Five recommendations for choosing hierarchy/nested tag names

A "tag hierarchy" is what we call a tag when its name contains words separated by the /, like personal/friends. Technically a "tag" can be a single word, as is the case with the note you're reading -- in its notebook, it has two tags, amplenote and blog/draft.

Many users migrate to Amplenote from apps that use "directories" to organize notes. Our "tag hierarchies" are effectively identical to what other apps call "directories" - except that our tag hierarchies do not carry the restriction that a note must exist within a single directory. Being able to catalog a note such that it can be found through multiple hierarchies opens the door to interesting opportunities that aren't possible with directories alone.

link👩‍🔬 Choosing a tag hierarchy name

Picking an enduring tag name is really hard! Don't feel bad if it takes you repeated experimentation to end up with something that serves your desired ends. The good news is that we make it really easy to change your mind about tag names as you go.

Here are a few guidelines we've developed from years of creating tag names.

link1. Don't get fancy

Few have sustained willpower to pursue productivity for its own sake. Any "productivity system" that needs to be learned isn't built for the long-term.

Suggestion: Use 10 or less tags at any level. This maxes you out at 100 second-level tags. No tag in a two-level hierarchy feels too overwhelming. As far as specific tag names and organizing principles, don't subscribe to any one methodology.

link2. prefer/short/path, non-pluralized, non-abbreviated words to promote consistency

Tags aren't going to do you any good if you create elaborate hierarchies that are never seen. If the CEO of Amplenote has yet to meet anyone productive who regularly employs 4-level tags, you probably don't need four levels. Nested tags are at their finest in the second level of the hierarchy, but third-level tags make sense in domains where your interest runs deep.

Whenever possible, we recommend using the singular form of words in your tag hierarchy, so you don't end up with a mishmash of arbitrarily pluralized and singular words.

Suggestion: Prefer keeping tag hierarchies that are three or less levels deep.

Suggestion: Prefer cumulative words in a hierarchy to be five or less total words (examples)

Suggestion: Use the singular form of words when naming tags, so your naming remains maximally consistent. I.e., homework/example instead of homework/examples

Suggestion: Prefer non-abbreviated words when practical, especially for 2nd and 3rd-level tags. This reduces the likelihood you'll accidentally duplicate tags.

link3. First-level tags are buckets 🏀🗑️

Since we want to shoehorn life into ten or less items at any given level, it's important to choose the 10 top-level buckets wisely.

Suggestion: Try some popular "top-level buckets" that we've seen often used...

todo stores notes that contain tasks that should actively be worked on

[some project name]: if your life can be divided into 5 or less projects, why not create a bucket-level tag for the project, since you'll probably have a lot of sub-tags to apply?

[your principle hobby]: Similar to naming buckets after work projects, your principle hobby (or two) are likely to be areas where you spend a lot of time, so it will be easy to know where to place resources that apply to this hobby.

[your city/college]: Especially if you're going to school, it's useful to have a bucket dedicated to collecting all the notes you generate for school. Sometimes it's useful to have a bucket tag for your city.

archive a well-curated knowledge management can use a place to relegate less-useful content

business (or biz) if work/business aren't your primary note taking use case, this tag can be a catch-all for whatever incidental content you want to capture surrounding work

canonical if you take clusters of notes around certain subjects, it can be difficult to remember/find which is the "main note." This tag can help you locate the single, most-trusted source on a topic

daily-jots (or daily) notes that you create every morning that may or may not get tagged elsewhere, depending on what comes to mind

people (or pkm) if you want to keep a personal knowledge management system, so you don't forget people with whom you once had a strong connection

personal (or me) if taking notes for personal purposes isn't your main use case, this bucket can capture sub-tags like me/blogs, me/essays, me/journal, me/email, etc.

shared if you want to track which notes you've shared with others. Useful if you can figure out a few subtasks that represent projects around which notes are shared.

travel if you generate a lot of content around planning for, or writing during, travel, then this can be an interesting way to aggregate your thoughts

Maybe don't: Name buckets after the thing you just read about and are really excited about right now. It will sow guilt later if your interests should change.

Over time, to keep your buckets at 10 or less, you'll need to move the "[some project name]" and "[your principle hobby]" tags into archive as sub-tags so that you can keep your top level manageable as life circumstances happen.

link4. Second-level should serve a contextual purpose

Soo in the previous points we made a rule to give each tag 10 or less child tags. If ever there were a strategic opportunity to violate that advice, it's at the second level. We'll assume you picked a sensible top-level bucket. It's tempting to celebrate and create a sub-tag for every possible type of content you create. Soon, you end up with a second-level ahem situation like the Amplenote CEO. 😬 If you use an app like Amplenote that allows for tag merging, you can float provisional tags and see if they compel you to create more content that follows in the trail of the original. But you need to consider a few lessons.

Suggestion: Don't keep a second level folder that accumulates less than 5 notes per year. You can always keep track of small groups of notes using Amplenote Help: Using Double Brackets [[ for Note Creation/Linking, basically creating a web that connects each note via backlinks.

Suggestion: Consider it an opportunity to inspire yourself. Since you need to generate 5+ notes/tasks per year to warrant the existence of this tag, what type of content is most unexplored and provocative to you at the moment?

link5. Third-level when you need to go deep (esp todo)

If you follow the advice above to create a bucket (first-level tag) for the notes that contain tasks that need to get done, then you'll probably end up with second-level tags for the projects and hobbies/vocations in which your tasks accumulate. In these cases, it can be useful to subdivide further still if you believe that future you will be a responsible individual. For example, reasonable uses of third-level todo tags might include todo/personal/chore, todo/me/family, todo/me/hobby, etc.

Some other types of deep-knowledge three-level hierarchies might include dissertation/chapter-1/example, yourco/competitive/some-shmuck, seattle/reviews/nacho, uw/cse/143, blog/deep-topic/peter-hammon, project/videos/tutorial, project/help/help-section.

Suggestion: Pare back third-level tags that don't accumulate 5 notes per year.

Suggestion: Remember that with newer note taking apps like Amplenote, you can tag a single note with many different tags, so a note can be both uw/cse/143 and todo/homework/september.

link🚛 Evolving your tag hierarchy

Good news: Amplenote makes it easy to change your mind about you want your hierarchy structured. We describe in detail on our Tag Renaming & Reorganizing help page how it's possible to:

Rename a tag hierarchy

Merge two tag hierarchies

Delete a tag hierarchy without deleting the notes within

Delete a hierarchy including all the notes within it

Go check out that page now if you're ready to restructure your tag hierarchy.

linkWhen to update your tag hierarchy?

If you take notes every day, we recommend trying to make time at least once per quarter to open up your tag hierarchies and evaluate whether you're still using your leaf tags. If there are less than three notes in a tag that has existed for a few months, that is a strong signal that you may be able to remove the tag.

Looking at an example hierarchy,

The tags in yellow are good candidates to be merged or removed, especially if these have existed for more than 6 months

It's clear that very few notes from recent times have touched on the topics in these tags. Perhaps life has evolved, so this project is not top of mind anymore. Or perhaps you misjudged how many notes of these types you would be creating. At any rate, tags with 1-3 notes in them serve little purpose, since their content can be accessed any time by choosing a descriptive note name that can be found using Quick Open.

link🏷️ Conclusion

There is no right answer to how to create the best hierarchy, but it's possible to piece it together with enough real-world use cases. If you'd like to share how your tag organization system matches or diverges from the suggestions above, drop a line at our Discord server? We will continue to update this article as others share their methodology for tag naming.