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Isadore Braun

(Archived) Taking notes while reading non-fiction: How to organize?

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Looking for suggestions on how to best capture ideas, quotes, and major themes while reading/researching non-fiction. While reading non-fiction, I take notes via highlighter. My plan is to go through the book, capturing ideas into Evernote. As a public-speaker, I'm looking to organize the material so that's it is easy to find when putting together a talk.

Would you create a seperate notebook for each book?

What tags would you use? For example: If you were reading a book on World War 2, you might find an excellent quote on Rommel. You could create a new note and title it "Rommel". Or you could use a tag. I'm not sure what's the best way to do this.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions/advice.

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The answer is, "it depends."

I'd use a tag called "Quotes" to start with. If the text 'Rommel' appears in the text, then you're done (searches on 'Rommel' will find it); if it doesn't, you can add it to the title, or to the note content itself. Or if you're collecting a lot of stuff on Rommel, you might use a dedicated 'Rommel' tag.

But it's really up to you.

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I'd use a tag called "Quotes" to start with.

My current struggle revolves around the different types of content involving Rommel. There will be quotes, citations, general ideas, etc. Perhaps I should forgo tags, and create one note per major theme/idea. And then throw the notes into one notebook.

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it depends.

but, i am a researcher taking notes on non-fiction. i do it a couple of ways. regarding my evernote organization i have a few tags i use to keep track of this information: "source-archive" (digital photographs of manuscripts), "source-primary" (PDF scans of printed sources), "source-secondary" (PDF scans of printed materials written by scholars), and "source-notes" (notes written by me about the primary and secondary sources). it's pretty simple. usually, I can find a topic with a search like "tag:source-notes roosevelt." i don't usually make a separate tag for a topic unless it's a big project. i generally don't use notebooks unless i need to see something offline on my ipad.

more practically speaking, i often have evernote open on the ipod and my source open on the ipad. i take notes while i read. also, if you use one of the pdf readers like goodreader you can export your highlighted text and typewritten notes into email and send it to evernote. if you are making lots of annotations this is definitely the way to go.

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I would suggest a consistent naming structure using important key words for all your appropriate Evernote note titles. For instance:

Date Location Person Subject

  • 1944 01 15 France Rommel Erwin quote improving The Atlantic Wall
  • 1944 10 14 Germany Herrlingen Rommel Erwin details on Rommel's suicide

One of the problems with non-fiction titles is the book names are too long for easy use as a Notebook Name, or Note Title or a Tag.

Examples:

  • Rommel's Greatest Victory: The Desert Fox and the Fall of Tobruk, Spring 1942
  • Rommel and the Secret War in North Africa, 1941-1943: Secret Intelligence in the North African Campaign
  • The Desert Fox in Normandy: Rommel's Defense of Fortress Europe

The body of the note would be the best place for the book's name, publishing date and publisher.

Tags are a great way to link notes that contain a specific concept, quote, idea, tactic, etc.

Edited by jbenson2
corrected typo

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I would suggest a consistent naming structure using important key words for all your appropriate Evernote note titles. For instance:

Date Location Person Subject

  • 1944 01 15 France Rommel Erwin quote improving The Atlantic Wall
  • 1944 10 14 Germany Herrlingen Rommel Erwin details on Rommel's suicide

One of the problems with non-fiction titles is the book names are too long easy use as a Notebook Name, or Note Title or a Tag.

Examples:

  • Rommel's Greatest Victory: The Desert Fox and the Fall of Tobruk, Spring 1942
  • Rommel and the Secret War in North Africa, 1941-1943: Secret Intelligence in the North African Campaign
  • The Desert Fox in Normandy: Rommel's Defense of Fortress Europe

The body of the note would be the best place for the book's name, publishing date and publisher.

Tags are a great way to link notes that contain a specific concept, quote, idea, tactic, etc.

great advice. naming is important. i forgot about that. for nonfiction i use author + publication date ("smithmichael1999"), and i put the full bibliographic information in the note. again, any search will turn it up. also, once you get past a few hundred sources its good to use something like bookends to keep track of things, but bibliographic software is a whole other can of worms. some people like to bundle their content into those, but i prefer evernote.

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Depends on why you are collecting information and how you would want to use it afterwards.

If all you would need is to find some quotes and that's all then simply tag all quotes as the book name and you're done.

That's rarely the goal though at least for me. Most of the time I want to see information in context, to focus on a single topic/book in detail and to structure and organize all ideas in a way that makes sense to me, to see the big picture and connections between things and so on. In this case using only evernote is just not practical.

In this case I use a mind map and keep it as a single note.

Here is an example of some part if my GTD mind map

DkiBll.jpg

Not everything goes into the mind map, for example I might combine approaches and keep some quotes as a separate tag when it's not important to see them in a context of the whole topic/book and some stuff I would add to mind map.

Basically this way I get best of the both worlds. Evernote for quick capture and retrival and mind mapping to really focus on a topic and see it all in context.

I think that there is a key difference between

- organizing a certain topic, focusing on it in detail

- all data (managing all information database)

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As a public-speaker, I'm looking to organize the material so that's it is easy to find when putting together a talk.

Sounds like ease of access is the most important criteria.

Another tip: The search capability of Evernote lets me find stuff faster, if I add a few personalized key words at the end of a note.

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As a public-speaker, I'm looking to organize the material so that's it is easy to find when putting together a talk.

Sounds like ease of access is the most important criteria.

