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Thread: How do you take & organize your notes for future (years) reference?

  1. #1
    Join Date
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    Default How do you take & organize your notes for future (years) reference?

    Suggestions, tips, and techniques requested!

    How do you take notes from books & journals and keep them organized for quick reference in the future?

    As I continue on in my studies I am finding that I am (a) reading more books (b) with more density in content and (c) cover a wider range of topics--and it can be very difficult to recall this information without good organization.

    As I am working on my thesis this issue has manifest itself. I have solid recall of authors and relevant points of interest but it isn't perfect. And even when I remember the point it can take time to find the content I want (e.g. this weekend I spent about 20 minutes browsing through a 400 page book looking for a comment, which ended up in a footnote with some references to further reading). I already have dozens of books I need to read or reread for my thesis so cutting down time backtracking to books outside the immediate context but have valuable periphrial content would be great--especially as I look down the road to more research as well as smaller topics that will benefit from a spattering of points across many books.

    A good example of my dilemma is Craig Blomberg's Jesus and the Gospels. Blomberg covers a vast scope topics, has a lot of insights, and a lot of references to salient resources. After taking notes for that book I decided to go away from pen&paper and go with audio notes. Unfortunately I still have to digitize the notes and, more importantly, store them in a way for quick access.

    So for all your great scholars with thousands of books you wish to reference

    (1) How do you take notes? At your PC? Audio? Stickies?

    (2) How do you keep your notes centralized for quick access.

    My general problem is not linear commentaries or narrowly focused topical books (when you are studying a verse or topic they are quite easy to reference). The problem is books that cover broader topics, have a spattering of interesting exegetical points, and so forth.


    I am reserved to the fact, at this moment, of taking audio notes and trying to refine my approach to something like:
    Page #:


    Category: (topic, word, verse, reference, etc)


    Concise Point: (a VERY short summary of issue and position
    I would like to refine this approach (or BETTER ones!), so any suggestions would be great. Right now my notes are too long and take far too long to transcribe... I may also look into a wave-to-text converter.

    Putting all these notes into a single document and then store them in a folder structure would probably work... so I am thinking outloud here and fishing for some feedback:

    BW Notes (Folder)
    ..... Book Notes (Folder)
    .......... Authors (Folders)
    ............... Books (Files)

    I recently read Walter Kaisers, "The Messiah in the Old Testament" so I would create a file with all my notes and then put it into a folder something like this:

    BW Notes (Folder)
    ..... Book Notes (Folder)
    .......... Kaiser (Folders)
    ............... The Messiah in the Old Testament (File)
    ............... Toward an Old Testament Theology (File)
    ............... Toward an Exegetical Theology (File)

    I am sure most of you have been down this road before... so what have you found that works?

    I am currently working on my thesis in addition to a number of papers for school on a variety of topics and have found myself spending more time thumbing through books (with either sticky notes, highlighting, or pencil markings) trying to find information I need. Sometimes it is easy because it is a major point to a chapter... other times it is a single page that engages a single technical angle with a number of references that I need to review to properly tackle the topic, etc. It is great when a book has a useful index, but not all do ... not to mention I sometimes forget (a) what book a point was in and (b) forget some great information I had read to begin with! Sometimes an author makes a great comments/insight that may not be central to your current project but it may be a worthwhile addition to flesh out your thoughts.

    The more my library grows and the more topics they cover... ugh! I mean that in a good way

    So I am cheating: how are others dealing with these issues? Taking good notes that are worthwhile years down the road is a big positive. Less time searching aimlessly, more time thinking.

    Thanks for your time!

    Joshua

  2. #2

    Default Organizing notes

    Sounds like you might be a good candidate for Nota Bene, especially for its Orbis note taking database www.notabene.com will show you this stuff.

    Dale A. Brueggemann

    כִּי עֶזְרָא הֵכִין לְבָבוֹ לִדְרוֹשׁ אֶת־תּוֹרַת יְהוָה וְלַעֲשֹׂת וּלְלַמֵּד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל חֹק וּמִשְׁפָּט (Ezra 7:10)


  3. #3
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    Thanks Dale. I spent some time looking over their software and reviews and it seems to be a pretty nice package.

    Your lead did open the door to this "market" of software (which I never knew existed) so I spent a bit of time browsing through various applications (Nota Bena, EndNotes, RefWorks, etc... OpenOffice.org's website has a fairly robust list of such tools).

