Circus Ponies Notebooks part III: Organising review notes with Notes Pages

In my previous post on Circus Ponies Notebooks, I kind of glossed over the note pages – because up until that point, I hadn’t used them much. However, they offer a range of useful features that help keep your research notes organised, so in this post I’ll briefly outline how note pages can be used to support your academic note taking, and at the end I’ll also say a little bit about the Cornell note taking pages

Working with outlines

One of the most useful features of the notes pages is the outlining tool. Notes pages are, by default, organised in outlines. This makes it very easy to organise your notes, as you can work with multi level indents and and collapse/ expand your outlines as needed. Here is a screen shot for illustration:
















There are a number of options for adapting your outlines. You can adjust the line spacing between different cells, it’s easy to move cells up or down using drag and drop, CPN can organise children of a parent cell according to a range of criteria, you can make the cell controls invisible if they are indented or empty, and you can also add a check box to a cell or assign it a due date

If you want your cells to contain several paragraphs of text, you can switch to paragraph mode. In paragraph mode, using the enter key will move the cursor to the next line, rather than create a new cell. However, you can also just hold the cmd button down when you press enter in regular mode, for the same result. 


Working with keywords

As I mentioned in my previous post on CPN, this app has a powerful multidex, and one of the features within the multidex is the ‘keywords’ section. The keywords in CPN are extremely useful as they offer you a powerful way of tagging text. First, you set up whatever keywords that are useful for you. For example, I have keywords for the different articles I’m writing, keywords related to different methods (‘discourse analysis’, ‘ethnography’) and keywords for particular theories or concepts (e.g. ‘CHAT’). You can then add specific (either individual or multiple) cells to a given keyword by right clicking on the cell control and selecting ‘add keyword’. In the ‘keywords’ section in the multidex, you will then find a list of all your keywords as well as the cells that have been assigned to them. Here is a screen shot for illustration. If you click on the blue dot (the cell control), you will be directed to the relevant page.  














Linking Cells 

In my previous post, I talked about how you can create a link from selected pieces on a page, to another page in the notebook. When you work with outlines, this option becomes more fine grained as you can create links between different cells, both within the same page, and between different pages. This is a great way of organising notes, for example by linking cells that exemplify a particular phenomena to a ‘parent page/cell’, by linking a rebuttal or a critique to the original article, or by linking articles that refer to or build upon each other. 


Viewing pages side by side 

Wherever you are in CPN, you have the option of opening a particular page in a separate window. This is very useful if you want to view pages side by side, and if you are working out of the keyword overview in the multidex. In that way, the keyword overview stays put while you go back and forth between the different pages and cells that you have tagged with a given keyword. 


Clipping text from CPN to other apps 

With the universal services feature on mac, you can easily clip text from CPN to other apps such as Scrivener, OmniFocus, OmniOutliner or DevonThink. I find this particularly useful for transferring text I need from CPN to Scrivener when I’m writing up my articles. Simply highlight the cell(s) with text you need, go to the services menu, and click on the command you want: 










Cornell note taking pages

Finally, a few words on the Cornell pages. This format is primarily for taking notes during lectures or presentations, and is designed to help you organise and summarise your notes. The page consists of three areas: in the area to the right, you take notes based on what is being said in the lecture. In the area to the left, you add your own comments, questions or keywords. In the area at the bottom, you write up your summary. For more information about this note taking system, see this page on wikipedia. Here is what this looks like in CPN: 
















So, these are just some of the features of CPN, and you can see my previous post as well as this post at Organizing Creativity for more. At the moment, I think CPN is one of the most powerful notebooks for organising research notes on a mac. If you have good tips for how to maximise its potential, please leave a comment below.

Related posts on this blog: 
Academic note taking: Evernote versus Circus Ponies Notebooks
Reviewing literature with Circus Ponies Notebooks 
Circus Ponies Notebook part II: the iPad version

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3 Responses to Circus Ponies Notebooks part III: Organising review notes with Notes Pages

  1. How does CPN compare to Microsoft OneNote?

    • macademise says:

      I haven’t used OneNote enough to really know. I think, if you are working a lot with pages where you want to insert multiple kinds of media/texts, OneNote might be a bit more flexible. But that is a guess on my part. I know that CPN is one of the most frequently cited alternatives to OneNote for mac. Hopefully some other readers can chime in with more details.

  2. I tried all the candidates for my workflow which uses PDFs heavily – many of my documents are original pdfs (like articles), I use DevonThinks Clip to PDF feature etc. I tried all the candidates for my workflow – OneNote, CPN and Curio.
    Regarding working with PDFs OneNote is in no way an alternative if you want to insert pdfs – it cannot even display them. Although CPN is not able to do native pdf annotation with “inline” PDFs you can insert them, select the displayed page and you _can_ annotate although via a mere image editing mode.This is a viable way to handle them.
    Curio does PDF display and annotation in a perfect way. But it costs much more than CPN.
    OneNote does nothing of this, but this is a most requested feature in their forums. If it includes this feature OneNote will be a strong alternative (and free).

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