Gathering, editing and exporting notes?

I’m a new DevonThink user. I am already finding it invaluable for gathering, organising and searching my collection of research assets which I will be using to eventually write an exegesis. I like being able to make notes and links to these various resources. I’m enjoying the interface in DT but find myself lost for a method to view, collect and export all my notes in a logical way? Am I missing something in terms off how to use DT or what it can be used for with regard to the writing process?

I’ve scanned the forums but don’t see an answer I can relate to on this issue other than many references to alternative writing software to use along with DT. Ideally if I can work in the one environment the better I can play with my ideas, notes and resources in a modular, sporadic and hopefully visual way. I have been trying to use TinderBox as a writing tool for that reason in the hope that its map views and various view modes can support my need to take a global view of all my material in one go. This is much like the way I am used to mind-mapping or story-boarding where ideas and notes can be shuffled, grouped and linked visually. But TinderBox for me so far is hard to use (and is ugly) whereas DT feels comfortable by comparison.

Is there a way to view only my notes in DT in the one place (ie hiding the display of imported/linked resources likePDFs etc) but whereby the links and relationships are maintained down to the database resources? If not, perhaps this would be a worthwhile feature; a filtered view of a database to specifically show/organise your own notes at the top level while flagging the resources that they refer to or have been clipped from. I guess this is something like a full featured outliner overlaying DT. Better still, if I could view my notes in this way but also in a visual map like mode I could see myself switching between outline and map views as I write, reorder and associate notes with respect to both other notes and imported resources in my database.

Any comments (thanks in advance)?

I wondered if you have tried to use replicants and the wiki function of Devonthink. This should probably do the trick.

Pascal Venier

Thanks Pascal, that seems to be some of the solution. I can imagine that I would then have a group folder containing only my text notes (and I just realised that perhaps alias and comments in text notes could help the grouping to oocur automatically!?)… but the question remains; how I could then export these grouped separate notes in a sensible format? May be thats where it stops and I would need to manually copy-paste into a single document.

PS. With regard to the second issue I raised in my first post: is it possible that OSX Tiger and widgets might be able to be hooked into DT to provide the map view of my database or a specific group? (BTW, I dont have Tiger) This comes to mind after reading your blog entry on ‘NextAction’. May be thats another thread.

Im using DT standard version. Would DT Pro work better with regard to the issues I have raised?


I did not really understand your first post, and now I am also in doubt whether this is the answer you are looking for: You can export several RTF documents as one RTF document, a very handy feature of DT, no need for manual copy and paste.

This works fine in DT Pro, I do not know about the personal version.


Excellent, I’ll check that out. Its getting better :slight_smile:

Apart from a visual mind-map style view of my thinking (my notes), I suppose what I am hoping for is a friendly way to set up ‘agents’ as they are referred to in Tinderbox that would automatically gather together notes (and any other resource) based on subject, theme or key words in my database.

I wonder if using Spotlight and Automator in OSX Tiger would be a way to do this?


I’ve had the same problem as yours for quite some time, and based on what we read in this forum we are not the only ones. My solution at present is to use DT as a repository of raw materials (call it “information” if you like this word), and other software for organizing, editing, and finalizing my writing.

This is not because DT cannot help me with my own writing – it actually could do that quite well. My problem is that working only in DT has often resulted in dealing with two (or three, or more) versions of the same material. For instance, I could easily end up having an original “raw” document, a pre-edited version of the portion I need for my present task (for instance, a quotation), and the final version (for instance, the paper I’m writing). For me, this is a recipe for confusion: not only searching within DT would produce useless duplicates, but I could easily be tempted to edit the wrong document.

These days I’m using Circus Ponies NoteBook to select and edit the materials needed to compile a reader for students (a sort of anthology, with translations from primary sources and brief annotations). I simply select and copy what I need from DT to NB, and then continue to work in NB. At some point, I will export the whole thing from NB to a wordprocessor, do the final editing, and print the first draft of the reader. From then on, things will go the usual way, with a few cycles of rewriting and reprinting until I’m basically satisfied with what I’ve done.

I guess many DT users would give a sensible suggestion: create a new group in my DT database, call it Student Reader, open it in its own window, and move the materials I need from the main database to that group. But I’ve found that for my purposes, the best metaphor for DT is that of a library, where I would go when needed to find what I’m looking for; I would then borrow the books (= the DT documents) I need and take my own notes in a notebook (= Circus Ponies NB); then I would look at my notes, edit and organize them in a more or less appropriate way, and if everything goes well write my paper (= wordprocessor).