    I am quite impressed with Zotero. It is a free FireFox plug-in that allows you to "collect, manage, and cite" your references. It is well laid out and designed and so far my test drive has show it to be fairly robust. e.g. I am reading Larry Hurtado's "Lord Jesus Christ" and to capture all the bibliography information to cite his work I just clicked a little icon on the browser and it added it to my library. As I read the book I could create new notes under the book which can be searched through later. The notes can even be "tagged" (labelled) with a subject for quick filtering. So clicking my "Adam Christology" tag pulls up my notes from Hurtado and Fee in regards to Dunn's treatment of Phil. 2:6ff.

    Zotero has a couple additional add-ons to work with word processing applications like Word and OpenOffice. The Word one is nice and allows you to insert correctly formated citations as well as convert your document to a different format on the fly. It will also generate your Bibliography after you have finished your document. It lacks some of the fine touches of some of the more advanced software titles, but it is free and has some pretty nice video tutorials (which make it pretty easy to learn as well as give a good idea of workflow and limitations).

    So far I am pretty impressed. The price and reviews from other users caught my eye, but the products quality has been drawing me in.

  4. #4

    Default More research / note-taking tools

    I just posted some stuff on my blog about using NotaBene and Zotero for note-taking. Joshua, you may also be interested in another new post about using your voice files, either with the Zotero/Vertov combination or with the free Jott service.
    Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman
    Professor of Biblical Studies
    Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg
    ltsg.edu - CrossMarks.com
    Biblical Studies and Technological Tools

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by MGVH View Post
    I just posted some stuff on my blog about using NotaBene and Zotero for note-taking.
    Does anyone know enough about NoteBene and Endnote to opine about which one is better?

  6. #6

    Default NotaBene and Endnote

    I have used NotaBene enough to know how powerful it is. It really works well not only for the bibliographic and note-taking stuff (with the accompanying Orbis and Ibidem), but also for entering Greek/Hebrew/Syriac using the Lingua workstation.

    I tried to help my wife use Endnote for her thesis..., and I gave up. I never quite 'got it' how it works, and I must have installed/removed the thing 10 times trying to make it behave with MS Word 2003. I do know of people who use it happily, so it may just be me and my computers...

    That said, NB and Endnote are two entirely different things. NB is a powerful word processor with accompanying and well-integrated modules for note taking and bibliographic work. Endnote is simply a note-taking and bibliographic tool that is supposed to work with a number of word processors.
    Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman
    Professor of Biblical Studies
    Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg
    ltsg.edu - CrossMarks.com
    Biblical Studies and Technological Tools

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by MGVH View Post
    That said, NB and Endnote are two entirely different things. NB is a powerful word processor with accompanying and well-integrated modules for note taking and bibliographic work. Endnote is simply a note-taking and bibliographic tool that is supposed to work with a number of word processors.
    Thanks for the summary. I've tried NB and I like it. The problem is, I can't justify the expense. IOW, I don't really need it, but I wish I did because it's a very nice program.

  8. #8

    Default Zotero looks great

    Quote Originally Posted by Adelphos View Post
    Thanks for the summary. I've tried NB and I like it. The problem is, I can't justify the expense.
    I'm a well-established Nota Bene user and swear by it. But I must say, after seeing Hoffmann's note about Zotero, I checked it out. A looks at its specs and on-line demos impress me greatly. If I were using MS Word, I would almost certainly begin using it.

    Indeed, it tempts me anyway--just to play with it.

    Dale A. Brueggemann

    כִּי עֶזְרָא הֵכִין לְבָבוֹ לִדְרוֹשׁ אֶת־תּוֹרַת יְהוָה וְלַעֲשֹׂת וּלְלַמֵּד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל חֹק וּמִשְׁפָּט (Ezra 7:10)


  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dale A. Brueggemann View Post
    I'm a well-established Nota Bene user and swear by it. But I must say, after seeing Hoffmann's note about Zotero, I checked it out. A looks at its specs and on-line demos impress me greatly. If I were using MS Word, I would almost certainly begin using it.
    I thought Zotero only works with FireFox when I skimmed it. I guess I'll go back and take a look at it.

  10. #10
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    Zotero itself requires FireFox, but it has citation interfaces with Word and OpenOffice.
    Last edited by arggem; 05-09-2008 at 09:28 PM.

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