In this article, I want to explore the fundamentals of note naming. I will also share strategies you can use to enhance your Knowledge Management practices.
A Personal Knowledge Management system can be very useful, but its value can only compound if you organize your knowledge intelligently. One of the most important but often-overlooked aspect of effective Knowledge Management is choosing good names for your notes. Choosing good names is more art than science, but there are certain tips and tricks you can apply to achieve better results.
As we'll see shortly, choosing good names for your notes has many benefits. Whether you're maintaining a personal archive of insights or working with a team, naming your notes thoughtfully can significantly impact your ability to recognize, understand, reuse, and prevent duplication of valuable information.
Benefits of choosing good names for your notes
To me, the main benefits of choosing good names for your notes are:
- Eases Retrieval: Quickly find the information you need when searching for specific notes.
- Saves Time: Spend less time searching and more time using your knowledge effectively.
- Minimizes Frustration: Prevent the frustration of not finding what you're looking for.
- Prevents Duplication: Clearly named notes reduce the risk of creating duplicate content.
- Promotes Reusability: Easily identify and reuse valuable content.
- Helps break down complex Concepts: Break down complex ideas into interconnected, digestible notes.
- Facilitates Learning: Well-named notes assist in retaining and applying new knowledge.
- Reduces Cognitive Load: Clear note names reduce mental effort required to understand content.
- Enables Contextual Understanding: Quickly understand how notes are related just from their names. Good names provide context.
- Enhances Cross-Referencing: Seamlessly refer to and cross-link relevant notes.
- Enables Thematic Grouping: Organize notes thematically, creating logical groupings.
- Improves Navigation: Easier access to related notes.
In essence, "correct" and thoughtful note naming is a foundational element of effective knowledge management, offering a multitude of benefits that extend to organization, reuse, link, search, and productivity.
The Fundamentals of Effective Note Naming
Clarity is Key
Your note names should be crystal clear and concise, leaving no room for ambiguity. Avoid vague or overly cryptic names that require mental gymnastics to decipher. Instead, opt for descriptive names that convey the note's content at a glance. For example, "2024-01-24 - Marketing Meeting Minutes - Q1 Strategy" is far more informative than "MM_0323.".
Descriptive note names serve as a valuable aid to understanding the content of a note. They allow you to quickly discern a note's purpose or context without opening it. Cryptic or abbreviated names, on the other hand, may save a few seconds during the naming process but can lead to confusion later. Strive for a balance between brevity and informativeness in your note names. Choose clarity over conciseness whenever possible.
Use descriptive words
Include relevant keywords that capture the note's content. Your note names should reflect the notes content. That way, you'll easily know if the note contains what you're looking for.
Naming Conventions are essential
Consistency is the cornerstone of effective note naming. Consider establishing naming conventions that suit your needs and stick to them religiously. These conventions can include guidelines for capitalization, punctuation, and special characters. Document your conventions so that you can maintain consistency over time.
Below, I'll share the naming conventions I rely on to keep my system organized and consistent.
Recommended naming conventions for note names
General naming conventions
- Try to use whole sentences as note names (e.g., The history of Jean-Paul Sartre). Don't worry too much about length. When notes are stored as file on your file system, there may be limitations, but only worry about those when you hit them
- Prioritize key information: start with the most important details
- Always start note names with an uppercase letter
- Separate words with spaces
- Avoid uppercase letters in the rest of the name (e.g., Don't Do This All The Time)
- Avoid using special characters: stick to letters, numbers and basic punctuation (e.g., ',', '-', ''', etc). Avoid emojis and other symbols if possible. Stick to text
- Use abbreviations sparingly: only abbreviate when it's widely recognized
- Spell out acronyms: clarify acronyms within the note name
- Use uppercase letters for acronyms (e.g., The PARA method (Projects Areas Resources Archives))
- Avoid prefixing note names with their current location: the location can change, and your note names might become invalid
- Avoid prefixing note names with their category: use tags instead
- Avoid generic names. use names that reflect the content (e.g., avoid Untitled, Note 1, Temp, etc)
- Don't repeat information in the note name
- Include terms you're likely to search for
- Don't include irrelevant details or unnecessary words in the name
- Use lowercase for prepositions: keep prepositions like "in," "on," and "with" in lowercase
- Avoid pronouns: replace pronouns like "it" or "this" with descriptive words
- Be mindful of privacy: avoid including sensitive information in note names
Naming conventions for chronological organization
- Include dates and time when you need your notes to be organized chronologically (e.g., periodic notes, meeting notes)
- Always use the same date and time formats
- Use the ISO format (YYYY-MM-DD hh:mm:ss...): for instance 2024-01-29
For example, I use the following conventions for periodic notes:
- Daily notes: YYYY-MM-DD, and I organize those under "Journal/Daily Notes/YYYY/WW (e.g., Journal/Daily Notes/2024/01/2024-01-01)
- Weekly notes: YYYY-Wxy and I organize those under "Journal/Weekly Notes/YYYY" (e.g., Journal/Weekly Notes/2024/2024-W01)
- Monthly notes: YYYY-MM and I organize those under "Journal/Monthly Notes/YYYY" (e.g., Journal/Monthly Notes/2024/2024-01)
- Quarterly Notes: YYYY-Qxy and I organize those under "Journal/Quarterly Notes/YYYY" (e.g., Journal/Quarterly Notes/2024/2024-Q1)
- Yearly Notes: YYYY and I organize those under "Journal/Yearly Notes" (e.g., Journal/Yearly Notes/2024)
I use a similar convention for meeting notes: YYYY-MM-DD - Topic, which I file under "Areas/Meeting Notes/YYYY" (e.g., Areas/Meeting Notes/2024-02-01 - Status meeting with the board).
