Organizing Notes

Hello to all.

I'm looking for suggestions on how to organize notes that I make from different sources and for different purposes.


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system box

Hi ratter,
Do you have any ideas on a system?
I use a System Card Box, the biggest size we have in Australia is 8" x 6", it is just a basic box with a lift back lid on two little hinges about 6" deep and you buy a system card that can be line or unlined, then you get index dividers which by in A - Z or 1 - 31.
I use one at work for customer orders.

organizing notes

Thanks for answering.
What I had in mind was ore fr organizing reading notes.


Your question is too general

Google is your friend:

and some specifics from that search page:
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

An attempt to be more specific

I want to organize reading notes that I have made from my own reading, not from school assignments or for a thesis.


How do you want them organized ?
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

I would like them to be

I would like them to be organized so that I can find notes on an article or book or subject when I want it.

I thought perhaps that someone else here had had the same problem and had discovered a solution they would be willing to share.

Ah, "Find" is the operative word here

While I am curious what others might contribute to your question, I will say that when it comes to "finding" or "searching" for notes that do not have self evident structure, or for anything of a general reference nature, there is simply no substitute for electronic storage. I use paper only for what has self evident structure (appointments, to dos, plans, budgets, etc.), or temporary value (shopping lists, todos, or quick reference of repetitive tasks). For everything else of a reference nature, I still use a Palm PDA with Memoleaf, and Palm Desktop on Windows. I have literally years worth of reading notes on my Palm, can't imagine trying to find them on a paper based system (many of those notes were converted from my previous paper based system).

Yes, I agree that electronic

Yes, I agree that electronic methods will yield the best searches. Still I don't have a Palm or any similar device and often read in bed where there is no computer readily available so I like analog methods.

Hello ratter,Suggest you

Hello ratter,

Suggest you read on the two items by Doug on "Commonplace Books". Just enter commonplace in the search field on the right. There are suggestions and ideas in there that may help.

Bob H.

Thanks for the pointer.

Thanks for the pointer. Doug does a thorough job laying out options in detail.

One idiosyncratic suggestion

Okay, here's my system which I think you might be able to adapt. I have struggled with the integration of digital and paper notes, planning, etc. for quite a while.

One aspect is note-taking, on reading, meetings, ideas, etc. Since I pre-date digital notetaking, I have a system of notebooks, binders, etc. with notes going back to at least the 1980s. Yet, nowadays I also use the likes of (at various times) Evernote, One Note, Zoot, Zoho Notebook, Google Notebook, etc. Yet I continue taking notes on paper, copiously, because of its convenience (and yes, I type fast, but writing is still faster) and well, it's more familiar to me.

Digital is searchable - finding notes on something I read is easy. But paper will not go away for me. How to search it? How to integrate? Scanning, fancy digitial pens, etc. are all impractical in the long run.

I do two things. For any notebook, I give the notebook a number and I number each page (I don't use cards for permanent notes, but it could be similar). Then, I set up an index at the back of a notebook. In the index, for each page, I put the date and descriptors of the content (oh, we call them "tags" nowadays) - sometimes a sentence description is better, too. That is often enough to be able to find some lost set of notes in a notebook, and it's not onerous, because I fill out the index once a day, or after every note session, so it takes very little time and thought.

Next, when I have the spare time, I enter the indexes of finished books into Excel spreadsheets (using Excel as a database, essentially). Thus, now the indices are computer searchable. If I find what I want, I can go to the notebook number and page I want.

It's not as simple a system as I would like, as my philosophy is that any time spent organizing, no matter how much fun ;-) -- is time not spent producing/doing (note that I say 'philosophy' - my practice lags behind...). However, notes which are not retrieveable might as well never have been taken. This works for me - I rely on the written index at the end of books. The electronic Excel version lag behind but I believe it has potential (one simplication I may try - index into the electronic version directly, not in the paper book - but that has its drawbacks as well).


Sounds like a great system

An excellent merger of analog and digital with advantages of both that will, with work, outweigh any disadvantages of either.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

This gives me some ideas.

This gives me some ideas. Thanks for taking the time to explain your system.


Before computing, scholars had to take notes and write dissertations and books by using handwritten notes. The system taught to me way back when is still the best: notecards.

I'm assuming that some of your needs have to do with retrieving information from sources you are reading at the present time that remind you of, or parallel, or resonate with something you've read before. If you want to keep this all organized so as to be able to form relationships among your reading experiences, try this method.

You will need a shoebox, notecards, and dividers.

For every book or other source you read, make a card containing all the info about the book, author, title, date, etc. File those alphabetically at the back of the other cards.

Give each source a short title as you read it. It can be the name or part of the name of the book, or if there are two books by the same author, use the author's name and a part of the title to distinguish it from others. As you take your notes on the cards, put the author's name and page number(s) at the top left, and the topic on the top right.

If you're looking at multiple pages on the same card, be sure to note the pages.

Put direct quotes in quote marks, and label your own comments with two asterisks **

File these cards under the topics you made at the upper right side, using the dividers.

Keep cards with you as you read, fill them out as you read, and file them after you read the book. If you read on the go, use a small notecard file, easily storable in your pocket or briefcase.

I'm sure the mind that conceived of computer databases is built on this system, and was created by some frustrated academic who imagined a machine could do this more easily. There are some programs out there that can help do this, but I find for something really important, notecards is still the way to go. It's intuitive and prevents you from reading something and forgetting where you read it.

Best wishes.

Thank you! I believe this is

Thank you!
I believe this is the sort of thing I have been looking ofr.