Another tip: The search capability of Evernote lets me find stuff faster, if I add a few personalized key words at the end of a note.

Agreed. In my case though it's easy to access regardless whether I use mind maps or only evernote.

all mind maps are referenced in evernote, it takes one click to open them and they are completely cross platform, ie I can open them easily on my iPad when I'm on a commute or on my iphone pretty much anywhere or on my laptop. It's accessible offline and also syncs between all devices.

So I make a decision on whether to use only evernote notes or to use a mind map in addition to evernote is based on whether the information has to be structured and organized in detail or not.

Most information doesn't need to be organized in detail and tags and flat lists are enough so I just dump it into evernote and tag appropriately and I'm done. But when it comes to books then I prefer to organize stuff in mind maps. Not all the time but most of the time.

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Btw on a second thought it might actually be easier to access the material in a mind map while giving a talk regardless of all else. It takes time to switch between different notes in evernote.

If you are going to search for different tags and notes while giving a talk this would look very awkward. On the other hand if you have all information organized in a single place such as mind map then you can give a talk without losing the flow.

Tag all related separate notes and all mind maps as an active project (talk you are giving) and you have it all in one place.

This how I would do it anyway.

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My current struggle revolves around the different types of content involving Rommel. There will be quotes, citations, general ideas, etc. Perhaps I should forgo tags, and create one note per major theme/idea. And then throw the notes into one notebook.

That would be a fine place to start. If you find it's not working for you, then you can refine your approach later on. Don't overthink it at the beginning; just find what works for you, and build on that.

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All the above is excellent advice, especially the "whatever works for you" comments; it's important to find a process you are able to apply consistently and efficiently in setting up the notes, and which generates the information you need when making searches. It's been said by others elsewhere in the Forum that new users often don't appreciate how flexible and powerful the search options are - so get used to that process as quickly as you can!

+1 also for careful naming of notes - but don't repeat anything that's already in the body of the note. And think about dating your notes - the creation date will give you a timeline for when you make them, but if you're looking at a historical subject and want to keep some notes in that order, look at using YYYYMMDD at the start of the name - you can sort the chronology easily from there.

-And finally; I'll often add an "executive summary" para at the start of a note - it helps to add keywords that aren't in the body and gives a quick feel for long pages so you can sort through notes quickly.

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Some great thinking here. . .

If you know where you want to wind up (i.e., your talk, book, etc.), you could start with an outline, keep that in front of you (i.e., fav bar) and paste in note links as you accumulate notes that pertain to the items in your outline. Similarly, you could create a series of master research note indices (in advance) with appropriate tags (i.e., quotes, battles, timeline, etc) and use note links pasted therein to link to separate notes.

I've used mind maps for writing manuscripts/course outlines. N.B.-- Freemind let's you can copy/paste your mind map into an Evernote note and it will show up in outline form. You can copy a single note or the whole map.

I use tags for everything and basically one notebook, but for a big project, I'd consider putting everything into it's own notebook until the project is done. I haven't done this yet but it sounds like you might have so many notes, and spend so much time trying to organize it, this might help you mentally "wall off" everything that's not related to this project and let you stay focused on it.

Let us know what you decide.

David

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Some great thinking here. . .

Agreed.

I have evernoted this *topic* for serious review re. my own practices.

One thing I would add to (or maybe reinforce in) the discussion is the usefulness of *temporary* notebooks for specific mid to long term projects.

I rarely start off with the best way to organize information I collect/generate related to a specific project. Heck, I doubt I end up that way. But, what I get is usually more than good enough.

However, I find it very easy to identify new items as related to the project. I just store them in the project's notebook and add organization to the notebook as it evolves.

I also create a unique tag for the project. All notes in the project notebook are assigned that tag. Other existing notes are also assigned the tag if I find them relevant to the project at hand.

When the project is finished I do a final review of the project notes before archiving the notebook (in evernote).

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Everything already said is great. Just to add a little or reinforce related things people have already said, some comments based on my experience:

—I find it's easier to pull together multiple, separate notes into fewer, larger notes than it is to extract data from large notes and move different pieces of data into new, smaller notes. So at the beginning I encourage you to start with more, smaller notes. It will be easy later to bring related content into unified notes, whether with the Merge Notes feature or just C&P.

—It will be especially easy to do so if you tag a lot, or as much as you might need. If I note is related to 10 different topics/areas of interest/whatever, don't be afraid to tag it with 10 tags. As you do your research, you'll move things to where they best belong, delete tags, etc. But at first, it's super handy to be able to pull up everything you have on topic X, topic Y, and topic Z, no matter whether X, Y, and Z have any relationship(s) to each other or what those relationships are, how close they are, etc.

So I really encourage you not to start out doing this:

My current struggle revolves around the different types of content involving Rommel. There will be quotes, citations, general ideas, etc. Perhaps I should forgo tags, and create one note per major theme/idea. And then throw the notes into one notebook.

Each quote, citation, general idea can easily be its own note, tagged as appropriate, and then easily sorted with other related notes. In one example, you can have a single note tagged with each of the following: "Quote," "Africa," "France," "X," "Y," Z." You can then find that quote immediately, since it's the only information in its own notes, and pull it up along with all related notes, by all sorts of categories: with other quotes (search: "tag:quote"), with all other Africa-related notes (search: "tag:africa"), with all quotes about X (search: "tag:quote tag:X"), with all notes about both France and Z (search: "tag:france tag:Z"), etc.

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