Cornell notes


I see one thread on Cornell notes concerning tabs etc. I just wanted to post another issue with Cornell notes that I think could be fixed. It was suggested that I post this here by Greg Jones (who graciously helped me out with some other issues in another forum).

When I was writing my thesis, I was taking notes from ancient texts. I use the Cornell notes style. I place the page number and cue in the left column, then the quote or response in the right column. Since I am taking notes from a book in front of me, this allows me to move quickly through by tabbing and typing. I wanted to use the template in DTP but it seems that there is only so much room for notes. The template seems to “run out of room” and allow only a limited number of cues. It would be nice to see this fixed so that there is an unlimited amount of notes you could put on the template.
I ended up using a small program called Notalon which allowed me to save my notes to PDF and import them to DTP. It would be nice however to do all of my work in DTP. If this could be fixed, that would be great. Thanks


We are using an invisible RTF table for the table structure. Simply add more rows to the table.

Adding rows seems to add them below the summary. Messy. Any way to insert rows above the summary?

That’s the behavior of the simple text editor (TextEdit) in OS X.

You can modify a Cornell notes template by adding additional rows in advance.

If you Google ‘Cornell notes’ you will find a variety of samples out there, including at least one that provides multiple rows with lines separating them.

Or you can create your own Cornell notes template in another word processor such as Pages, Word, etc. If you use Pages, it will have the advantage of displaying well in your database, and (if you have Pages on an iOS device), you can also work with such notes on your iPad or iPhone.

Aside: Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate in college, I assiduously underlined or highlighted almost everything I studied in my textbooks and class handouts. Yes, I made A’s, and that is indeed something of an aid in studying. But that approach doesn’t work, of course, when one goes to the library and is reading references - librarians frown on that sort of thing. One learns to take notes, instead.

That was a long time ago. I graduated from high school in 1947, the year Walt Mossberg was born (but for years, he’s looked older than me). In my college undergraduate years there were no computers or scanners, no Xerox machines, no Web or DEVONthink.

Doing library research taught me something very important. To retain information for future study and review, the best approach is to summarize important points in my own words in my notes. I began to change my habits in studying my course textbooks and class handouts, as well. About midway in the first semester of my sophomore year, that change shows up in one of my old college text books. The first several chapters were heaily underlined and highlighted. The remaining chapters are unblemished, because I had switched to keeping a notebook for summarizing and commenting on the information content.

That’s the premise of Cornell notes, that longterm retention of infomation is better served by learning to summarize or excerpt important information in notes, than by vandalizing the original source material. That mental exercise is the important component of this approach, whether or not one uses the simple format of Cornell notes.

Nowadays, my main database that I use for research and writing contains tens of thousands of reference documents and thousands of my own notes. Those original references contain no highlighting or other marks. Indeed, I shudder at the thought of inflicting such blemishes on them. I would no sooner mark them up than use a highlighter on an original copy of the Gutenberg Bible or an Audubon print. :slight_smile:

I use rich text notes, and make heavy use of links to references and other notes. Some of these notes use the Cornell Notes format when that’s appropriate, others (in fact, the majority) do not.

I find highlighting or other markings on my references distracting, and often actually impediments to taking a fresh look at a reference. If, for example, highlighting had been added when one is examining a reference from a particular perspective, it can be a hindrance to looking at that same reference from a different perspective. Of course, adding highlighting druring the first reading of a document can become really misleading if one didn’t properly grok the information - it would be more drudgery to remove bad highlighting than to revise or update a note. As always, these are my personal perspectives; feel free to disagree. :slight_smile:


Thanks for the help. Maybe I will add a ton of lines to the existing template and save it as such, or possibly create a template then import it. I doubt the Notalon (the Cornell notes software I was using) template will import into Devonthink.
I am mixed on highlighting/marking up texts. On one hand, I find highlighting distracting and during a reread one is almost guaranteed to “skim” over the passages that are not highlighted. The highlighting unconsciously drags the eye away from the unhighlighted passages.
On the other hand, taking notes in the margins of a text (that you own), personalizes a book and makes it handy for future reference. I loved the books that my adviser let me borrow from his personal library while I was doing my research. They were all marked in pencil-not too much-not too little, just enough to flush out key points and allow me to gain some insight into the text and my adviser’s thoughts. Mortimer Adler even wrote an essay on marking up books; an interesting read.
As for taking rich text notes in DT, I still have not figured out a good system for this. I’m somewhat confused with the crosslinking and annotation tools in DT. I would love to see something like where when I pull up a pdf, all of the RTF notes taken in reference to that pdf would automatically show in an attached panel. The only way I can see this now (and the way I did it for my thesis), was to have a separate folder for each source, keeping all of the notes and relevant material in that folder along with any original or pdf/text etc.


