How would you use TB for a Masters Degree?

I’m currently doing a masters degree and am wondering how one might use TB for essays. and research?

I’m currently undertaking a lot of research, most through online college resources plus books. I need to save useful prices of text with source info. Lots of information is in PDFs.

Can all this be thrown in a TB and read quoted, cited and be written into a final document?

It all depends on how you normally process data, and work.

Tinderbox is a great big open environment that encourages experimentation with your growing project corpus, while discovering and building structure.

That said, there are a couple other apps you can use alongside to fully leverage the “collections of PDFs -to- text extracts” aspect you refer to.

I would start on the forum. Plenty of great threads here. Also scroll through the video tutorials (linked here on the forum). @satikusala‘s done many excellent tutorials, there’s definitely a few on working with pdf sources, not to mention Tinderbox tricks to track and display citations and so on, for when you’re ready to publish.

At the very least for now, you could toss a few Notes on a Map or Outline, and start structuring your project plan - nothing to be afraid of as you can undo or re-structure with ease (keep backups, especially just prior to trying new tricks!). You can link Tinderbox Notes to external source files or URLs while you expand on your ideas in Tinderbox. You can track chapter-page-reference numbers in User Attributes.
Keep building and finding structure in your Notes, link and nest and sort them, build Agents to narrow your focus as needed or to extract and append knowledge, and more. Certain things can be automated, others can go out and scrape data from the web. Quite a few good possibilities, and all depends on how you like to learn and work.

I might suggest bringing your thoughts - and perhaps a couple of example files - to one of our meetups; pretty sure you’ll step away enlightened (and a little bedazzled).

Hope this helps. Good luck on your journey!


@archurhh gave you great suggestions! I wrote something about the way I use Tinderbox to write journals (1), organize these ones with attributes ($Created, $Modified, $Tags…) and plan my researches activities (2):

(1): Tinderbox Meetup - Sunday, May 7, 2023: Connect with Sönke Ahrens live, the author of How to Take Smart Notes - #6 by dominiquerenauld

(2): Tinderbox Meetup April 23, 2023 Video: On ZettelKasten with Sascha Fast from - #8 by dominiquerenauld


You don’t say what your field of study is. Different fields might require different approaches.

My own experience of doing a PhD in social psychology some fifteen years ago was that I needed a suite of tools to do the work. A lot of my collecting was done using Bookends, I stored much material in DEVONthink, and I did my writing in Scrivener. I had to take a lot of photographs of handwritten journals and transcribe them, for which Scrivener’s split screen was useful, and storing the photos in DEVONthink proved a good solution.

Had I been doing an MSc in chemistry or an MBA, I imagine my approach could have been rather different.

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I agree with @MartinBoycott-Brown: the details of field and topic matter a lot.

In addition, the Masters likely isn’t the end. There are requirements for the degree, which matter a lot. But there’s also publication before the degree, which can be nice. And publication after the thesis, which can be nice in different ways. And there’s the “good of the field”, too.

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My Masters is in applied theology.

I come from a completely non-religious background, so I’m afraid I have no idea what might be involved in the field. You might have to enlighten us further as to the requirements for your masters.

My MSc in psychology involved writing a lot of reports in the standard format for an article as found in the most prominent journals in the field. We then had to complete a research project, which in my case involved getting a lot of people to complete a “Q sort” task for the analysis of which I had to use a statistical software package that I barely understood, and certainly don’t understand any longer.

Tinderbox might well have been useful at various stages in doing my degree, as it involved gathering a lot of information, deciding what was useful and what was not, and fitting the pieces together. I spent a lot of time with scraps of paper carefully positioned on the floor, each with some quote, piece of information, reference, or whatever – and trying to work out how they contributed to what I was trying to do at the time, and what order they should be in. Nowadays there are more tools for doing something similar digitally, but the “floor and pieces of paper” methodology is not wholly redundant, I believe.

A good reference manager can be a very valuable tool. Make sure you have a look at Bookends, Zotero, and a few others.

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As a practical example I recommend this video where the author demonstrates her workflow - in political science, but you may be able to draw some inspirations from it nevertheless. Good luck!


@eastgate wrote:

And publication after the thesis, which can be nice in different ways.

That’s the reason why it seems essential to me to keep a research journal and write down in it, on the fly, every piece of idea that could become a part of future writings even if, at the time, it seems not to be important or significative. There is, here, an “afterwardsness” effect to take into consideration and that’s why journaling with Tinderbox is unrivaled: “What? Is that really what I wrote about it three years ago?”


adding to the good points above.

Masters’ dissertations vary in length/form but can contain all of the structural complexity of a PhD, albeit in a shorter document.

The think all too many students (and their advisors) overlook is whether the awarding organisation has a defined format for the dissertation. Be prepared for the fact that such guidance will likely be out-of-date or incomplete, but it’s a start. Importantly, you can gauge whether your chosen writing tool/method can generate the required format. Figuring where/how you will do your writing affects what/how you use upstream tools. Don’t assume (ahead of knowing) that a single tool can do everything in preparing your thesis. The different tools in this pace exist with good reason.

