The Right Way to Link Your Notes?

Roasting my own notes to show you a better way!

I’d like to share my advice on backlinking today because I feel like I’m only just starting to think about it properly!

What follows is my advice from my personal experience, it’s not the only advice. Please share any tips you have about backlinking in the comments so we can all learn! 🙂 

Table of Contents

I truly believe that unless it is your explicit goal to find every mention of a page in your note-taking app, you should never link every mention of one of your notes. I learned this the hard way, and now all my notes from my previous Logseq graph feel overwhelming because I linked everything I could.

Once upon a time, I wanted to link every mention of "work" (meaning my workplace) so I could see what I was thinking about it. So I used Obsidian's nice link button (in its unlinked mentions section), and without realising it, linked every single time the verb work was used too. This is so obvious in hindsight, but was so annoying once I'd realised. I then had to manually remove the brackets for all these mentions. I was so cross with myself. I’m even more cross with myself now, because surely find and replace would work… Anyways…

What made it worse is I actually did this for multiple terms and it just really slowed Logseq down and made my backlinks section nearly useless, because I had to read hundreds of meaningless mentions to find what was actually useful. In the end I just didn’t review my backlinks.

Now I’m sure not everyone will go as crazy as I did with the unlinked mention button in Obsidian, but it’s important to move away from the idea that more backlinks = more knowledge or better knowledge work, because the number doesn’t matter, it’s the quality of the link.

Let’s discuss this point further…

More ≠ Better

Backlinks are most prominent in networked note-taking apps (such as Capacities, Logseq, Roam and many many more). They are truly wonderful because they’re what allow you to build out a connected web of knowledge in a beautifully intuitive way.

But they’re also often the building blocks to your knowledge about a given thing. I see reviewing your backlinks as the activity that transforms words that you have been told, into something that has meaning and understanding in your world. So, you want to make sure you’re surrounding yourself with useful building blocks. Not weak ones you can’t build on top of.

Imagine it’s time to review a note and you have 200 subpar backlinks to go through. It's going to…

👉️ take you ages

👉️ be really hard to work out what’s actually useful

👉️ be boring??

So how do you prevent this?

We have to think granularly, which means slowing down and being intentional about your linking. Note-taking aims to help you build knowledge, not to collect mentions of various things.

Ask yourself, do I want to see the mention of this thing in this block again later? Is it going to help me understand this thing better?

If yes - link. If no - leave it for now.

I’ll roast my own notes here to illustrate the point.

Example from my notes

I have 101 backlinks to France. Here are three of them:

3 backlinks in my France note

I’m happy with the first two.

  1. I understand that France was involved in many wars in the given time period, and knowing that contextualises everything historical and political. I’ll need to know this when I review my France object.

  2. Another key piece of context emerges here, that perhaps even explains the first backlink better.

But the third leave me with questions.

Which war? Why did it break out? Why are Anglo-French relations mentioned? Where are the Brits?

So let’s take a look at this note and figure out what past me did…

Here’s the original block where this link can be found.

Turns out ‘Monarchy’ is a book about the English monarchy. So that’s where the Anglo in Anglo-French relations comes from. But again, which war?

Based on my heading, it’s clearly the Seven Years War. Immediately I see that should be a link to an event object.

Do I have a Seven Years War object? Yes. Why isn’t it linked?!

Oh well, I’ve fixed this now. 👇️ 

What linking to the Seven Years War object did to the backlinks

But remember that these backlinks are the building blocks for my understanding of the Seven Years War. Right now, all this backlink does is tell me the Monarchy source mentioned it. So to make the backlink more useful, I can use tab to indent the blocks in the Monarchy page that relate to the Seven Years War. Thank you to Anna who taught me this!

When I come to review my notes on this war in a couple of months, I will find more useful backlinks waiting for me, from which I can work out what I do and don’t know about it. All because I indented some blocks under the link!

But, remember we started on the France page 🇫🇷 . Despite a more useful Seven Years War page, the France backlink looks the same as it did before. So how do I address this?

If I think about it, France isn’t related to the book, Monarchy, it’s related to the Seven Years War. So, here I’ve actually broken my first piece of advice- don’t link mentions. I saw France mentioned so I linked to it. ❌ 

So to fix this, I removed the link from Monarchy → France, and added links to France and England to a property in the Seven Years War object.

I added links to countries and intersections (where I put notes on state relations)

Similarly I’m still not clear why I referenced Anglo-French relations where I did. I imagine I wanted to say that this was a violent part in the history of these relations.

But where will future me read about Anglo-French relations in depth? More likely in the pages about the wars they fought, because they will eventually contain information from many sources, not just Monarchy. So, I removed the reference in Monarchy, and linked to Anglo-French relations from Seven Years War too (see screenshot above)

Now my France object’s backlinks are better. The ‘war with France’ backlink has disappeared, but it has been replaced with a link to the Seven Years War.

There I implicitly understand that this is a war where France is involved, and now I can click on it and see useful info about it, in the backlinks. All because I was more careful with my linking in my monarchy source. This is far more meaningful than saying ‘Monarchy mentions France’, which I was effectively doing before. 

The importance of doing this long term

If I were to treat all links like this, I’d have useful backlink sections everywhere.

Fewer, more useful backlinks = better backlinks for reviewing my knowledge.

More backlinks that are are more useful = better backlinks for reviewing my knowledge, just more of them.

Now it’s time to actually review them…

Reviewing your backlinks will tell you what you do or don’t know about the subject of the note. I want to write what I know in the blocks, but I also want to signal to my future self what I don’t understand.

So to start, I open a note and read through my backlinks. I write a summary of what they are collectively saying in the blocks.

I treat the blocks like a playground. I make half-filled out sentences, non-sensical phrases, random questions, litter my page with question marks. I change the order of the page around, I add columns, embeds, more, whatever I want. I do whatever I can do to make sense of the work I’ve done previously, which represented in the backlinks. It’s not meant to be perfect. It is a process.

a work in progress - see the curly braces, this is my way of saying ‘i think this might be true but I have no evidence for it really, so I hope future me checks this’

This is a relatively well done note in my world

But questions remain, of course. From here I go and read more, link more, review more. Over time these questions will either be answered, or they will cease to be important.

This might be something you discover in the hour after your initial reviewing session or you might come back to it 2 years later. Depends what your goals are.

But good backlinking practices will help future you, whenever you pick up these notes again.

I hope this post has showed you some ways of thinking about linking, as backlinks are, in my opinion, the most important building block of useful notes.

None of this is life or death, clearly, but I am finding that it matters what you choose to link and where, and it’s a bit of a skill to develop to instinctively know what that means in practice. It’s easy enough to evaluate it later on, as I did today, but even just being aware of what good backlinks can do is really helping me on this journey to improve my linking.

Essentially, backlinks are a gift to your future self, make sure you’re buying a gift you actually like! 🎁 

Let me know if you have any questions about this or tips to help others!

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