I should emphasize that it doesn’t bother me at all to use three different applications for what might appear to be a single task but is actually a three- (at least) part task. I find the whole process quite smooth, and using three different applications actually helps me to better focus on what I’m doing. Selecting is one thing, organizing/editing is another thing, and making the final version – which involves devising an appropriate layout, choosing fonts and sizes, etc. – is yet another thing. DT helps me a lot in all this, not only in keeping my “library” fairly well organized (I tend to be selective in what I import into DT), but also with its excellent tools for digging in my small mass of materials.

An informative and generous post, thank you. This makes sense in terms of milestones and remaining clear on my progress in the gathering-reflecting-writing cycle. These three parts seem analogous to your three different applications.

On further reflection I think I may be unfairly expecting to have all my needs satisfied in the one environment. I am perhaps seeking the ‘holy grail’ of research and writing tools when in fact the answer doesn’t rest with one software alone. I am probably suffering the symptoms that many research students experience, that is of externalising the task ahead as something far too dependant upon the tools I use rather than just knuckling down - deferring responsibility perhaps?

I will explore this further, although my tools may be different. Right now my answer seems to rest with how I use DevonThink, Tinderbox (and may be OmniOutliner). Final presentation is the least of my concerns compared to generating the writing in a way that is easy to track and easy to export along with the ability to at any point take a bird’s-eye view of the work globally (the visual map view).

I posted a few thoughts on this discussion on my blog which can be found at … g-and.html

Your link leads to an error page saying ‘not found,’ at least it did for me.

Right. It does for me too and I can’t seem to find the page from other pages in your site.


The link worked for me.
I understand using a word processor for final formatting. But can you expand a bit on what capabilities Circus Ponies Notebook gives you that DT doesn’t?

Works now for me too, evidently it’s been fixed.

I was a big NoteTaker user before I got DEVONthink. Now, even though they’ve jammed NoteTaker with an unbelievable number of new and whizbang features, I hardly ever open it and pretty much use DT for everything that I used to do in NT. In the spirit of Brett’s question about Circus Ponies Notebook I am wondering if anyone here has had a similar experience and what uses they might still be finding for their NoteTaker/CPNotebook/notebook metaphor-type software? I just hate to have software for which I paid laying around and not being used, which is currently happening with both NT and CopyWrite for me.


Oh, I can relate to this (about paying for things I no longer use!). I have had a very similar experience, though with me it was CP Notebook. I, like Andrew, had been trying to find the ‘holy grail’ of writing programs and went through some ‘angst’ about how to best utilize these different programs. But I eventually found myself gravitating away from notebook programs as part of my workflow. I too am using DT for just about everything I did in CPN. Unlike other users in this post, I am not comfortable copying and pasting and using different programs to develop my writing projects, and I found CPN’s interface to be somewhat cumbersome and not natural for the way I worked. It just wasn’t working for me and felt redundant and wasteful to keep switching back and forth.

The only use I have at present for my notebook program is in its function as a notebook–for when I go to a seminar or workshop and need to take notes. I use it mostly for its ‘recording’ function, and I then transfer my notes into DT for warehousing.

There are things I miss about CPN, such as its automatic indexing features and extensive keyword capabilities (for which I use the comments field and smart groups in DT–not a true keyword function, but it works enough for me until DT has those features). I also definitely think DT needs to improve its outlining capabilities and other features I’ve mentioned elsewhere which DT has, but has in a rather undeveloped state. All of which would make it an even more effective writing tool.

But I made a decision to commit to (1) simplifying the process, since trying to make it work was taking me away from writing (which is, after all, what I’m really supposed to be doing), and (2) working only in those programs that I felt would keep developing in the direction that best suited my own needs–and that is DT as my warehouse/storage and idea development program, and Mellel as my word processor. To be honest, I haven’t touched CPN in a couple of months. I find DT’s Pro version to fit my needs, and as I experiment and try new things in DT, I find more ways to make things work. I also find it lacking in some areas, but I’m banking that the company will develop and polish those features with future upgrades.

The only other notebook program I presently use at all is Hog Bay Notebook, which I use as a language tool, for foreign language vocabulary lists, simple letter writing, things like that. I’d love to see HBN’s outlining features in DT Pro, but that’s another story!

I think too this is highly individual, according to how people work and what they need to do so. My system is still evolving, but as it does so, it is in the direction of DT Pro as my massive storage AND my writing/project development program. I’m sure there are users for whom DT would not work, and who can better offer solutions regarding CPN and other notebook programs.

