One of the main innovations of ConnectedText v. 6 was the introduction of floating windows, which allowed the user to view multiple repositionable CT ‘topics’ (documents) while for instance editing another topic in the edit window. Besides other enhancements, today’s update of v. 22.214.171.124 improves the functionality of floating windows in a number of ways. Firstly, you can now launch floating windows from a variety of new locations: by double-clicking on the topic title in the viewer/editor’s header; by ALT-clicking on a bookmark; or by ALT-double-clicking in a Go To dialog window or on a node in the Navigator (CT’s visual browser of topics). The other improvement that stands out for me is the adding of a number of Copy functions to the floating window’s context menu. My favourite is the “Copy as URL,” which allows you to paste links to CT topics into external applications (e.g. WorkFlowy) and then launch them from there.
Since October 2013 I have been using PhraseExpander Pro v. 3, and then v. 4, on a daily basis. (I have discussed the reasons for switching to PhraseExpander before here, and I also mentioned some crucial improvements to its algorithm here.) PhraseExpander has become an essential part of my writing setup, and not only because it is triggered by every single keystroke I type (though that is an important part of it). I use its SmartComplete feature not only to reduce the amount of repetitive typing, but also to help me remember long strings of coding (e.g. the HMTL code for inserting images or highlighting text in Gingko) and the aliases for anonymised people and organisations in my research.
In this post I just wanted to point out an improvement that was released in today’s version of PhraseExpander and which greatly improves the way it works in browsers. In previous versions the SmartComplete box would need to be manually positioned, and it would be stuck in the same position, regardless which part of the browser you were writing in. But in v. 126.96.36.199 now the SmartComplete box pops up right by the cursor, which makes it a great deal easier to use in a browser. This will be extremely useful when writing in an online service such as Gingko app, where different cards reside in different parts of the browser. Below is a screenshot of PhraseExpander’s SmartComplete box displayed by the cursor in Gingko in Firefox. I also tried it in Chrome, and it works the same. See the rest of the latest changes to PhraseExpander here. P.S. In the meantime I have discovered a number of other important benefits to the new handling of browsers in PhraseExpander. Now the SmartComplete box is displayed correctly in Chrome apps as well (i.e. standalone Chrome applications that can run offline), such as the one for WorkFlowy, which I use daily. Also, it can now be used more easily with Google Sheets and Google Docs, and to write emails in browser-based email services.
Just for the record, I thought I’d repost my comment here that I’ve just left on Christian Tietze’s blog concerning on how I go about outlining and writing on the back of Zettelkasten notes these days.
My latest process flow on Windows 7 for academic writing, using 3 monitors, so some of this software could be viewed simultaneously:
1) read the literature (usually PDF articles or books);
2) take reading notes (mainly quotes + interpretation) in ConnectedText as Zettelkasten;
3) use VUE to develop a concept map to make sense of the material, while reviewing the CT notes in floating windows (i.e. multiple notes can be viewed simultaneously);
4) develop an outline for the paper in a Freeplane mind map, building on the VUE concept map and adding hyperlinks to selected quotes and notes in ConnectedText, so they can be easily called up when writing about a given point;
5) write in plain text using Markdown in WriteMonkey (distraction-free writing software), while checking off nodes in the Freeplane outline as they get written up, and paste in raw EndNote code for academic references, where necessary;
6) paste draft into Outline 4D (single-pane outliner with inline notes) and reverse outline it, i.e. add a heading to each paragraph to see the overall logical structure and content of the paper, and edit it accordingly to improve coherence, eliminate redundancy etc.
7) Import into MS Word, do final editing, add final headings, table of contents, and convert raw EndNote code into formatted references and bibliography.
My blog stats tell me that there is a steady stream of visitors looking for Natara Bonsai, ever since the main download site has disappeared a few months ago. It seems that there is still at least one site where Bonsai 5 Desktop Edition can be downloaded from (and there may very well be some others out there). I don’t know whether this site is legitimate, so download anything at your own risk, and make sure you scan the file for viruses. However, I know of at least one reader who has done so, and he sounded happy. Here is the link: http://188.8.131.52/Bonsai/Download.cfm. It seems to be some sort of a mirror of the original site, as it looks identical. If you do not have a license, you could try to contact the administrator of the Natara blog to find out if it is still possible to purchase one.
Natara Bonsai is one of my old time favourites. While there are some other capable outliners out there, when I need to analyse textual data in long and complex lists, none are as easy and fast to use as Bonsai. The last version I have is v. 5.0.3 Build 3233. I run it on a Win 7, 64-bit machine, and it works perfectly.
Christian Tietze has started a page collecting the various software tools available for the implementation of the Zettelkasten method of note-taking, storage and retrieval. He is inviting contributions for suggestions and reviews. Access it here: Zettelkasten Note Archive Software.
