note using, sign up for the waitlist of my upcoming course, "Obsidian for Minimalists: A Practical Introduction to Obsidian Notes for Busy People".

Getting Started with Obsidian: Crafting Your Note Taking System in Obsidian

Step One: Download and Install the Obsidian App

Download the latest version of the Obsidian desktop app suited for your platform at Obsidian.md. Once downloaded, install the app on your local system.

Step Two: Decide Where to Store Your Vault

The first time you open the app, you'll be prompted to choose a vault location. In simple terms, an “Obsidian Vault” is a specific folder on your local file system (or if you prefer, within your Dropbox) where Obsidian collates and stores your notes.

You can either keep all your notes in one vault or create an entire vault or multiple distinct vaults for daily notes — the choice is entirely yours.

Select a new vault, by navigating through the interface and selecting the folder you prefer to store your collection of Markdown files.

Step Three: Select Your Preferred Theme

Everyone harbors a personal preference between light and dark themes.

Obsidian defaults to a dark theme, but you can easily switch to a light theme if that's more to your liking:

  • Navigate to Settings (represented by the gear icon on the bottom left corner).
  • Select the Appearance tab.
  • Choose your preferred base theme (light or dark).

For a more personalized look, you can also explore other community themes by clicking the Themes -> “Manage” button within this setting.

Step Four: Arrange Your Folders

Your newly created vault might appear a bit barren initially. Within Obsidian, you can decide to create some file structure to organize your notes.

This is entirely optional — you can choose to depend solely on backlinks internal links or tags. However, many users appreciate the ability to structure their notes using folders.

To create a folder:

  • Click on the “New Folder” button located on the upper left side, within the File Explorer tab.
  • Name your folder as you wish. The folders will be automatically sorted in alphabetical order.

Step Five: Create a New Note and Start Capturing

To create a new note:

  • Press “Ctrl+N” (Windows) or “Cmd+N” (macOS) on your keyboard. Alternatively, click on the “New Note” button on the upper left side, within the File Explorer tab.
  • Enter your desired note name at the top (the note will be saved as “your-note-name.md” on your computer).
  • Type your note, adding Markdown formatting as you please. You can create nested bullets, lists, add headers, highlight text, and bold text. For more detailed instructions on formatting your notes in Obsidian, consult this help guide.

Step Six: Organize Your Notes

You can drag and drop your notes within Obsidian to place them in your preferred folder. Simply click and hold your note title on the left-hand side, then drag it to a specific folder.

If you're not a fan of folders, Obsidian also lets you organize notes using tags and through bidirectional linking linked other notes. (we'll cover more on linking notes in Obsidian in the following section).

Example of Obsidian Help site powered by Obsidian Publish

Key Features in Obsidian

Backlinks & Bidirectional Linking: Linking Your Notes Together in Obsidian

Backlinks, also known as bidirectional linking, represent a vital feature of Obsidian. As indicated in the Obsidian user guide:

Although Obsidian is excellent for taking notes, the true power of learning Obsidian lies in its ability to link your notes together. Understanding how one piece of information relates to another enhances your ability to remember them and to form deeper insights.

Adding a Link to an Existing Note in Obsidian

  • Press the left square bracket twice on your keyboard ([[).
  • Select the note you wish to link to from the drop-down menu.

Adding a Link to a New Note in Obsidian

  • Highlight the text of your choice.
  • Press the left square bracket twice on your keyboard ([[).
  • A new note bearing that name (i.e., your chosen, highlighted text) is automatically generated.

Searching Your Obsidian Notes Vault

Once you've populated your vault with several notes, you'll want to access the functionality to search through your past content.

Here's how to search your Obsidian notes:

  • Click the magnifying glass icon on the left panel, or use the keyboard shortcut “Ctrl+F” (Windows) or “Cmd+F” (macOS).
  • Type your search query into the search bar. You can search for keywords, tags, file names, and more.
  • Select the desired note from the search results that appear below the search bar.
Screenshot of Obsidian app showing the process to share a vault


Exploring Obsidian's full potential takes time and experimentation, but it's well worth it. From simple note-taking to building your personal knowledge management system, Obsidian’s flexibility, extensibility, and power are truly exceptional.

With this guide as your starting point, dive in, explore, and make Obsidian your own. You never know, it might be the tool that finally puts an end to your hunt for the perfect note-taking application.

Obsidian Note Taking App FAQs

Is Obsidian good for taking notes?

Yes, Obsidian is an exceptional choice for taking notes. As a powerful note taking app, it provides an environment for users to connect their thoughts in a meaningful way. One of its unique features is the use of bidirectional links, allowing users to establish and navigate complex relationships between their notes. The obsidian app also supports plain text markdown files, a universal format, making it easier for users to manage and port their notes.

Is Obsidian notes free?

Yes, Obsidian notes is free for personal use. The obsidian app, which includes the basic functionalities needed for note taking and knowledge management, is available to individuals without any charge. While there are premium features available for a fee, the core features of the application are completely free to use.

What can you do with Obsidian notes?

Obsidian is more than just a note taking app—it's a versatile knowledge management tool and second brain with mobile apps, linked notes and Obsidian linked mentions. Users can create and manage markdown files, link notes together through bidirectional links to create a web of knowledge, and even visualize these connections. The obsidian app also supports community plugins, extending its functionality and allowing users to tailor their experience to fit their unique needs.

Is Notion or Obsidian better?

Whether Notion or Obsidian is better really depends on your individual needs for note taking and knowledge management. Notion provides an all-in-one workspace with rich features for note taking, project management, and collaboration, making it suitable for team-based environments. On the other hand, Obsidian shines as a personal knowledge base, excelling in the management and navigation of interconnected notes and ideas. It's best to consider your specific use case and try both to see which one suits your preferences best.

Which is better OneNote or Obsidian?

Choosing between OneNote and Obsidian largely depends on your note taking preferences and requirements. OneNote is a great choice for individuals seeking a traditional hierarchical notebook structure, coupled with a robust feature set for multimedia notes. Obsidian, meanwhile, offers a unique approach to note taking and knowledge management. Its ability to handle markdown files, implement bidirectional links, and the potential for customization with community plugins sets it apart, especially for those wanting to build a networked thought repository.

Is Obsidian Vault free?

Yes, the Obsidian Vault is free to use. The vault is essentially the central storage system in Obsidian where all your obsidian notes reside similar to google drive or any notes stored locally. It facilitates the creation of your personal knowledge database, or "second brain" as it's often referred to. It's more than just a folder with multiple notes store and it has a version history for all your daily notes. The vault structure allows for the implementation of the Obsidian app distinctive note taking strategy, which includes bidirectional links and the innovative graph view. The graph view particularly brings your interconnected thoughts to life by visually depicting the relationship between your notes. Therefore, the free Obsidian Vault is instrumental in creating a rich, interlinked network of your ideas and notes.

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