Thanks @satikusala for these interesting comments. They immediately made me reflect on my own note-taking practices, and the reasons for my initial attraction to Tinderbox.
I have to confess that I didn’t know of the Zettelkasten system, but after reading about it I realised that it encompasses much of what I already do, or have done in the past. What I take from your posting, though, and want to comment on are (1) the importance of fundamental principles, as distinct from particular systems and software packages and (2) the myth of a ‘one size fits all’ solution.
Given the second point one might ask if there’s any value in outlining one’s own approach, if it’s so individual that it’s unlikely to be applicable to anyone else’s situation. That said, if such an account contains even only some elements that others may be able to adapt to their own purposes, then the exercise is justified.
I’ll mention first one method used for my PhD, a study of the literature of the Beat Generation and its social contexts. My aim in this instance was to create databases of fictional and critical references to the concepts and topics I was discussing in my dissertation. Each fictional record, for example, contained the fields Theme, Details, Text and Page Number, Character(s), Location and Comments. At the time I used Bento for the database software, and when that became obsolete I transferred the information to Tap Forms. While reading a book I would insert a sticky note in the appropriate place (so as not to interrupt the reading unduly), then complete the Bento entry at a later stage. This method worked very well for its intended purpose. For example, if I needed to locate all the fictional references to ‘jazz’, I would enter it into the search box and all the relevant records would be selected.
Of course, for other purposes, a different approach is needed. For complex theoretical texts I’ve found that there is no substitute for detailed, sequential notes. I use Apple Pages for this. I would disagree that this method is ineffective, but it all depends on how the task is approached. Some level of analysis is required before anything is written down, that is, a block of text or section of a chapter needs to be read and thought about and the main point(s) clearly identified and summarised. In my experience this leads to a much more thorough understanding of the text than can be obtained simply by reading it. Another benefit is that after a lapse of time the notes can refresh one’s sense of the text without the need to reread the entire book. It’s an easy matter, too, if one wants to quote a particular passage or discuss a particular point to locate the precise reference.
Neither of the above systems copes adequately with a constant problem that is often mentioned: how to manage the countless pieces of information relating to a research project that one comes across in the course of reading. I’ve discovered I’m not alone in trying to remember an elusive detail that suddenly seems pertinent to what I’m writing, and spending hours trawling through websites, PDFs and my print library in a vain effort to track it down. It was this that led me to try Tinderbox.
In recent years my interests have revolved around early modern philosophy, and in particular the translation from Latin into English of various hitherto untranslated texts. The references to concepts, historical events, academic and theological institutions, and the works and views of many often obscure writing can be bewilderingly complex. Tinderbox provides a means of mapping all this material and its interconnections that is not only effective but enjoyable. By this I mean that, rather than just jotting a new piece of information down somewhere, one can always find a suitable Tinderbox note, or if none exists create one within an appropriate container to accommodate it. Being a sucker for nice visuals, I take great pleasure in organising colour schemes and attractive layouts in map view. And while this is not strictly necessary, it helps to keep one motivated in a way that other approaches may not. As a relative novice–I have to say I’m completely out of my depth with most of the technical discussion that occurs in the forum–I’m still using Tinderbox at a fairly basic level, but it’s certainly proved its value. If it’s of any interest, I’m happy to post an outline of the way I’ve set it up, and I’d certainly welcome suggestions as to where to take it next.
I’ve probably strayed a little far from the topic, so I’ll conclude by saying yes, I completely agree that the most important aspect of any method of note taking or organisation of research data is the quality of thought and analysis that goes into assembling and recording the material. No software is a substitute for this vital step, however much it may contribute to its subsequent usefulness. And there are certainly programs I wouldn’t want to be without, not because they are necessarily the best in any absolute sense, but because they complement effectively my particular way of working: apart from Tinderbox, these include Scrivener, Yep, Keep It, Bookends and Mellel.