mixing groups and files

I would like to try to express my most profound confusion about DevonThink (which I use heavily and love). It has to do with Groups containing both Groups and files.

Somewhere, I believe we have been advised not to do this. That is, our Groups are ideally supposed to contain either subgroups or data files but not both. So the idea is, all data files are supposed to be at the bottom level of the tree.

Meanwhile, I find myself always trying to work in a different way. Let me see if I can explain.

Let’s say I have a People group, containing subgroups (Washington, Adams, Jefferson …). I’ve got dozens of Washington-related files, which naturally go in the Washington group, and so on. But I also want to have a Washington document, my notes on Washington. When I have a thought on Washington, I write it there. Often, of course, I will also want to link to other files, and DT makes it easy to put these links into the document.

But where is this document supposed to be stored? It needs to be at some top level. I want to be able to see the Washington (and Adams and Jefferson etc.) notes documents together, and prominently. You’d think the People group would be a good place.

So let’s say that’s where I put it. Here’s the $64,000 question for the developers. Which View should I use, to see my stuff in a logical format? None of them work, it seems to me.

In the three-pane view, the subgroups show up in the left pane but the documents are invisible there; and in the upper right pane, it’s just the reverse; there’s no pane where you can see both documents and subgroups. In the horizontal and vertical split views, the main pane displays (except when a file is selected) a collection of large icons, which is unwieldly (and ugly).

I know what would be ideal, for my way of working. The Group should also be a document (if that makes any sense). When I select the Washington group in the left pane, the center pane should show the document, with my notes and links, while the contents of the group should be visible in the left pane under the dropdown arrow.

(It’s possible that what I’m looking for is related to what’s being described in a different thread, Outlining in DT Pro the Mori way. I’m not sure. I’d be interested in opinions.)


If I’m making notes about Jefferson, for example, I would tend to place them in the group with other content about Jefferson. My notes become grist for my reference mill.

But if I’m working on a writing project I would create a group for the project. Some of that content would be list outlines that would link to reference materials or notes in other groups, and as well to documents I’m writing as sections of an article. My list outlines serve as an initial topical/section conceptual layout. I’m not a “big-time” outliner type; I use a relatively simple outline to lay out the skeletal structure of an article or project and then start writing.

I use the toolbar List options to create an outline. It’s easy to indent or outdent my outline elements, move them around in different order or add/delete list items. When I’m satisfied with the topical structure of the project I create a new document corresponding to each element of the list, and link from the list items to the corresponding documents. Then my project becomes just “fleshing out” the outline. My list document with links serves as a table of contents as the article or project moves toward completion. As I’m writing I sometimes use state or label cues so that I can glance at the list of documents and see which I’ve finished and which need more work. I rather dislike seeing label colors in my views, but I’ll sometimes label a section I’m having problems completing with a garish color to goad myself to finish that section and remove the label. :slight_smile:

I usually work in the Vertical Split view. I was somewhat amused a few weeks ago when another poster asked why icons are displayed in that view. I had forgotten that could happen, as in Vertical Split I’m accustomed to clicking on the triangles to open or close groups. The advantage of that view to me is two-fold: I like the increased “page” height of the document pane, and I can display both groups and documents as I wish.

Hmm. Why is it amusing? I agree with the poster (or maybe I was the poster). When you click on the triangle, as you say, you can’t help but select the group. At that point, surely you must see the icon display in the main pane, don’t you? (And this is useless and a waste of space, IMO.)

Surely, if your view of choice is the Vertical Split, when you select a Group in the left pane, you would want to see a list in the main pane (as in Mail, or the Finder, etc.). At least as an option?

Bill, thank you, this is an eloquent and detailed description, and it’s very much like what I’m talking about. What I’m missing is: where do you keep these list outlines? Do you keep them in the groups or subgroups with their related documents? Or in a higher level group of their own? Assuming you have a number of them, don’t you want to be able to see them, in a group, or to have prominent access to them?

I haven’t been able to find a place for such list outlines, and a View mode, that allows ready access to them.

Hi, Jim:

I was amused at myself for forgetting that icons will display if one directly selects the group folder icon. (But that’s great for thumbnails of images.)

But as I click on the open/close triangle, I don’t see an icon display (I don’t select the group icon; ergo, no icons).

And the logic of the Vertical Split view fits my work habits, so I like it. :slight_smile:

I normally have 4 view windows open, plus the Search window and perhaps some open document windows. Exposé is great for instantly switching between windows.

Jim, I have a top-level group that contains my projects, articles, etc. as subgroups. Each such subgroup has a descriptive name. I use the Info panel to tell DT Pro not to evaluate these groups for classification purposes. Since DT Pro isn’t examining the contents of these groups for classification purposes, it doesn’t hurt to “mix up” the organizational scheme and mix documents and subgroups within the same group.

So I know where my projects are stored and can quickly scan them.

If I think a finished note or article may be useful in my reference collection I replicate it to an appropriate group.

And while I’m working on a project its own view window is kept open, so it’s always instantly available.


In noting my own work habits with DT Pro, I’m not implying that my procedures are in any sense the best or only procedures that any user might choose. I’ve been using DT/DT Pro for years and have developed some habits with which I’m very comfortable.

