Paper vs. Electronic Note-Taking
Rick Mansfield is a doctoral candidate, collector of print Bibles, frequent blogger, and (his most prestigious credential) an Accordance user. Last week, Rick blogged about wide margin Bibles and talked a little about his method of marking up print Bibles and inscribing notes in the margins. Knowing that Rick is an Accordance user, I left a comment asking him to compare inscribing notes in a print Bible with taking notes in a Bible study program like Accordance. He responded with the admission that (gasp!) he hasn't really used the note-taking features of Accordance, and he invited me to write a guest blog on the subject. Before I'm ready to ask Rick to post anything to his site, I figure I'll post some initial thoughts about electronic note-taking here.
The first thing I want to consider are the advantages and disadvantages of each method of note-taking. In a future post, I'll go into the specifics of note-taking in Accordance.
Portability is one of the primary advantages of scrawling notes in a paper Bible. Sure you can carry a laptop around with you, but it's hard not to look pretentious taking a PowerBook with you to church or synagogue. (Not that I haven't been known to do it, mind you, but I always feel self-conscious when I do!)
Another advantage of scrawling notes in a print Bible is that there is a tactile satisfaction associated with it. Let's face it, there's a certain feel to reading a well-made Bible and writing in the margins with a good pen—a feel which is impossible to duplicate with an LCD screen and a set of keys.
(Incidentally, this is one reason we're not interested in publishing an electronic version of every religious book known to man. There are certain books which translate well into electronic media, and some, such as Louw & Nida's Greek lexicon, which almost seem designed to be used electronically rather than in print. But there are other books which are just meant to be read, and turning the pages of a paper book is still preferable to using a scroll bar.)
Okay, those are the main pros of paper note-taking which I can think of, but there are also several cons.
The first is that ink notes and color highlighters are permanent. When you mark up a verse, those annotations are there every time you read that verse, and at times, your notes can distract from your reading. In my first Bible, I used a simple system of underlining verses of doctrinal importance in black, and application-oriented verses in red. But I soon found that when I read those passages again, my eye was immediately drawn to the underlined portions, and I began to suspect that my previous observations were forever "coloring" my understanding of those verses.
Another disadvantage of written notes and highlights is that they are not easily transferable from one Bible to the next. Notes written in ink are permanent, but Bibles wear out, and when a new Bible is purchased, those previous observations are largely banished to a shelf somewhere, or lost forever if that Bible gets discarded. Then, of course, should you decide to switch to a new translation, your notes don't get carried over. Unless you rewrite your notes in each Bible you purchase, written notes eventually get lost. And if you do copy your notes from one Bible to another, you no longer have room in the new Bible for future annotations.
Finally, the permanence of written annotations makes it difficult to switch to a different mark-up scheme mid-stream. I did this with my second Bible. I got four colored markers and assigned each color a certain theme. I even put a color-code legend in the front. After a while, however, I tired of this system, but switching to a different system seemed like a recipe for confusion.
Taking Notes in Accordance:
Taking notes in Accordance may not offer the tactile satisfaction and portability of paper notes, but it avoids all of the disadvantages just mentioned. Since you can hide your highlighting at any time, and you only need to view your user notes when you want them, it is easy to read the text of the Bible without your previous annotations directing your interpretation of the passage. Because you can create multiple note files and highlight sets, if you want to switch to a different mark-up scheme, or have different notes for different purposes, you can do it easily. And of course, through copy-and-paste, drag-and-drop, and export to text or rtf, it's relatively easy to transfer notes to other documents, other computers, even other Bible programs (though I can't imagine why you would ever want to do that!). Finally, user notes in Accordance are not dependent on a particular translation or Bible text. If you want to view your notes on text-critical issues in parallel with the Message, or your devotional notes in parallel with the Greek Septuagint, you can easily do so.
In a future post, I'll talk a little more specifically about how to do these kinds of things in Accordance; but if you haven't tried the note-taking and highlighting features of Accordance yet, I'd encourage you to take advantage of them.