Naming conventions for quotes
- Name the note with the quote (e.g., "The past is the past. What's done is done" for the quote "The past is the past. What's done is done")
Naming convention for people
When I write things down about certain people or characters, I create a name using the following convention: GivenName FamilyName (e.g., Don Camillo) and I store those under "People" or "Contacts", depending on whether I know them personally or not.
Thanks to those notes I can:
- Capture information about people I know or don't
- Link to specific people in other notes (e.g., meeting notes)
Hierarchical structures and note name prefixes
Naming hierarchical structures can greatly help organize your notes. As I've mentioned, I do this for periodic notes and meeting notes. Those fall under specific locations in my PKM so that it stays neatly organized.
Sometimes, it's useful to include contextual information in note names. For instance, I do this with project-related notes. I store those under "Projects/Project Name" and prefix those notes with "Project Name - ". That way, it's easy for me to recognize notes related to a certain project, and I can use the same "specific name" in different places. For instance, I often create a few notes such as "Overview", "Links", etc for my projects, and with the prefix, it works across projects. For instance:
- Projects/Knowledge Worker Kit/Knowledge Worker Kit - Links
- Projects/Knowledge Worker Kit/Knowledge Worker Kit - Overview
- Projects/Newsletter/Newsletter - Links
- Projects/Newsletter/Newsletter - Overview
The structure keeps everything organized, while the name prefix helps with disembiguation. This is one of the rare cases where I recommend using prefixes for note names.
Tagging and Metadata
I heavily recommend supplementing your note naming strategy with tags, metadata, links and backlinks. Those add a lot of context to your notes, and help connect ideas in different ways. It's a topic that I have discussed in a previous article:
Tags add another layer of categorization, which helps regardless of the location of the notes. Also, when used consistently, tagging makes searching and retrieving the right notes at the right time a breeze.
For instance, I tag all my periodic notes and meeting notes using the following tags:
Thanks to those tags, I can easily find or query specific types of notes, and even do so for a specific time period.
Examples of Good Note Names
Let's look at a few practical examples that (hopefully 😂) demonstrate the principles we've discussed:
The advantage of descriptive names is that they're easy to recognize, understand, and reuse. I can easily insert a link to another note within a sentence:
As you can see, thanks to the common structure and date format, those notes are neatly organized. More importantly, they're also easy to find when needed, either using the file explorer or using the search functionality!
In this example, each project note has a prefix. If order matters, then adding a sequence would help (e.g., DeveloPassion - 01 - Overview). If you use a sequence, always pad it with enough zeroes to keep a neat-looking structure over time.
Again, the prefix and common date format helps a lot.
As you can see, I don't hesitate to use long names for my notes
Notes about people
If you're curious to learn more, then check out my other projects:
The Obsidian Starter Kit is a pre-configured Obsidian vault accompanied by a detailed user guide. It includes many plugins, templates, an organization system, automation rules, and more!
The Obsidian Starter Course teaches Personal Knowledge Management and Obsidian.
Finally, the Knowledge Worker Kit includes a whole part dedicated to Personal Knowledge Management, but also explores everything that revolves around Personal Organization, Project Management and (Zen) Productivity. Importantly, it's also a private community of like-minded people, always keen to learn new things:
Effective note naming is a skill that enhances knowledge management, allowing you to harness the full potential of your digital archive. By prioritizing clarity, embracing organizational frameworks, maintaining naming conventions, and using tools wisely, you can create a robust system that empowers you to recognize, understand, reuse, and safeguard your knowledge. Remember that note naming is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor; tailor your approach to your specific needs and enjoy the benefits of efficient knowledge management.
Don't underestimate the power of a well-chosen note name. It's the key to unlocking the wealth of information you've gathered, making your knowledge readily accessible and actionable.
Ready to get to the next level?
If so, then check out the Knowledge Worker Kit, the Obsidian Starter Kit, the Obsidian Starter Course, the PKM Library, a PKM coaching session with me, my collection of books about software development and the IT Concepts Wall 🔥.
If you want to discuss, then don't hesitate to join the Personal Knowledge Management community or the Software Crafters community.
Hello everyone! I'm Sébastien Dubois (you can follow me on Twitter 🐦).
I'm an author, founder, and CTO. I write books and articles about software development & IT, personal knowledge management, personal organization, and productivity. I also craft lovely digital products 🚀
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