Make friends with your reference manager—or pick one and use it—as setting that up correctly will save much proofing time close to submission. Both free (e.g. Zotero, Mendeley, etc.) and pay-for (Bookends, etc.) are available; free is not always better but we all have different budgets, plus getting an RM you enjoy using trumps cost, IMO (it will be your friend for a long while. I’ve learned to never trust citation info from papers until I’ve cited it at publication source; even primary publishers don’t proof the citation. IOW, getting a reference into your RM, is only part of the process. From experience, I learned that a little time at initial ingestion to the RM saves hassle later: e.g. checking, my RM (Bookends) library now has c.20 queries just to spot/fix poor source citation data. I think this is more easily done in an RM than in Tinderbox, given the two are easily interlinked.

Where you store and annotate reference documents is very personal. As a starter, a tool like DEVONthink can be very useful for storing/managing digital sources (e.g. PDFs, etc.). Such tools and some RMs (e.g. DEVONthink, Bookends, etc.) offer pseudo protocols allowing you to use web-like links to call info from one research app from another (e.g. from the Displayed Attributes table or $Text in your Tinderbox notes). For apps that don’t offer a pseudo-protocol take a look at Hookmark as a means of making resources linkable.

Which gets us to Tinderbox. If you store/magange research assets and citations outisde Tinderbox the interlinking opportunities mean that you can concentrate on note-taking and analytic thought, the the other information a click/link away and without filing your TBX doc with. Whether or not you write directly from Tinderbox, it becomes your place to think (and journal) your progress/insights.

Likely not an issue in your field but also note any requirements for submitting background data for the dissertation—you supervisor or org’s library can likely help on that. Pertinent here insofar as it might affect your choice/arrangement of apps. In some fields also consider aspects of ethics, anonymising source, etc. and their constraint if any on your tools & process. IOW, you might not be able to keep all you notes in one document, though Tinderbox has a pseudo-protocol so you can still interlink docs if forced to segment your work.

Note, a number of the pay-for apps here offer good discounts in Summer/ End of year (lat June /late Dec) sale of artisanal software. The summer one approaches and can be a time to make you academic tool budget stretch a bit further.

Circling back, I’d look at how—if at all—the final submission format impacts where/how you write and thus how that relates to your citations data, annotations and general note taking. Specialist deep apps, well connected, can be much more productive than a single app even if that seems counter-intuitive.

Last thought, work in this space is highly personal , even if using the same tools. Don’t assume someone else’s process—however impressive—is an immediate fit for your style. Forcing oneself into another’s process, on the untested assumption of gain, can be disappointing. Think through such a process and the needed tools/expertise/approach you don’t have before rushing to adopt a method. Even if not fully adopted, others’ processes can still provide good ideas—borrow liberally!

Best of luck with the dissertation.


As everyone has noted, you can find a complete list of videos here: Mastering Tinderbox: Training Videos (Complete List).

If you’d like, DM me, and let’s set up a call. I’d be happy to walk you through the fundamentals. Some key concepts to keep in mind:

  1. Tinderbox is not just a note-taking tool; it is a thinking tool
  2. Embrace attributes; try to build your idea down to their essence, with the $Text being the nucleus of a topic idea and the attributes of the electronics
  3. Learn to leverage prototypes and action code so that TBX does the repetitive work for you
  4. Don’t be afraid of templates; they’re your friend. Make an effort to learn HTML and CSS and how to build action code into your templates.
  5. IMO, don’t embed images or PDF files in TBX; keep these outside of Tinderbox and pull them in via HTML calls.
  6. Embrace your reference manager and use tools like Pandoc to link them together.
  7. Embrce “incremental formalization,” let your data and your thinking evolve
  8. As much as possible, separate your content from structure and appearance; you can use action code and templates to dynamically provide you with structure and appearance at the time you need it.
  9. Consider embracing other helpful tools and your work evolves, my preferred suite it: Text Expander, Hazel, DevonThink, Pandoc, ChatGPT, TextSniper, SnagIt, Zotero, BBedit, Grammarly, Hookmark, iTerm, Keyboard Maestro, Alfred, Drafts, Action Code
  10. Follow the 5Cs: collection, curation, creation, collaboration, contribution (contribution is the byproduct of you value)
  11. Leverage the community (you’ve already started with this, good job!)

I am currently writing a master’s thesis for a degree in Theology and Religious Studies (Qumran lament scrolls). While I am still learning how to use TB, and probably only use 10% of its potenital, I have used it with reasonable succes (if I may say so) to prepare and do research for papers.

I often use it as a brainstorming tool ( like mind-mapping), to outline papers and to prepare for exams. It also works great for literature reviews and comparative analysis. I make a note for each separate book/article, then for key concepts of each book/article (with citations, not whole PDFs) which I then connect to one another with keywords (e.g. pneumatology, materiality, etc.). Connecting each note (or “thought”) to at least one other note and playing around with different views, helps me to see how writers/concepts/ideas relate to one another.


Not a Master’s Thesis, but here’s my working map for sketching a recent conference paper.

In the (comparatively brief) course of development, what I thought would be the centerpiece (this discussion of chalkboards, bottom-center) was somewhat shunted aside by an unexpected detour into Ruskin’s aesthetics (center). There remains a tension between abstract expressionism (upper right) and how it might influence tools for thought (upper right) and an undeveloped argument starting from Louis Sullivan’s decorated surfaces (lower right).

Note too my habitual left-hand sections on Things To Do, and Sources To Read, alongside some notes on Sketchnotes that likely belong in some other paper.


That’s really helpful, thank you, especially with the screenshot. It’s always insightful to see how others tackle a task.

I like this map, not only for its content, but because it clearly shows that despite all the hype generated for apps whose initials are O, R, L, etc., there is nothing like Tinderbox to do this kind of development and working out of complex problems.