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As ideas occur real-time, traditionally (pre computer age) people would typically record thoughts/ideas/research in the order they occurred, and then come back and pull out similar veins of thought as they rewrote or reorganized their notes. Some have used separate notebooks or sections sections of a notebook for separate topics.

Today, I am sure there are different methods emerging that take advantage of modern technology and other organizational schemas to categorize things. Stack Exchange uses tags because they are a handy way of grouping similar threads of information which can easily be grouped and searched by keyword/tag.

The question I would like to ask, is if there are any methods of "advanced tagging" which could be utilized within a simple text editor or word processor? To use a practical example, I have typed and/or gathered incomplete thoughts into a word processor (information gathering) that are not in any particular order, and it's likely that several of those thoughts could fit into multiple sections. If there are 100 pages of information, it would be inefficient to cutting and paste thoughts one by one into what seems to be the most relevant section, as the organizational schema could morph as information is processed/incorporated, and a single statement or thought could fit into several categories. I think what I am really asking is if there is a particular organizational approach I can take to organizing a tagging system or recording where a particular thought might fit in.

I am looking for something content agnostic if possible, and am not looking to built a complex relational database... just a system that could be applied to my "information gathering document".

Help to refine this question (via edits or commentary), without changing the intent, would be appreciated.

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What kind of information? References? What about to-do items, next actions, that type of information? What do you do with this file of "incomplete thoughts"? Do you process it into usable information? Or is it just data? What's the goal? – Raystafarian Jun 23 '14 at 12:20
Good questions. The information is all for one "project", and contains all kinds of organizational information. Eventually a to-do list will be needed after everything is compiled and sorted, so perhaps Emacs Org-Mode would work. The goal is to end up with a working document that is a cross between a design and reference document. I think this is in the realm of project management, but I don't have a background. I was thinking that tagging things in a more organized way would help sort the data make it easier to reference as goals and action items are formulated. – Dallas Jun 25 '14 at 0:28
This does sound like Project Management, you need a PM methodology. Check out – Raystafarian Jun 25 '14 at 12:50

3 Answers 3

Emacs Org-Mode
(You might not want to try this if you don't like computers.)

I won't tell you all about emacs and org-mode, because that's a horribly deep rabbit hole, but I can give you some pointers.

Emacs org-mode, along with remember-mode (what you need), allows you to take notes in the same way you think of them.

It allows you to tag information, as well as make todo's out of them in a single key-combination.

Here are some useful links:

Intro to Emacs, Intro to Org-mode and Remember mode

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I have a little background in UNIX/VI, and am reading and checking into org-mode. Thanks for not taking me down the rabbit hole in this question, but it looks like I'll need to at least poke my head in. Looks promising. :) – Dallas Jun 25 '14 at 0:33

I like the lightweight Mac App nvALT, which is a fork of Notational Velocity. The intended workflow is to make it super easy to capture notes by binding a keyboard shortcut to a command that brings up the application and makes it easy to create a new note or search existing notes.

Because the search is so fast, instead of using tags or another taxonomy system I'm able to use simple keyword searching of the content of all my notes to find what I need, and when in doubt I separate thoughts into separate notes, which are stored as separate text files in Dropbox.

Bret's site links to a good nvALT 101 primer if you're interested in learning more.

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Looks interesting but I am running Windows :( – Dallas Jun 25 '14 at 5:44
@Dallas: Resophnotes is said to be very similar to notational velocity and runs on Windows: Also: +1 to keword search instead of tagging. I help this process by adding a "keywords: ..." line to reference files sometimes to add additional keywords that may not be present in the text (e.g. because they are not in the same language or synonyms) – 0x6d64 Jun 28 '14 at 6:58
Another tip for nvAlt/notationalVelocity/ResophNotes: Always chose the setting to have one txt file per note in a folder. This way you can easily edit the notes in another editor, sync them using dropbox, add notes with scripts. I also sync my notes with and use FlickNote on my Android Device (perfomance of the app is great once you buy the premium key and get rid of ads). – 0x6d64 Jun 28 '14 at 7:03

Try PDesk (Was a Windows project manager which synced to the Palm OS; now Back by popular demand, on several OS flavours!) from

I have actually organised a web team and projects over two floors of a building, each of us able to somehow open and edit a single file on a file server. Pdesk is ridiculously simple to look at and use, but works as much for my private life as it did in the workplace. PDesk prioritizes, shows a progress bar and allows unlimited "child" sub-tasks for any task; eg

Pay the rent |Get a job and earn the $400 rent | Get a haircut | See Dad and borrow haircut money | etc

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