Hope this adds to the discussion!


Sorry for mishap with the link! I had initially forgotten to post the blog entry and did it as soon as I realised.

I totally agree with these two points. This is perfectly in tune with my own philosophy.

It would be so nice if DT could offer some mindmapping capability.

I am not totally sure however that I would agree about the comment on keywords. Is it not the case that the DT search functions perfectly meet my needs and seem way better that using keywords per se.



Yes! I’m using Cmap Tools currently because I really like it - and being free doesn’t hurt :slight_smile:

I wonder if it would be possible for the developers (Christian? you reading this, heh) to activate Cmap Tools in a DTPro window and have all the boxes “linkable” and “note-attachable?”

Or am I once again dreaming? But if I’m dreaming, give me a really sexxed-up DTPro version that not only does the above but allows me to build real outlines in the document. Ahhhhh.


I find Circus Ponies Notebook ideal for what I’m doing right now, a student reader. It allows me easily to add or delete selections, do the basic editing, turn the “pages” back and forth, make sure that there’s some consistency among the various selections, and – most important – constantly have an overview of the whole thing, separately from my “library” of materials that I have entrusted to DT. Not to mention the “To Do Items Index”, which in my opinion is one of the greatest features of CP Notebook: it allows me to see in a single page the selections that are ready and those that are not.

As I said earlier, DT could help me to do most or even all of what I’m doing with Notebook. But in this case I like to think of DT as a brick-and-mortar library and of CP Notebook as a paper notebook, and what I need now is just a library and a notebook. If I needed an outliner, I would probably use OmniOutliner, but an outliner is not the best tool for gathering together a student reader, which is basically a “flat” kind of composition. I could also use Hog Bay Notebook, but I find HB Notebook – another excellent application – ideal for storing things with which I do not need to actively interact (e.g., tips on Mac OS X, web pages unrelated to my work or primary interests, etc.).

In sum, I think it’s just a matter of using the tools that make it possible for you to work in your preferred way according to what your doing. Alexandria wisely summarizes this point when she says:

I do like to experiment and often test new software, but I’m not willing to let the software I use change my working method, which I took quite a bit to develop and basically does not depend on one or another application.

Thanks to all for the informative discussion. The division of a big project process into info storage / organizing/ and formatting steps seems quite useful and pretty much reflects my process in my book in progress.

CP Notebook sounds intriguing, and I might actually download the demo and see if I can find a way to use it.

But I think Alexandria and I are thinking along the same lines, and it’s not just because we’re both Oregonians: I, too, would like to simplify my process as much as possible. Admittedly without having tried Notebook, it still seems to me that the organizing (middle) phase of my project could be handled by either Devon or Mellel, whose live outlining feature provides an easy overview and navigation of a large doc (chapter or even book).

I think I might try it in Devon this time and see how it goes. But I do agree that I’d want to do it in a separate Group from the info collection/library, and then display both in separate windows as I write. If that doesn’t work, I’ll dump everything I write in Devon into Mellel and see how that goes. But at this point, I’m gonna try the first two stages (library + organizing) in Devon, and then formatting and footnotes in MS Word, which my coauthor and I already own. That way, when the inevitable Word crashes happen, at least I’ll be backed up in Devon!

Still, I’d love to hear continuing discussion of this process from anyone, anytime – because new tools and versions are appearing all the time, and writing a book drawn from hundreds or even thousands of documents and interviews requires a whole lot of info organizing. (I’d also appreciate hearing from Alex and anyone else how Mellel is working for you, as I’m still considering getting it if we just get too impatient with Word and its quirks.)
Devon has already proved to be a big help and major time saver in my smaller projects, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it’ll work on my book. thanks again for the advice.


let me add my 2¥: I own NoteTaker, CP NoteBook which I do not use - just test from update to update - since more than a year now (DT Pro is several levels better) and I own Mellel, which I use a lot, and I sometimes like working with OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle, as well as NetNewsWire Lite. The application I use most is DT Pro, I cannot live without it: collect data, sort data, search for data; in some cases (translations) produce text.

I use OmniOutliner less since Mellel has an outline pane now, and although it is not yet so comfortable and beautiful as OmniOutliners, I prefer it because I can work on it while writing final texts. So I use OmniOutliner almost exclusively for cooperation with OmniGraffle nowadays, although I could export DT document as OmniOutliner – this would need better Outliner support. The task of OmniGraffle DT will not handle in the future, but see below.