But DT Pro is a very flexible environment. If you scan many of the threads on this forum you will find lots variations of user approaches that work well for those users.

And don’t feel imprisoned by a rigid set of organizational rules such as the suggestion that documents and groups shouldn’t be included within a group. If doing precisely such “mixing” gives you a better “grasp” of how you want to work with your information, go ahead. That won’t crash DT Pro and it will still work well for you. I’ve got some groups like that, myself. :slight_smile:

My own databases have never been perfectly organized and they likely never will be. Some groups are pretty well organized, others are very sloppy. I’m continually adding new information, and have neither the time nor the inclination to rigidly structure all my collections. Nevertheless, DT Pro is a joy to use for searches, See Also and so on. I still have remarkably useful access to whatever information I need.

One point I noticed while quickly skimming this thread:

Or the inverse, any document could also be a “group”?

Very often I’d like to create subdocuments related to the parent document and treat that as a single “package”. Apparently that’s a key feature of traditional outliner apps, as little as I know about them.

Creating a DTP group every time I want to keep related documents together isn’t optimal for me. It’s hard to get the rigid hierarchical group structure out of the way when I don’t need it. Hopefully a future version will implement abstractions for easily creating/organizing/navigating more types of non-group relationships between database items. I see that as a key for unlocking more of DTP’s powerful potential that’ll make it an even better information manager for me than it already is.

sjk, a very interesting comment.

Who knows what the future will hold?

Right now, I often create inside a rich text note links to other documents, or even create a “TOC” rich text note just for that purpose. That serves to create a non-group relationship between documents and I use it for a variety of purposes. Either static or Wiki hyperlinks can be used in this way.

Example: Use this approach to tie together a selected reading list for a topic in a syllabus.

Example: Use this approach to lay out the sections and subsections of a project or article, with the list outline elements of this TOC document linked to documents that “flesh out” each topic in the list.

Example: Use this approach to link to endnotes of reference citations in an article.

Thanks. :slight_smile:

Well, we’ve been promised “real” smart groups a few times. Those could be quite useful… if they’re not criteria-crippled like Mail’s smart mailboxes. :wink:

By now most of my wishes for DTP’s future are scattered and buried on this forum (no surprise, that’s fine). Nearly every minor revision fixes or adds something I appreciate, whether or not I’ve explicitly asked for it. That’s been enough to sustain my interest and enthusiasm. I won’t mention other products that I wish developers would throw me an occasional bone for to keep me from seriously considering looking for alternatives. A positive customer/developer loyalty relationship is important for me.

Yep, you’ve described that before.

Sleepy-from-being-up-at-4am-to-watch-World-Cup me isn’t sure what you mean by static links. I see how Wiki links would be handy for this (and I have a few like that), but in general it’s easy to quickly lose track of where they are so I’ve never grown fond of using them. As I’ve mentioned some time ago, I’d like a way to list documents containing wiki links and items which are being linked to. Add that to the list of database management tools that would help me accurately and reliably locate content, say, when exporting and moving it to a different database …

I chose that specific export-move example because I want to split and reorganize a couple old, large, chaotic databases ASAP. But I’m still at a loss how to do it without possibly (and unknowingly) breaking wiki links and duplicate/replicants. There’s no simple way I know of to thoroughly examine the original databases for all those items to guide decisions how and if I want to move them. The alternatives without better “db mgmt” tools seem tediously labor-intensive and error-prone. An export/export of one the database has different before/after stats under Database Properties, I have no clue why, nor methods to help me figure out the diffs. Okay, enough ranting here about those frustrations. Right now a nap would be better. :slight_smile:

I’m new to DT and I just spent half an hour trying to find more or less exactly what this poster was looking for: a way to see both groups and documents in the top-right pane of the three-pane view. So is the take-away from these posts simply that it’s not possible? It sure would be nice. It would make sense, it seems to me, to at least allow the option. That way I could do things like, for example, have a list of items in “books and article notes” that include both single document entries for items that I haven’t taken notes on as well as groups for items that have notes.

Make sense?

It is not posible yet. That’s one of the reasons I don’t use three pane view.

I agree. But for these kind of things I would prefer Jim’s and sjk’s year old suggestion above:
The ability to stack files together under one parent document.


Yes, it’s true that:

  1. The documentation recommends that one not mix documents and groups at the top level of a group; and
  2. The Three Panes view includes only documents in the upper right pane.

But when I start work on a project I create a new group for that project and open it in its own view window, usually in Three Panes.

I start by creating a note at the top level of that group that I’ll use as a working description of the project, and it will stay at the top level of that group. I’ll create subgroups to hold replicants or duplicates of important references and/or notes about them, my drafts in progress, etc. I will continue to use the top level of the group for notes about schedules, To-Do stuff, etc. Those top-level notes and documents may later get filed into a group, or remain at the top level, or be deleted if no longer relevant.

I’ll keep that project group open in its own view for the duration of the project, along with several other open view and document windows. I find that keeping unfinished tasks open helps stimulate me to get back to work on them. :slight_smile:

Although this workflow isn’t identical to the one proposed by cantabrian, it seems to me that it accomplishes much the same thing.