DT/DN for College - Calling all DT Ninjas - I need your opin

I’m attempting to find the most efficient way to set up my workflow with DN/DT for my college classes. I’m an undergrad student so I have a mix of Math, Science, Humanities etc.

My sole computer is a MacBook Pro Laptop and the programs that I currently use in my productivity work flow are:

OmniFocus/ Omni Outliner / OmniGraffle
MindMap Pro
NeoOffice (OpenOffice) / Scrivner
Gmail - Gdocs - Greader

If any experienced DN/DT users here have experiences they’d like to share, proposed workflows/templates etc. It would be much appreciated.

Thank You

An awfully broad question. I managed to get through college and grad school with none of those tools (heck, the closest thing to a laptop at the time as an Apple //c) so it can be done :wink:

But IMO DEVONthink is great for taking notes and collecting data (PDFs, web pages, RTF documents, etc.,) And you can mostly keep “to do” lists inside of it.

You could use OmniFocus in conjunction with it, if you really need to track deadlines and lists of “to do” items. But, really, when I was in college I don’t remember such a need for “to do” lists. I didn’t need to make a list that told me I needed to study, and I didn’t need to track what I needed to study, because that information was typically provided in all the syllabi.

What I probably would do today, because it worked for me, is take notes for classes that required tons of reading in DEVONthink. Instead of using a highlighter, I’d actually type key stuff into DTP that I could review later more quickly, instead of having to crack the book again. But that’s just me – if I don’t take special measures when reading history, economics, etc., I tend to have my mind wander and miss stuff.

As far as math and science… the book is your best reference, and what your test questions will be based on, so I just don’t see how Mind Map Pro or anything from Omni Group could help with that. Go to class (#1 most important!), do the homework, UNDERSTAND the material (I used to do the homework again as prep for the test), and that’s better than a bag of tools on a computer. Frankly, even though I work for a computer company, I’m not convinced that they improve learning one bit where core subject matter is concerned. They are good productivity tools, but I’m not convinced they’re good learning tools… or at least that they’re better than the “old fashioned” way of doing things. And your schedule in college is not all the complicated compared to the “real world.” :slight_smile:

Thanks for the insightful and thoughtful replies. You guys are right though - I was pretty broad in my original question. Let me clarify a little: I’m returning to school to start my undergrad at the age of 30 after traveling the world for 10+ yrs. My intent is to obtain my PhD and teach so I have a different goal for my undergrad survey courses - I’m already collecting material for use as teaching aids as well as trying to assimilate lg amts of material clipped from the web and collected .pdf’s, and assign it a place within a nested dir structure as well as My class notes, assignments etc.

I guess I should just be asking how you would use DN/DT for the described purposes above

Thanks Again

I am over 30 and at Uni to become an MD and I use DTPO to keep track of all the files I get, but I do keep separate DBs for all organisational and private stuff.
I also use OmniFocus to keep track of all the stuff I need to do and with assignments and a dissertation next to all the private stuff, the investment was well worth it.

First of all, I would suggest skipping DN and go for the DT/DEVONagent bundle. You’ll want to archive PDF files, which DN cannot handle, and DA is an excellent online research tool that can pass its results directly to DT. I’m pretty sure that there is an educational discount on this bundle, which will help your budget.

Also missing from your resources list is a bibliography application-you’ll want one, especially if you are going to graduate and post-graduate school in the future. I used EndNote for years and later switched to Sente. Bookends also gets great reviews, and I’d pick Sente or Bookends over EndNote given where the applications are today. Also, Mellel is an excellent word processor for academic writing that integrates either Sente or Bookends nicely within the program. Perhaps your most important tool in graduate and post-graduate work will be your word processor/bibliography program, so spend a little time and money here to find a combination you will be comfortable with. I don’t know if you can get there with OpenOffice as I have never used it myself.

As for organization of your material within DT, I’d recommend that you avoid the temptation to file everything in folders organized by class. That is, if you are researching a topic for Science 101, don’t dump everything in a folder named “Science 101”. Instead, organize by topic area so that the database will continue to inform your research and thinking long after you have finished Science 101. It’s OK to have a “Science 101” folder, but make sure that the data is also replicated/tagged elsewhere organized by topic.

Finally, as you look for tips and techniques here on this forum, look for ideas on how others use DT/DA for research. Bill D, as one example, has shared many ideas on how he incorporates technology to conduct research, which is exactly what you will want to do as a student. Good luck!

Congratulations on your decision to return to your education. My adoption of DT was prompted by a professor in my graduate program and I have used it and DevonAgent since 2007. I agree with the other suggestions and also recommend Sente from Third Street Software to manage bibliographic data and citation. While it works with Mellel, Word 2008 implementation is frankly better.
Integrate DT into all of the work you are producing across these platforms to the extent that is possible.

I use DevonThink Pro and Sente. There’s a good trick for using Sente to manage notes on books. Sente will link an indivdual reference to, among other things, RTF files. Keep a “stationery pad” RTF document on your desktop. Each time you want to take notes on a new reference, drop that document onto the reference in Sente.

If you’ve set Sente to manage attachments, it’ll creat a new copy of the RTF file, name it with the book title (or author/date, or whatever you choose) and store it in its attachments folder (~/documents/Sente by default).