I appreciate DT Pro’s ability to work with RSS feeds, but in that case prefer the specialist NetNewsWire Lite: it shows me updated feeds, and it opens web pages in my browser, where I have better control of the encoding (PLEASE integrate an encoding command for those of us who read websites in different languages, DT Pro is useless as web browser for me). I hope for improvement as regards RSS/Atom feed control and encoding control.

Writing text in Mellel is more fun for me than writing and working on text in DT Pro. So after preparing a topic I usually start from scratch in Mellel, this results in a better, more original text in my opinion. And it looks better.

Mellel will soon ship as XML, so DT should be able to read the text. OmniGraffle will soon ship with SVG-format. I already work a lot with XML, so Ialready suggested a better XML-support in DT-Pro: We should be able to store DTDs, XMLSchemas, CSS files etc. at a certain place, and DT can handle them as well as it handles HTML. Would be great.

Like most people in this thread, I tried a lot of similar and related applications, but now my aim is to get rid of as many of them as possible. It seems that in the near future I can get along with DT Pro, Mellel, and for absolutely different tasks: Graffle and some other apps I did not mention because they are not related.

So DT needs:

  • Support for viewing XML documents (DTD etc, styles)
  • HTML encoding support via menu or contextual menu
  • better handling of outlines as suggested in several posts
  • better text editor capabilities as suggested in several posts

I dream of an export-option for several documents or a group “export as XML” where one can give group names and document names tag values in a text document that can be further polished in an XML-Editor. But that is not urgent.

So far,


This made me smile, because I’ve written elsewhere for these exact capabilities in another forum–Hog Bay’s to be exact. In a long message (at the developer’s request), it basically said the same thing–give me something that gives me the ‘global’ picture of my project, as with a mind map (I have used Nova Mind for such things myself), along with the outlining capability of HBN (or any really good outliner), with the keyword and automatic indexing and linking capabilities of CPN. Allow me to adjust parameters for functions such as printing, better text editing, etc. My perfect writing program.

It seems so many of us have this rather large hole in our process that we need to fill–the development/organizing aspect of developing a project, and we are constantly trying to find the right software to fill it. I envy xuanyingzi and all others who have found a comfortable way to make this work. I still struggle, though less so these days, with making the available software fit my idea development/organization style.

So Brett, from what part of Oregon are you from?? I myself do work with seperate groups in DT. I open what I’m working with as a new window, where I can sort it as I want it, separate from my mass collection, or library as you put it. For example, I have a separate window opened for all my research notes for chapter two of my dissertation, along with a separately opened file (as its own window) to record my development comments on that material. With the fiction project I am working on, I open that as a separate window as well so I can organize that as its own entity. This is working very well for me–the ability to separate out groups and work with them as completely separate entities, while still being within the same program that houses all my research material.

As for Mellel, I don’t think I’m the most sophisticated user of it just yet. I haven’t had time to learn to work with some of its more advanced features, such as working with citations–I just do them manually and use the program Bookends to house my references and create bibliographies. I know you can automate the citation process to a great extent, but to be honest, I just haven’t had the time to learn how to do that. So I’m behind the times in some ways.

What I love about Mellel is the ease with which I can manage my entire dissertation, which continues to swell each day in size, in one file. I use the outline pane extensively, which not only gives me a ‘gestalt’ of my entire project, but enables me to move things around very easily, rename sections, remove them if necessary to another file, etc. It also has a great note system that allows me to create and utilize multiple note systems in the same document.

There are things missing for me with Mellel, like the ability to put my endnotes after a chapter instead of all in a glob at the end of the entire dissertation. That is supposedly changing soon. Like I said earlier, no program does everything I need it to, but I have latched onto the programs that seem to be actively developing in the direction I myself find most useful.

Brett, you might try checking out the Mellel forum to learn more about using the program, since I am rather limited in my knowledge of its full capabilities (as well as deficiencies!). I do know it is marginal in the way it formats documents as Word documents. I think Maria, who posted in this thread, might know more about this, since I’ve seen her post on the Mellel forum as well.

I think this link will get you to Melle’s forum:

Anyway, it’s really gratifying to see other folks writing in threads like this and sharing their ideas in this way! I continue to hope, upon hope!, that DT and other programs like Mellel will continue to develop the capabilities that will make the writing/project development side of things much more workable–true keyword functions, much more advanced outlining, offering some kind of ‘global view’ of the project, etc., etc. Seems like the demand is definitely there! Until then, I suppose we are all out there working out our own combination of ‘right’ programs!

Sorry for the long post!