Annotations - multiple separate files for a single source document?

Hi all -

I can’t figure out how to do something that seems like it should be simple.

The ideal workflow would be:

  1. I read a book
  2. I create a single “Source” notecard for the book in Devonthink, with publisher, title, etc for bibliography and citations
  3. Every time I want to take a note on something in the book, I create a separate and new “Annotation”-style file that links back to the Source notecard.
  4. I can then organize the dozens of different notes I’ve made on the book in separate DevonThink folders as I begin to synthesize research. This is crucial, since the notes from a single book often have nothing in common analytically other than that they come from the same source.

But I can’t figure out how to do it. The Annotations feature seems to only allow the creation of one annotation file, which in my workflow could be like dozens of pages long, rendering the organization features of DevonThink almost useless.

Is there something I’m missing? In DevonThink 2 I used a script called “Note on Source”, but I’d much rather use something built-in to DT rather than a 10 year old script that doesn’t quite integrate properly with DT3.

Any suggestions would be immensely appreciated. (And I should note, I did post about this two years ago just as Covid hit, and have been away from this project ever since. :grimacing: Sorry for the “repeat” post, if it qualifies…)


I don’t know of a built-in way to do this (but I may of course be wrong).

I work in the same way:
With PDFs, I use and Export to Devonthink as a folder of files which I keep in a “Notes” subfolder under the relevant article. I run a script on those files to link them back to the original article PDF and metadata like a citekey etc.
With eBooks, I use Readwise, export to markdown, and then have a small applescript to split that single markdown file into separate Devonthink notes, with the same linking back as above.

I then replicate those notes into thematic folders for whatever I’m working on.


Hi, @MichiganUser

There may be 2 major built-in ways to do it:

  1. In-text annotating - use PDF annotation tools. You may highlight, draw, insert any links and post comments in any PDF. All these annotations you can see on any device and app, supporting PDF annotations

  2. External files - use annotation (I use RTF format and a template - you can add a shortcut for this) to hold any external materials (files and groups) connected to this PDF in one annotation. RTF is a nice way to parse links in free text of the annotation (I use a script for converting selected text to the link from the pasteboard). See this annotation as a connection hub for this PDF.

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That is correct and always has been, even since DEVONthink 2.

However, if you add an item link to the body of a note you associate with the original document, that link will appear in the Document > Links: Incoming Links inspector.

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thank you–this is really helpful!

that’s why the “Note on Source” script was a gamechanger in me adopting DevonThink 2 : )

In all seriousness, thank you for clarifying that I’m not missing something. Just to be sure: this Item link workaround would involve starting with a blank note and then inserting a link the underlying biblio card? I get how that captures some of this, but FWIW that misses a big part of the historians notecard workflow: not having to fill in repetitive details about the source on each substantive note card.

Got it – thank you! I like the idea of a connection hub as a way to capture some of the value of the DT2 script, much appreciated

but FWIW that misses a big part of the historians notecard workflow

What is “the historians workflow” ?
Is this your own idea or something actually quantified and taught?

not having to fill in repetitive details about the source on each substantive note card.

There has to be some mechanism for creating the link, whether that’s a link in the content, using tags, grouping things, etc. I just suggested one possibility using item links and the Links inspector. Whether that fits a specific use case or a person’s way of thinking, I cannot say.

Notecard-by-notecard on a single source is a pretty standard humanities research method, per this comment above, and a version of it gets used in a variety of disciplines.

I appreciate that you have identified a partial workaround for people who take this approach–thank you!

(I’m not kidding when i say the reason I adopted DevonThink was as a billion-times-more-analytically-powerful version of the old 3x5 notecard stacks. They’re an incredibly powerful construct for organizing thought.)

If you have a moment, could you open a support ticket for a bit of discussion off to the side? At your leisure and convenience, if you’re so inclined.

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Of course! DevonThink has been completely transformative for my work in the last 10 years, and this is a unbelievably helpful support form, so always happy to chit chat about stuff like this if helpful. Will do now.

(for a possibly-more-concise/intuitive description of the use case, this post summarizes an example of where this approach–with separate but replicable notes–makes a real difference. In any event, no rush–I’ve submitted a ticket and happy to discuss more at your convenience if at all useful!)


See also Zettelkasten and the similar Steven Berlin Johnson discussions on his use of DEVONthink.

Both rely on the idea of atomic notes, notes containing a single idea or argument.

Great discussion. Useful for me as well. Would the Hook app also contribute usefully in this workflow?

I’m starting to leverage in more in other contexts.

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this looks really cool – thanks for flagging it!

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I’m trying to figure out whether it will play with Dropbox and it SEEMS the answer is probably no. I’m definitely going to be moving around my source PDFs in new organizations, and probably renaming at least some of them–and it seems to me that this will mean that when this change is synced (say) from my office computer to my home computer, the hook links will no longer work at my home computer unless I track each one down and manually reconnect them… Hook says they’re working on a way to manage this, I hope they figure it out fast! (Have you had to fight with this at all?)

You’re welcome. Hook is a great app.

ok i’ve played with it for a while and have figured out the dropbox thing AND I AM IN LOVE

seriously this Hook app is so helpful. Thank you thank you again!

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That’s awesome! I’m glad. It is an excellent app. One of those apps that’s worth way more than what you pay for it.

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