Sunday, April 12, 2015

Making an Index for Your Notebook

Anyone who keeps notes both in paper notebooks and in a computer program should have a system integrating the two. I have described some ways of doing this before.

You need at least three conventions:
  • find a way two refer to refer to the paper notebook
  • find a way to refer to the particular entries in the paper noteboook
  • find a program in the computer, in which to store the reference
This post is about the second convention. Here is my experience: I have found over the years that the most important thing is to (a) paginate the notebooks, (b) create a table of contents at the end or the beginning of the notebook, and (c) create a page in ConnectedText for each notebook into which the table of contents is copied. (It may also contain other relevant information as to when you kept it, etc.)

As I review the contents of the notebooks over the years (some of them go back to the late eighties), I might decide to transcribe some of the entries into ConnectedText, putting a link into the content page for the notebook and putting a cancellation mark in the paper notebook itself. Not everything is deemed important enough for transcription, though this changes over time and many things end up in my ConnectedText over time. I have a category called "My paper notebooks."

Reviewing them (both the paper and the electronic) notes often is an important part of what I would call my "work flow," if I did not despise this phrase. I could, of course, use a digital camera for the transcription step, but I find transcription makes me remember the note better.

I recently came across a post in which a more fine-grained approach is suggested, namely that of keeping an index in every notebook: "The back of your notebook will act like a tag list or index. Every time you create a new entry at the front of the book you're going to 'tag' it." If you follow this approach, you could later transfer the index into your electronic note-taking application at your leisure. The marks on the pages would allow you to locate the information you look for quickly.

As I said, it is a more more fine-grained approach than including a Table of Contents in the notebook. I am not sure I need such a level of detail in accounting for my paper notes (because anything I deem really significant gets transcribed anyway), but others may find the approach described here more useful. Also, remember that most books have both a Table of Contents and an Index. So, you could do both, if you find it necessary or useful.


Angry Thinker said...

Quote "I find transcription makes me remember the note better".
This also pertinent when one reads a book: making reading notes on paper is better for understanding & remembering, which makes it easier to link them together in Zettel.

brownstudy said...

The author Robertson Davies used notebooks to capture ideas for his novels. He numbered each page, then gave each entry on each page a letter - A, B, C, etc.

He could then index or make references to or clump together the ideas 3C, 4E, 4F, 7B, and so on for a character or scene, copy out those notes to his working journal, and strike through the items he had used.

That's my recollection from reading a biography of him years ago -- I was struck by the simplicity of the page number/letter pair for coding his entries.

MK said...

Hello brownstudy,
I wrote several times on Robertson Davies. See here

brownstudy said...

So you did -- this blog covers a lot of ground! Off now to read those posts...

traveler said...

Yes, the transcription does the trick.
my modus:
I don't like to make indelible marks in my books, in case i loan them out... so i put a library card holder on the back cover of a book (by removable sticker, if you like)and then make my notes there, indexing the page location (not marking the actual page) like this:

23b "my note about ..."
(page 23; either the second paragraph, or just breaking the page into arbitrary 5ths), adding library cards as needed. I make concise, short notes and have never needed more than would comfortably fit in the card-holder.
Then, since i haven't made a mark on the actual page, this requires me to cogitate a bit to recognize my annotation's substance, once i go back to 'refer and revise'.
These can easily be scanned and save with the PDF, if acquired, and otherwise used to construct the more extensive, long-form commentary.

Unknown said...

My integration of paper into Evernote is to snap a picture of the paper page directly into Evernote - I then have an icon checkmark I put on the original paper page to indicate that it has been imaged. Evernote will index the hand-written content for text searches.
I have also started creating end-of-notebook indexes in my paper journals.