academic DTPro: Luhmann-Style wiki-links plus index

After months of trying, I begun to get past the stage of just throwing stuff into the database and get some actual work done with it. therefore, I had to change the way I use DT Pro: As Steve Berlin Johnson noted in his blog, the system seems to work best with smaller text clippings, between 50-500 words. Also, the “signal-to-noise-ratio” can be reduced significantly by hand-picking the database entries. Another reason for this was the idea, that in the last stages of my project I wanted to be able to print everything on index-cards and have my notes in in a certain order, the links between them also being intact. This would also make sure that if I might change the database system one day (may the dear god prevent it), I would not need to re-order everything, or re-enter the links. In network theory, links can be more important than the single entities. But how to link documents with paper?
The solution also turned out to be very effective with WikiLinks:

The system theorist and sociologist Niklas Luhmann had a famous paper based system (“Zettelkasten”), more than 30 years ago, which he mentioned in his writing as a partner in conversation, because it always generated ideas he could not foresee. He described his method of linking the individual files in an interview (here’s the audio , German rm file; plus the pdf text ).

Basically, it was just important to him that the individual files are in any order at all, he does not care for chaos as long as the individual files have individual numbers. Second, he keeped a registry file, which he updated every time he added something to the “database”. A file might have a number like 16.a ; if he later found something to add to this particular thought, he could always append other files, like 16.a1 and the like. In Luhmanns famous system, you would find something like 16.a123.bc.14 - the whole system could become very complex. Luhmann benefited a lot from it, although I bet he would have killed for a mac with DTPro running, back then in 1960.

I implemented something of this in my DTPro Database. I keep several databases, but the one running on this system has turned out to be most valuable for the generation of ideas. As soon as I enter something, the file gets an individual number. Frankly, I do not care much for the logic in this numbers, as I can always link to one file. I always have a (rich) text file open which I use as a register; I enter all relevant keywords I want to remember later together with that number, for example:
Luhmann, Niklas 16.a4, 16.b7, (…)

(I added the # to the index, because the index file becomes huge. Since DTPro does not (yet!) support internal links, I can use the search function with a keystroke, and jump to #Z or #L in my index file)

Because wikilinks are activated, as soon as I hit the save button, the number is magically translated into a working link. When I start working with the database, the index file is open in the main window as well, I can then jump to individual files.

At the beginning of each file, I paste in the individual number as well, after the ^ key. The first characters of each file look always the same, e.g. ^16.a4 TITLE

Benefits: I can link quickly to other documents by just entering their number (I see it on the extra index-file-window). Should I ever want to print (a part) of my documents, I can export them to Mellel and automatically replace the ^ key with a page break. Even if I never print them, the numbers are useful for quick wiki-links, without the terms getting mixed up.

To avoid a long list of numbers, I group files whenever the sub-numbers get too much. The groups get simple names, but the top-level number is set in front, so that the linear order stays intact.
Here’s a sample of the resulting file structure (groups in italics):

14 Health
14.a exercise tips

14.b Diet

14.c time-management

As mentioned before, an index file exists (with several replicants in the database) where I frequently enter new keywords with the number of the files. New files get processed in an “inbox”-group; this is also the place where I transform longer webarchives etc… into smal clippings with my individual comments and links. It has become a habit now, that I enter possible links by just entering file numbers - e.g. “cf. Luhmanns comment in 14.c1”. I know that I can create a link with right-click…, but the number-group system works better for me, maybe because I do not have much time to think about suggestive names while I write - I prefer thinking about ideas, and structures.

For my purposes, it works. The process of linking manually is still work, the same is true for the index file I keep. But I have the feeling, that I have more control over the process that way, and that it helps me to become active in order to remember the information. In the end, I want the computer to help me with my academic work, and that necessarily involves my brain. Besides, I can still use the AIsearch functions - subgrouping the individual files helps a lot for the “classify” and “see also”-functions…

Of course, this system is far from perfect, and it will evolve over time. At the moment, I am still in the phase to enter lots of information, and create lots of links. I’d appreciate any comment, especially if it helps to make the whole process even simpler…

thank you,

1 Like

By the way, as any aspiring academic, I have to work with a lot of paper files, the paperless office being far away. Sometimes I just need the hardcopy to look at any handwritten notes, or the context a quote is in.

As I mentioned in another post, every paper document in my archive folders gets an individual number, too (at the day when I enter the bibliographic info in bookends). this is the reversed date plus a letter; so for today it would be 061119-a , or -a1 , or -z07, depending on how much I manage to file in a day. Usually the letters -a to -z are more than enough.

This number gets written on the paper document, which is then put away. Whenever I read this document again and make a note on it, I use this individual number for reference. In Mellel, I can cite quickly with {061119-a}, p.19, something that Bookends (or any other bibliographic software with cite-while-you-write} will transform into the short title, e.g. Luhmann, Soziale Systeme, p.19.

In DTPro, I usually enter a little bit of bibliographic info (so that I know what I am refering to), but usually only the name of the author and the year plus the number.

Wow. That is Mighty. I’m impressed. I’ll have to come back to your ideas and visit them again when I’m not being chased out the door by an angry deadline. Inspiring (and, honestly, somewhat terrifying at first glance. I mean: “16.a123.bc.14” Yikes. But I can see the potential value.)


thanks to a “hidden feature” of this app, I recently found out that all the work for numbering is not necessary at all: … php?t=5216

In short, there is a faster way to create a link, faster than wiki-style links: In two-pane view, you can drag and drop any file with command+option pressed and then you have a link. I use this feature now instead of the complicated Luhmann-System for automated Wiki-Style links, but I still like the idea to keep an index file and to enhance the value of documents with links.