Thursday, May 8, 2008

Research and Note-taking Tools

A person on the BibleWorks forum asked what others were doing to take and organize notes as they did research. The person was hoping to do so within the BW7 editor. This would certainly work, but, as the person noted, it would take some forethought about directory structure in order to organize the notes efficiently. There is an effective "Find" feature in BW7 that would allow for later searching. One can also set up notes within Logos, of course, and you can work with those notes more easily by grabbing the free DomiNotez "note enhancer for Libronix."

It is great to have all your Bible-related notes in a single place, but neither of the note taking editors in BW7 or Logos (or any other Bible software program) are well suited for collecting research notes on books or articles. So what else is available? I have previously blogged about bibliographic tools (here and here), but we are interested more here in research and note-taking tools.

My two favorite tools are 1) the combination of Orbis (a free-form text-retrieval system) and Ibidem (the bibliographic database) with NotaBene and 2) Zotero.

Orbis is outstanding and is well structured in connecting notes to their origins and also quite versatile in composing free-standing notes. It basically is creating a textual database with sophisticated search functions. The drawbacks: it will cost you somewhere around $200-400, and it will take a commitment (but potentially a very worthwhile one)to learn how to use NotaBene.

Zotero continues to expand its capabilities, and it is free. Using the Vertov plugin, Zotero can even be used to annotate a wide range of media. I have also noted how to keep Zotero synced across any number of computers using FolderShare. Zotero works great for inserting end/footnotes and for generating bibliographies in MSWord and OpenOffice, and you can even download an addin that formats everything according to the SBL stylesheet. (Read about it here and my observation that it was having trouble adding page numbers. If you install the Zotero Development XPI, it works just fine. This is a one-click installation, so it is easy to do, but note that there are some language restrictions.) The drawbacks: you need to be using Firefox, and there is a little extra work to keep it synced across multiple computers.

So, Zotero is great as a bibliographic tool, but what about its use as a research and note taking tool? Take a look at the graphic below. (Click to expand.)

Books can easily be added through a site like Amazon with all their bibliographic information included. Web articles or pages are easy to add, and one can also add standalone notes. Once the items have been added to your library, you then have multiple ways of organizing and annotating them. You can create Collections to organize the items, and items can be dragged/dropped into multiple collections or subcollections. You can add a note to it or attach any other resource, either online or one located on your computer. You can also add tags which will prove to be useful later in searching. You can also link the item to related items in your library. When it comes to finding / retrieving the info you want, note that you can click on one of your collections and see just those items. You can search using the tags you have applied. You can also use the search box to search your items. Note that this search also includes the full text on the web pages you have in your library! If that isn't enough, there is also an advanced search that uses Boolean operators and searches on any field you choose. It is a pretty amazing tool...

Bottom line: If you are using NotaBene, Orbis and Ibidem are the way to go. Everyone else should really look at Zotero.

I have a couple of bonus options for you in my next post!


  1. Hi,

    I wanted to make a recommendation for Note Software called NoteScribe. It's a great offline note-taking software which I believe contains all of the features that you are looking for. It's easy to arrange notes by categories, sources, or keywords, and with the multi-level format tree, you'll be able to arrange your notes however works best for you. It also has a Global Search Function which will help you locate your notes quickly. We have a source and bibliography generator as well, which I believe would be beneficial to you (as you stated above, it appears you are looking for something like that?).

    For biblical notes, I think it would be really cool because then you could put the source in with the note, and locate things by either category, or by who authored it.

    Zotero is a great program too, I love it. It's perfect for what it does (documenting web bibliography information) and I think it's a great combination with tracking all of my business and school notes with NoteScribe. Of course, I'm biased, but I think it's a great program!

    Give it a try!

    The Premier Note Software

  2. As a pastor I have been using Zotero for keeping a database of my sermon illustrations. It works great I can a stand alone note for text I input or I can photograph webpages to put into Powerpoint presentations. Using the tags allows me to do a subject search for any topic I'm preaching on. I wonder if anyone knows of anything better to attempt to manage sermon illustrations without buying something similar from Logos.

  3. I was tired of losing my notes every time I got a new bible, so I designed a software program that auto-creates note libraries for each book, chapter and verse of the bible with a maximum of 4 mouse clicks. The user interface provides a large note taking area as well as an optional built in browser. This same software also can be used to store (or share) notes on any topic the user wishes. I have made a consumer version of this software, and my site for it contains demo videos as well as a free 30 day trial version: