Tinderbox Forum

Where do you put your reading notes?

The open-ended question: where do you put your reading notes? Tinderbox? DEVONthink? Some place else?

  • Do you take notes on open-ended reading? Reading you do “just because”?
  • Is your reading project-focused? Do you read with the intention of producing a specific outcome, whether it’s writing an article or book, or creating a project plan?
  • Do you put your notes in different places, depending on how you’ll use them? Perhaps one Tinderbox file per book, or a project-specific Tinderbox file, or a general reading notes Tinderbox file?

Straight into Tinderbox, whenever possible.

For concerted research projects, like my recent book-length review of narrative automata, I build dedicated Tinderbox project documents. Each of these begins with a Prototypes container (with its own tab), a Notes container (also with at least an outline tab, often with both a map and an outline tab), a Sources container, and a Dashboard container.

For random reading, notes generally go into my weblog document.

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Do these ever draw on notes from other documents / previous projects? If so, how do you handle that?

Do they always get published?

For me, it’s per project TBXs. I too generally add some pre-structure (prototypes, etc.) - but only do so from long Tinderbox experience. Initially, I added the structure as I went along because I didn’t then know what was needed. But that was no bother, because Tinderbox is so forgiving of incremental formalisation - add stuff when you need it.

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Same question as I posed to Mark… do you ever re-use / re-purpose notes from a previous project, and if so how do you handle it?

Do these ever draw on notes from other documents / previous projects? If so, how do you handle that?

I sometimes copy and paste notes from sources and bibliographies to a new project. I frequently borrow Dashboard widgets and adapt them to the new environment rather than starting from scratch.

Do [weblog notes] always get published?

Not always. I used, for example, to have a container for incendiary rebuttals of some of my colleagues’ bad ideas, and these could remain hidden indefinitely. I’ve another container of research ideas, many of them incomplete or simply cockamamie. I eventually post notes on most books, but I seldom post notes about papers these days.

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No, but only due to lack of overlap. However, I do re-use prototypes, templates and data export strategies.

I’m probably a bad sample case as I’m a big-picture person whereas I think the norm is for a more linear approach. Thus to a casual reader my notes would likely seem scatter-dash as they’re really proxies to help keep all the mental plates spinning. I’m not sure I’ve explained that very well. I also live with the guilt that mine is a slightly transgressive approach and I should be keeping more fulsome and orderly notes. I’m regularly impressed by the note-taking of others!


I struggle taking notes on a laptop when I’m reading. It breaks the flow and I get distracted.

I realized I needed a digital flow that fit my life long habit of taking notes on a legal pad, whether book or lecture or medical literature. So I started scanning my hand written notes, then opening them side by side with a TBX text window and retyping the notes. Now I’m using an iPad and GoodNotes with the Apple Pencil much of the time, but I still like my fountain pens and paper, with the option of just photographing the page.

I’ve always found that reprocessing written notes into TBX is a good way to make sure I understood the text at the time and consolidating my understanding. The notes either are added to an ongoing project or become the start of something new. Tinderbox always catches me up because I can’t group select notes by drawing a box around them. Mouse button down and dragging moves the map. I can’t drag notes into a new document because when a note hits the edge of the map, the map scrolls. Cutting and pasting works fine, so sometimes I’ll start a new project by collecting notes in a container and copying them into a new Tinderbox Document.


Yes, me too. (Similarly: typing up a digest or precis of an interview or meeting later in the same day when it took place, to reinforce what you heard and understood, and didn’t.)


I have a file dedicated to my reading notes and a big file that I launch with an Alfred shortcut which is very practical, as I can use it in the way I enter a task in Omnifocus: there, I write down every on-the-fly idea and, each time it’s possible, I link my note to an Endnote reference. Regarding particularly my reading notes, most of the time, I don’t take notes directly on my computer when I read a book, especially since I have to wear glasses.


I use TBX an exploratory intermediary between the data bucket of DT and … wherever my notes are going. I use the movement from one app to the other to refine and rethink.

I use DT as an inbox because I typically take notes on an iPad and phone as I read. I save them to a general inbox and later sit down ad sort them into areas where I expect to use them. I teach, so it’s classes mainly, but I’ll create ad hoc files or categories within files for what I’m reading at the moment. Oh, for an iPad version of TBX …

For a small writing project like a blog post, I’ll start with the raw note in DT, export it to Ulysses for markdown formatting, and publish to a blog, making refinements on the way from note to Ulysses to blog post. With each move, I re-consider where the note is going, what I’m doing with it, and tailor content. Once the post is published, I’ll bookmark it I’m DT with a link to the original note. As Mark B points out, storage is cheap. Links are even cheaper - although cognitively expensive. The original note remains in DT, but I now have a variant.

