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News, How-tos, and assorted Views on Accordance Bible Software.

Friday, August 18, 2006  

A Simple Note-Taking Set-Up

This week, I've been talking up the advantages of taking notes in Accordance rather than scrawling them in the margins of a print Bible. Today, I want to get into the nuts and bolts of note-taking in Accordance. Specifically, I want to answer some comments which were left complaining about the way Accordance notes must be edited in a separate Edit window, and suggest a simple window arrangement which will make note-taking easy.

In order to take notes in Accordance, you must first create a user notes file. Each file is capable of having a note for every verse of the Bible, so you don't have to create more than one notes file unless you want multiple note sets for a specific purpose. Once you've created at least one user notes file, you can begin adding notes to it.

A user note must be appended to a specific verse of the Bible, so before you can create a user note, you need to tell Accordance which verse you want to annotate. The easiest way to do this is to click anywhere within the verse in a Bible text pane. Once you've selected a verse to annotate, simply choose Edit User Note from the Selection menu (or use the keyboard shortcut Command-U).

An Edit window will open for the verse you selected, and you can begin typing your note. When you're done, click the Update button and the note you entered will be added to your user notes file. A red dot will also appear next to the verse you selected in the Bible text pane, indicating that there is a note on that verse. You can double-click the red dot to open a User Notes window displaying your note. Or you can add a pane to your Search window displaying your user notes in parallel with the text of the Bible.

Now, in the comments on Tuesday's post, a couple of users complained about having to edit user notes in a separate Edit window, rather than being able to enter them directly in the user notes window, or even in the User Notes pane of the Search window. While I understand the desire for greater simplicity and convenience, I believe we have good reasons for using a separate window for editing user notes.

First, there are technical reasons for using a separate Edit window. Accordance Search, Tools, User Notes, and other windows are designed for searching and displaying finished modules, not editing and adding to them. We might be able to retool those windows to allow for direct editing, but it would be a major undertaking for a relatively minor benefit. Frankly, we have bigger fish to fry when it comes to our development efforts.

Beyond the technical barriers, the real reason we use a separate Edit window for editing user notes is a philosophical one: If we make it too easy to make changes, it becomes too easy to make a mistake.

Imagine for a moment that you have your user notes displayed in a pane of the Search window. You inadvertently click in the notes pane and then begin typing something. You've just changed the text of your notes, quite possibly without realizing it. Even if you do realize it and delete the spurious text right away, you've still made a change, and Accordance would have to prompt you at some point to ask whether you want to save these changes.

All that is to say that we're not likely to abandon the Edit window any time soon. The good news is that most of the complaints people made about using the Edit window can be easily avoided by using the following simple set-up:

Here I have a Search window displaying the text of Genesis 1, with my Study Notes displayed in a parallel pane. To add a note to verse 1, I clicked in it, then hit command-U to open the Edit window, which annoyingly (okay I admit it!) appears on top of my Workspace. So I clicked on the Workspace, then chose Tile Windows from the Arrange submenu of the Window menu (actually, I just used the keyboard shortcut Command-I). Now my Edit window is neatly arranged beside the Bible text and notes. As you can see, I've typed a singularly brilliant note, and I'm ready to move on to the next verse.

Prior to version 7, I would have had to click Update (or use command-S to save), close the Edit window, click in verse 2, and then use command-U to open another Edit window, which would, of course, appear on top my Workspace. That's far too repetitive, and thankfully, there is now a better way. In version 7, I can simply option-click the down arrow button at the bottom left of the Edit window, and Accordance will automatically save my note on verse 1 and create a new note on verse 2, all in the same Edit window.

Note how the pane displaying my Study Notes has been updated to include my singularly brilliant note on Genesis 1:1. With this simple window arrangement, I can see the text I'm commenting on, add my notes in the Edit window, and immediately see each note as I move on to the next one.

Here's another trick. If reality sets in and I realize my note on verse 1 was not as brilliant as I thought, I can make changes to that note simply by clicking in that note in the pane containing my user notes, then start typing. Accordance will automatically open an Edit window and I'll see my changes being made as I type. So you see, you can type directly in the notes pane or User Notes window. It's just that your changes will be made in the Edit window, and you'll need to update your note to see those changes reflected in the notes pane.

While I agree that we could improve the default location of the Edit window, so that it does not cover the existing workspace as much; I think you'll find that once you lay the windows out neatly (using tiling) and take advantage of the new option-click method of adding notes, your note-taking experience will be vastly improved.

This suggestion doesn't work as well for those of us who have several panes in a tab or window. I typically use tabs with 3 panes for NT passages and 4 for OT passages. (None of which are notes panes) With that many panes, tiling windows is not an option. (Accordance tells me I have too many panes to tile).

I can adapt your suggestion, though and arrange the edit window so it only obscures part of my pane. It's more complicated to shift back and forth between windows that way, but it does work. (I rediscovered the Exposé keystrokes today, which should help with switching between windows)

I just purchased Accordance 7 and the tile shortcut does not work. The shortcut is also not listed next to the word on the submenu as other shortcuts are.

With respect to the Tile shortcut, note how I mentioned that I clicked on the Workspace window before using command-I. That's because we made a concession to user requests to be able to use command-I in the Edit window for italics. Thus, whenever the Edit window is active, command-I will not Tile the windows. Neither will it appear beside the Tile windows item in the Window menu. If any window other than an Edit window is active, the command-I shortcut does work as described.

I've been holding off on upgrading to Version 7, but the ability to edit notes with that option-click tip might just be the feature that pushes me over the edge. I have been using the Notes feature extensively over the past several months for the adult Sunday School class I teach -- I'll make my notes in Accordance, then print out a copy of the notes relevant to the portion of text we'll be studying any given Sunday. It's very convenient, and I know I'm only scratching the surface of effectively using Notes.

Ease of use is NOT a little issue. For me, to open a seperate window to jot down a quick note is exactly what keeps me from putting down quick ideas. It's cumbersome and gets in the way of what you're thinking about. It's not intuitive.

Moving all my windows around every time I want to take notes so I can see what's under the edit window is an unnecessary difficulty.

Modeless operation has been a cornerstone of the Mac since 1984. To not take that into consideration is a mistake in my opinion. Many of your reasons for having an Edit mode can be easily overcome. For instance, user notes can be locked (un-editable) in while searching them.

Your solution to the users objection only helps me understand the reason why I find myself so often recording my notes in a different Bible program.

I for one, happen to appreciate the edit window for all of the reasons you've mentioned.


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