The most important, most overlooked, most easy and most superlative tool in scripture study: Part 3 (updated)

The most important, most overlooked, most easy and most superlative tool in scripture study: Part 3 (updated) August 17, 2011

(This likely represents my last post here.)

Update- some of the text of this long post disappeared when I first posted it, but it’s been reinserted and set off.

Part 1 of the series and Part 2

My note-taking mechanism consist of two things*:  Evernote and  a pocket notebook. I’ll explain what they are, and how I use them to keep track of all my Church and scripture notes.

Evernote is a free very easy note-taking program. I haven’t used Evernote competitors like MS Onenote,  Simplenote, or Notational Velocity, but since Evernote does some things I really like without problems, Evernote will continue to be where all my notes get stored.


First, Evernote is available on ALL platforms (except Linux, which doesn’t count)- PC, Mac, Android, iOS, blackberry, palm, AND via web access from any browser. I have it on my iMac at home, our crummy “W7 Starter” Asus netbook, and my wife’s ipod touch. I can access, edit, and update my notes from a work computer where I’m not allowed to install software.

Second, because Evernote automatically syncs across all devices and online, you can’t lose your notes, unless all your devices AND your backups (you do have backups, right?) AND Evernote’s servers get destroyed, in which case you probably have bigger problems at hand than your scripture notes for Sunday.

Third, it’s easy to organize, tag, and search. This makes it ideal for storing notes of various kinds and believe me, Evernote has all kinds of usages and capacities beyond what I’ll talk about, including audio, video, pdf, and it will OCR any text in pictures you take and make that searchable too. See their info page, getting started guide,  and blog.

Fourth, did I mention it’s free? And that, though I haven’t done it,  notes and notebooks are shareable with other Evernote users ? You can upgrade to a paid version, but I haven’t seen the need yet.

I’m a pretty basic user, so I don’t know all the ins & outs or even the details of what a paid subscription gets you.

How do I use Evernote?

Put simply, Evernote is where I keep all those notes I was talking about in the previous installments on notetaking (Part 1, Part 2). I’ve now gone through my mission scriptures and other scriptures and copied everything that I wrote in them. All my old scattered collections of quotes, citations, statements, notes on books I’ve read, or talks I’ve heard or meetings I’ve attended etc. are copied in. I still have some random collections here and there to copy in, but Evernote is my go-to for my notes now. One storage location to rule them all means you always know where to go.

Evernote offers three tiers of organization, from Note to Notebook to Notebook grouping (i.e. a collection of Notebooks.) The physical metaphor is that a Note is a page in a Notebook, and multiple related Notebooks can be grouped together on the same “shelf.”

(The following text disappeared from the original post.)

A few of my notebooks:

Church Quotes: my collection of various LDS statements; This was my source for the Quotes of Note posts.

Book Notes: a collection of Notebooks, in which each Notebook (except one) is the title of a book I’ve read. The title of each Note is the page numbers I took the quotes from. For books that don’t generate more than a few lines of notes, I create one Note with the title of the book, and add it to a Notebook in the Book Notes collection called “Assorted Book Notes.” So, it looks like this.

Collection- Book Notes.
Notebooks in that collection- Assorted Book Notes; Art of Biblical Narrative; Lost World of Genesis One; etc.

(For academics trying to write and keep notes, there are other similar things like Zotero, Endnote, or Bookends. These function both as note-taking repositories and citation generators for Word, Pages, Mellel, etc.)

Within a Notebook called Active Notes (things I’ll look at, update, delete on a near-daily basis), I have a note called Sources to Find: Whenever a blog, paper, book, or footnote cites a source that sounds interesting, or I find a good title browsing at the bookstore, I add the reference to this Note. And then I try to find it online or at the library to read for free. Also within this Notebook is Post Ideas, where I jot down all my 1-2 line ideas for blog posts. If I work it up into an actual post, I delete it from the Note.

(End of re-inserted text that disappeared.)

Your entire library or designated parts are searchable by words, tags, titles, date created, etc. Each note can be tagged with multiple tags.  I tend to tag extensively but haphazardly. These, for example, each have their own Note in the Church Quotes Notebook, each tagged with the author’s name, “GA” and “apostle” where appropriate, as well as some kind of thematic tag like “interpretation”, “Genesis” “intellect” etc. Think of tags like a blogpost tag or themed folder, except that you can now have the same piece of paper in multiple folders at once.