For a major writing project - a course (I consider teaching a face to face course a writing project), the draft of a paper or presentation - I’ll move notes from DT into a course-specific TBX file. Drag and drop. As others on this forum seem to do, I revise notes that I move into TBX to check my understanding of what I’ve read. I use TBX map view to organize and conceptualize the course and weekly sessions. Some maps become class presentations, although I rarely find the time to fashion these into stand-alone work. They stand as documents apart from what I have collected in DT, even it they are unfinished.

I use DT to collect and TBX to gather and organize. DT is a commonplace book - an Ur-Notebook. TBX becomes a way to circulate Work in Progress beyond the blog post.

In creating these TBX maps, I’ll typically draw from a wide set of DT files and categories - dragging stuff from afar that seems to fit to see how it might. DT search, concordance, and see also help locate these notes. I’ll also tap into DevonAgent at this point to look for connections Out There.

Yes. I either use Tinderbox as a blank slate for creating original work – a hub for writing papers, etc., – or I use Tinderbox as a place to funnel notes originating elsewhere.

“Elsewhere” usually means annotations created with DEVONthink (laptop) or LiquidText (iPad). Annotations I make in DEVONthink are usually individual files that I drag into Tinderbox with relevant links.

Recently I have been using MarginNote more frequently because I can combine multiple documents in multiple electronic formats into a single MarginNote notebook and take notes cross-referencing all the documents in that “notebook”.

Not to derail this thread, but I’m wondering if you might say more about MarginNote vs. LiquidText @PaulWalters. I just bought an iPad Pro mostly because I’ve become very enamored of LiquidText and wanted more room to work (and also because the Macbook Pros are simply too expensive for what they are). MarginNote looks similar, but with a Mac app and maybe more polished UI, with a heftier price tag.

@derekvan Hope you don’t mind – but I answered this in a new, separate thread.

I generally keep things separated by project or subject area.

DevonThink is my main repository for book notes. I have a dedicated folder for each book or (substantive) journal article. Inside each folder is a rtf template file where I write a review of the book, mark any action points or followup etc that needs to be written and so on. I keep the the same template for each book I read. I’ll also include contextual information on the book, a PDF file if it exists, as well as any kindle clippings or annotations.

Tinderbox for me is the place where I go to think. So I’ll have a separate project-specific TBX file where I store notes and thoughts and ongoing maps of understanding. There will often be a certain amount of overlap between DTPO and TBX, therefore, but by the point where I’m using Tinderbox I’m usually working to a specific project or outcome, so I don’t mind the overlap. I need TBX’s flexibility for organising my knowledge and my notes so that I’m ready to start writing.


Alex – do you drag / import any of your DEVONthink notes into your Tinderbox project files? Or link back to DEVONthink and / or other sources from Tinderbox?


I don’t do any dragging between the two (in either direction). I do very frequently make source links in a TBX document (i.e. so I can click in a TBX note and jump straight back to the page where the quote is from etc).

I have struggled to use Tinderbox for reading notes, because I’ve always thought of my reading as pretty open-ended… so reading notes for me aren’t much different from day-to-day notes, they just happen to be informed / inspired by the book I’m reading.

That said… I’m going to experiment with a different approach. As I mentioned in another post, I benefit from using Tinderbox in contexts with a clear objective.

So… I’ll try to treat reading a book as a project, with the goal of producing my own writing based on that book. Maybe it’s a short summary, maybe a condensed version of the book, or a collection of documents… who knows at this point. But I can see value in using Tinderbox for my reading, as long as I have an objective in mind and don’t treat it as open-ended.

(I’m sure there’s a lot of value to be gained in using Tinderbox for open-ended things too, I just can’t wrap my brain around it yet :slight_smile: )


Yes! I generally use Tinderbox for something specific rather than for storage or long-term knowledge development.


It depends on how I use them, but my go to application for general note taking is Sublime. I place all my general note files in a Sublime project. Sublime has three or four add-on packages that provide support for various flavors of markdown. I also have it set up to support quick document generation by using a simple build routine that takes the markdown and pushes it through pandoc to the output of my choice. It is currently set up for MS Word. All heading levels are maintained in the word file which can be a real time saver. Search is super fast. Perhaps this build process could be replicated in Tinderbox?