Hi, RC. I use Name as the ‘glue’ associating primary notes about a particular document. The recent change in naming notes created by the Annotation template better fits my model for associations, by moving the “(Annotation)” part of the note’s Name to the suffix position. In addition to a note created by the Annotation template, I can create as many additional notes as I wish, using for their Names the Name of the target document and an appropriate suffix to that Name.

Thus, within a group, a sort by Name will pull together the target document and the primary notes about it. Similarly, a search by Name will pull together the target document and the primary notes about it.

But I may also refer to that target document in other notes that have different names. In that case, the links themselves will be the Name of that target document, so that an All search based on that Name phrase will also list secondary notes that may be of interest concerning that target document.

Your comment about the marginalia in the books loaned to you by your advisor are interesting. In that context, the penciled notes added value to you. But I think linked notes in my databases provide even more value, as I can not only find the ‘marginalia’ analogs in my databases via the Name associations mentioned above, but actually search directly for their content (terms or phrases) as well.

I’ve got a few rare books, hundreds of years old. I regard myself as only a temporary owner. Were I to make notes in them, I would make them less valuable in the future, as I’m not likely to be regarded as an important person. On the other hand, marginalia entered by a person such as Winston Churchill would make a book more valuable in the future. :slight_smile:

Bill, appreciated great tip on use of Name as ‘glue’! Now I better understand how convenient the annotation template can be. Didn’t entirely follow about links, though: “The links themselves will be the Name of of that target document.” So if you create a link from ‘NoteB’ to target ‘NoteA’, then a search on the Name of ‘NoteA’ automatically will pull up ‘NoteB’ too? Or do you mean you enter the Name of ‘NoteA’ in ‘NoteB’ as anchor text first and then link that?

Not in DEVONthink. However, the (free) RTF editor Bean can be used to insert/delete rows above/below the currently selected row. Other (paid) RTF editors do this also. Most RTF editors are better than the minimal editing functionality available in DEVONthink.

Do you do any sort of tagging, grouping, or any other form of organization to easily distinguish between your notes and the reference documents? By that I mean, are you able to easily look up all the notes that you’ve written pertaining to topic X, and ignore the reference documents for that query?

Hi, padillac. No, not really, as when I do a search I’m generally interested in pulling all related items including both references and notes. I do very little tagging, but I suppose I could have adopted a tag to distinguish my own notes.

Because I use Name as the glue to associate notes to a reference, a Name search for the reference Name (enclosed in quotation marks to denote that exact string) will pull the reference and my primary notes about that reference. DEVONthink’s Lookup Service is convenient; select the Name text string and press the keyboard shortcut, ‘Command-/’ to open a search window with the text string already entered.

Often, there will be other notes that also refer to that reference in their content, often as the UUID link (Edit > Item Link) to it, which displays the document Name as a hyperlink. If I switch to an All search for a reference’s Name (with quotation marks) the search will pull the reference, direct notes about it and all other documents that refer to the reference by Name.

Obviously, this approach works better if references have Names that are unique. If there were multiple references named “Hydrogeology”, for example, my “glue” for associating items would become ambiguous. Fortunately, I rarely encounter this problem and in the rare cases it appears can be resolved by adding to the Name, perhaps with a distinctive subtitle.

Back, finally, to your question as to whether I use groups or tags to pull together my notes about a reference or topic. I don’t start out that way. But if that becomes useful for a project, it’s easy to replicate some or all of the results of a Lookup search to a new group, or even to create a new smart group from the search by clicking on the ‘+’ button to the right of the Search window’s query field.

Bill, thanks for the great tips. So, if I understand correctly, in the source note chose ‘Edit / Copy Item Link.’ Then go to the note about the source note and ‘Edit / Paste’, which will insert a link that includes the name of the source note. Then a search on the name of the source note will list not just the source notes but also notes linked to it in this way. Very handy. I don’t tend to use links much as links per se. But searching on the link name will be useful!


For PDFs, there are also Page Links, which will open the target PDF at the desired page.