I can search on the tags for “Genesis” and “GA” to find relevant GA statements to Genesis, at least, IF I’ve tagged consistently. Otherwise, I open up the Notebook with all my GA quotes and browse the note titles. Generally, I try to give each note a few descriptive subject  tags that don’t duplicate any words in the post.

For scripture notes, there are several potential ways to organize, depending on how many and how detailed your notes are.

1) Create a Notebook for each standard work, then a Note for each book therein. Within each note, write the reference on the left, bold it, and write your notes.

2) Or if you have more than that, create a Note for each chapter with all your verse notes numbered.

3) Or if you have more than that, create a Note for each verse you want notes on (as you go, of course.)

You could also just tag each note with the appropriate references, e.g. “1Ne 3:5” or “Rom 12:1”

Evernote is really flexible, and the important thing is to simply work out an easy system that works well for your needs.  If you spend more time working on your system than actually using it, then something’s wrong.

You can see how Aaron Goodwin uses Evernote to keep his LDS notes.

For LDS Blog afficionados

One other handy feature of Evernote is the brilliant webclipper. This little thing gets installed into your browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari too I think, but browser updates often break the webclipper for a few days). Anything you see in your browser and want to save, you simply highlight, right click, and “Add to Evernote.” This creates a new note with that text/page/image, the complete URL it came from, date, and asks you to provide a title and tags. This is how I save favorite posts, comments, or quotes from the bloggernacle.

What about when I’m away from my computers and the internet? What then?

Borrowing from David Allen of the Getting Things Done  philosophy (or GTD, term which you can find attached to lots of different productivity systems),  I always carry a small lined Moleskine notebook**; in church, on the train, walking around, near my bed. This is my Ubiquitous Capture, as Allen calls it, something you can have everywhere to record whatever you need.

These are not  highly polished, full-sentence thoughts, but creative fragments. Whenever I have something worth recording, it goes in the notebook with the date. It may be an idea about a lesson, scripture, a way of approaching something, a turn of phrase, anything quoteworthy or worth remembering, it goes in. I’ve done a lot of lesson outlines in it, as well as research questions that occur to me, and other things I want to remember. As I read through the scriptures at Church, I jot down things to follow-up on at home, or thoughts and reactions to particular verses. I’ll sometimes write a draft paragraph or two of posts or papers if I feel like I’m in The Zone.  (I also write down To-Do’s that occur to me while on the fly, but that’s a different setup.)

It’s vital that you do the next step. When I get home, I fire up Evernote, and everything I wrote while on the road gets entered in, tagging and organizing accordingly. I then cross it out in the Moleskine so I know it’s been transferred.

Some “do”s and “don’t”s with notebooks.

– Don’t use shorthand to capture your thought, unless it’s well established or you have a key written down somewhere. You won’t remember what it means later and your note will be totally and frustratingly  inscrutable. I have a few things for my book, which I circle on the left side of the page to facilitate seeing breaks. TD means ToDo, for example. CG or CH mean “Check the Greek/Hebrew” here. When I’m done an entry, I draw a line.

– Don’t use spiral pocket notebooks. They get destroyed easily and wreak havoc on pants and shirts because they get caught on pockets so easily.

– Do get in the habit of carrying a little pen or pencil.

The Moleskine has several advantages over a generic notebook, such as a strap to keep it shut, thus preventing page damage, and a bookmark to mark your place.

There’s also a little pocket in the back that can hold things, like cash or  printed 3×5 cards. Here I have some Spanish verb paradigms, a list of Presidents of the Church with dates, and the 10 Commandments.

My model of choice is lined and small enough to fit in my pants pocket, sold in many bookstores for about $10, and lasts a few years, depending on how much you write and how abusive your pockets are. Very handy little thing, fits nicely in my pocket. I’m informed that Moleskine notebooks are trendy things for hipsters and creative types, but they’re so functional I don’t care.

Of course, if you have an ipod or smart phone that’s always with you, some of those tips are completely irrelevant. Just use that.

So, what?

When I need my notes, when I’m trying to remember that one thing, I turn to Evernote, and searching this way or that way, I find what I need. Combined with a Ubiquitous Capture notebook, it’s a great system. Try it.


*Technically, notes that are strictly scriptural go into Bibleworks, which maintains a rich-text file for each chapter and verse, including my LDS scriptures, Koran, and anything else I import. Whenever I open my scriptures to that verse, the notes are there. Because of its focus on original languages and translation, Bibleworks is probably expensive overkill for the average LDS reader who just wants note-taking capacity, but let me know if you buy it.

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