Recently I have developed a reading note-taking process with ConnectedText that follows the Zettelkasten method more closely and is an alternative to the note-taking process with Freeplane that I have described earlier. The main difference is that the earlier method with Freeplane produced one large mind map that contained all the reading notes in a single document and which tried to capture the inherent outline (logical hierarchy) of a book’s argument, while this new method produces many small index cards with quotes and notes, which nonetheless can be assembled into an overall outline at the end, to reproduce the overarching flow of the original text’s argument. The main advantage of this latter process is that it results in bite-size chunks of texts that can be connected and reassembled in many other ways, thus providing more versatility and ease of use during the analysis and synthesis stage, and throughout the life the Zettelkasten.
Here is my process flow (when reading a book in PDF format):
- I read the PDF document.
- I copy and paste interesting passages into NoteTab (plain text editor) to fix the line breaks with CTRL+J and use CT’s markup to preserve formatting (mainly italics and superscript for footnotes), if required.
- I paste in the quote into a new “date topic” in CT. Date topics are CT documents with some special properties. E.g. they are prefixed automatically with the date and time of the creation of the topic and allow the topics to be listed in chronological order in the “Topic list” pane. Before starting to take notes for a section of the book (e.g. a chapter), I create a dedicated template (a plain text document) for that section. CT remembers the last template used, which means that whenever I create a new topic, I don’t need to worry about selecting the template again. The template contains all the major fields of a reading note you’d expect, such headings for “Quote,” “My comment,” “Bibliographic reference,” link to page in the PDF file, and “Categories.” The reference is already marked up with CT’s “attribute” tags, which allows for automatically gathering topics with the same attributes. In the “Categories” I would include any labels (tags) that will pertain to all the notes within that particular chapter (including the chapter’s title and the author’s name). I also set up a phrase with the “author date” format in PhraseExpander, so that when I create a new topic, I won’t need to retype that bit again. Here is the sub-process for creating a new date topic in CT:
- click on the “new topic” button in CT.
- click on the “add current date/time” icon in the “new topic” dialog box.
- start typing author’s name and select phrase from PhraseExpander’s pop-up, e.g. “Smith 2013″
- type a descriptive title for the quote. The final topic title will look something like this:
29/04/2014 10:34 Smith 2013 definition of scientific method
- click “OK” to create new CT date topic.
- paste in the quote from NoteTab.
- Add any comments, such as interpretations or ideas triggered by the quote.
- Use yellow and pink colour to highlight any crucial sentences in the quote (optional).
- Add the page number for the PDF page link (to be able to go back to the source page with one click).
- Add labels (tags) in the Categories section to characterise and categorise the quote.
- After having finished reading a chapter, I drag and drop all the newly created date topics into a CT outline file (.cto) I created for the whole book, and organise them into a hierarchical structure, thus recreating the underlying logical structure for the chapter’s argument (and gradually for the whole book). This is the process and mechanism that replaces the single Freeplane mind map with the previously described method. Should I still wish to see this outline as a mind map, I can export it into Freeplane, where each outline item would be a node, and each node would have a link that leads to the quote in CT, thus acting as a virtual dual-pane mind map/outliner.
In recent months I have decided to implement the Zettelkasten approach to taking reading notes a bit more rigorously than I did in the past, by which I mean that I started taking individual bite-size (index-card type) notes, rather than keeping all notes pertaining to a book or article within a single document. I created a separate database in ConnectedText (my Zettelkasten software) for this, which I named “Quotes.” I also created another database called “Notes” for my own ideas, which I intended to keep separate from “Quotes.” My main reasoning was that I wanted to keep “Quotes” ‘pure’ as a reading notes database, rather than contaminate it by a type of notes that were of a different provenance.
This dualism didn’t matter much until just recently, as I was almost exclusively taking reading notes, which allowed me to record my own associated comments, without the need to start populating the “Notes” database. You could say that I did not have any “original” ideas of my own to record. However, just today I had an idea, which, although inspired by my reading of a book, I thought was an original thought worthy of recording on its own. And then it dawned on me that I do not need to put that note into a separate database. I can just consider it a special type of a “reading note,” the author of which is me. Rather than recording it separately, I can just add my own name as an author in the Categories field, so that I can filter those, if needed. Otherwise there are all kinds of benefits to keeping it together with my other reading notes. For example, they can be searched together or grouped together thematically. And there is no need to be switching between databases.
I realise this may not sound like a very profound realisation that should merit its own blog post, but for some reason I found it a relief that I could reduce the number of databases for my notes. I still have my old “Readings” database, which is based on the principle of collecting all notes per publication in a single CT document. But since I’ve started using the index card approach, I had not felt the need to create another “Readings” entry. I suspect that one day I may break those up into index cards as well and merge them with the “Quotes” database (which I should really rename to “Quotes and Thoughts”).
How do you deal with quotes and your own thoughts? Do you keep them in the same database or in separate databases? Do you keep quotes and your comments about them in the same note or in separate ones? And why?