Now all you do is ask DevonThink to index that folder. Lo: your notes are accessible in Sente, indexed and searchable in DT, editable in whatever you choose (I use Bean for that sort of stuff) and everything is always in sync. Sweet.

If you’re in this for a longish haul, I’d spring for DT Pro Office and a scanner. That’s what I’m about to do, simply for this good workflow:

(1) Find book in library

(2) Photocopy relevant pages

(3) Scan photocopied pages into DevonThink

You now have text/pdf files you can do what you want with. Very handy.

Good tools now will save you hours and hours later. And advice to avoid: don’t do what I have done and always be on the lookout for a “better” tool. Find a powerful one that works, and stick with it. Nothing does everything and very often the things you think you really want are not things you really need, or things you can do “manually” with a few minutes’ work.

Here’s my ideal academic setup

DevonThink - Omniscient Repository
Skim - marking up/viewing PDFs (better than Preview for extracting snippets by highlighting them.)
Sente - bibliographical management
Tinderbox (For general planning, structuring, working out what you think)
Scrivener (For drafting)
Word 2004 (For final polishing – HORRID app and if it weren’t for the colaborative nature of a lot of what I do, I’d be on Mellel or Nisus like a shot. But alas the rest of the world uses Word.)

A pricey bundle, true, but for an undergraduate/postgraduate trajectory of 6 years it comes to less than the price of a beer a week. Not a lot, in context.

For me it’s:
Office 2008 (for those that won’t learn)

I didn’t buy it all in one go, but DTPO/DA and Mellel with Bookends are worth the cash.

I use:

Mail.app + mail tags + mail act-on

I’ve only got two useful tips for using DT in an academic environment. The first one is one that I picked up from another tutorial[1]:

  1. Don’t keep the full text of documents in DT.
  2. Keep a note titled with every definable term, concept, definition, theory, etc. In each of these notes I collect definitions of concepts that I come across as I read (and each definition is accompanied by a \cite back to the source document reference in BibDesk).

Some of these files are quite long because the definition of some concepts has shifted over time. I don’t just put in formal definitions, I put in instances where an author has commented on the importance of a term or the term’s relationship to something else.

And then I turn on wikilinks.

I import everything as plain text (or maybe rich text if it’s really, really necessary). No PDFs, no word documents, etc. Because of the wikilinks I am able to quickly identify all the parts of the article that contain information I should already know (because they’re heavily wikilinked). When I’m done reading I copy all the passages that contribute something new to my understanding of the topic into the appropriate definitions file and then delete the full text (though, I do save the original PDF, etc somewhere else just in case!)

This system took me a couple of years to settle on but since I started using it I’ve found DT to be even more invaluable for supporting learning and research because it emphasizes relationships and discrete paragraph-length units of knowledge rather than large corpuses of information like articles and books. (Basically, I use it as a memory aid rather than a library-building tool)

[1]: http://www.stevenberlinjohnson.com/movabletype/archives/000230.html – this article is the biggest reason I invested in DT in the first place!



I wanted to extend a sincere thank you to everyone who took time to give me such great advice. I’m currently mining the DT forums for posts [Bill D - you have your own Folder :slight_smile: ] that will help me set up my research environment.

At the moment, I’ve started my 1st DTPO 2.0 database and using DA have brought in about 400 files, mostly RTFD’s of Web Clippings, Scholarly Journal PDFs and a ragged assortment of flotsam & Jetsam. Now, I’ve been doing my homework on the forums but I still have a few questions I’m hoping you guys might have some input on:

  1. Is RTFD better than a Web Archive or HTML for Webclipping purposes?

  2. How do I use See Also, Links, Replicating Grouping and Classify to their maximum potential in this scenario:
    -database set up for Humanities Research
    -History Folder has a “+ People” folder and an “events” folder

…that’s about as far as Ive gotten. I seem to sense a theme in the forum that there’s a technique of making DT’s powerful AI work for you and moving away for nested directory structures - I’m wondering how best to do this for my History Research now that I have a sizable amount of files to work with and a few snowy weeks before its time to head back to Uni.

Thanks in advance for all your help here. I’m beyond excited about the p[possibilities this software suite presents


I feel that what matters here is your requirements for the webclipping.

I do keep a lot of webpages and websites and personally I keep them as HTML. With this format what is actually in your database is the text of the HTML page, when you open it then it locates the images on the web and puts them in for display. It is just the same as the webpage on the web really which does the same thing. The dissadvantage with this is that if the person who maintains that website online deletes an image or something then you won’t be able to access it any more.

If the images of the websites and other graphic elements are important to you then keep it as a Web Archive for this will copy all of the webpage to your computer and so you will actually have the pictures and graphics locally.

An RTFD is an editable file, so if you want to take something from a webpage and use it as the basis for creating something else then RTFD might the way to go. RTFD will keep images locally like a Web Archive. However complicated webpages can translate very badly into RTFD so I only use that option for very simple webpages.

You can edit WebArchive files as well, at least to remove items such as ads and such.

Ok. I’m missing something. Could someone describe how to locate the posts by Bill D?

I’ve run a search but am not getting any hits. (I realize I’m missing something very, very, basic.)

Thanks for helping,


Just click on his name in any thread he posts in (shouldn’t be hard to find). That’ll take you to his profile. Then click “View user’s posts” or something similar.

Here: Bill DeVille’s Posts. Be sure to wait a few seconds on each page, or else you’ll get an error for “flooding” the search mechanism.