Why I Don't Keep a Notebook

UNTIL twelve years ago my wife and I kept in notebooks the quotations, notes, thoughts, and ideas that we wanted to save. Since then we have discovered a method of filing that has proved to be superior. We file valuable bits of information on 4- by 6-inch slips of paper or cards. . .

-A practicing physician and surgeon in Battle Creek, Michigan at the time this article was written

UNTIL twelve years ago my wife and I kept in notebooks the quotations, notes, thoughts, and ideas that we wanted to save. Since then we have discovered a method of filing that has proved to be superior. We file valuable bits of information on 4- by 6-inch slips of paper or cards.

Bishop Gerald Kennedy in his book His Word Through Preaching wrote, "Keep a notebook in which you can jot down the idea, the quotation, or the illustration that you discover. If it can be clipped, so much the better." Quoted by C. M. Mellor in The Ministry, April, 1971, p. 36. His suggestion to jot down these things and save clippings for future use is excellent.

If you are a notebook keeper, you may have tried to find an apt illustration or stimulating thought that you jotted down a year ago. Did you find it quickly? Did you find it at all?

There are ways to classify material in notebooks, such as listing the contents on the front cover. But what a complicated task to classify a notebook full of hundreds of miscellaneous jottings.

Use of 4-by-6-inch Cards or Sheets

We keep our notes on 4-by-6- inch papers or cards because they save us time, effort, space, and expense. Not only that, they are easy to carry in pocket or purse.

Economy of time is important. You save time by jotting each idea on a separate slip of paper or card. As soon as you have written the information, file it according to subject. Finding the material within moments months or years later will be simple.

Instead of a bulky notebook, you can carry blank 4-by-6-inch papers or cards with you in your Bible, quarterly, or songbook. You might prefer a pad of paper carried in a suit-coat pocket or a purse.

Economy of space is provided by this system. To begin your file, buy a metal recipe file box and keep it atop your desk. We out grew the file boxes, having acquired a dozen of them. Now we use them for research and specific projects. A cardboard shoe box served well for years. Most shoe boxes are six inches wide, four inches high, and 12 1/2 inches long. You'll be surprised how much you can file in one shoe box.

Steelmaster card drawers 14 inches deep, either single or double, may be purchased in stationers and dime stores. Double drawers are more economical. As your needs for space increase, you can stack the double drawers atop each other on your desk or buy a special stand for them.

Outgrowing this, you will find that an eight-double-drawer cabinet will serve you for many years. Each suspension drawer is 2? inches deep.

Never Be Without

The mechanics of beginning and maintaining this system is not difficult. Always have a good supply of paper at home, and never be without a few sheets no matter where you go. You may see a thought in a magazine in the barber shop or a catchy slogan at the airport, which you will forget before you get home unless it is written down. A remark overheard in the supermarket may give you an idea for a talk. Jot it down on the spot or as soon as convenient on one of your 4-by-6-inch papers.

On a tour of the pyramids in Cairo I recorded facts that the guide gave. In Zurich I wrote down some inscriptions from Zwingli's monument. I have made sketches of various types of people at the Madras and Bombay air ports while waiting for a plane. An incident that happened to our family on a plane leaving Frank fort for Berlin made an excellent illustration for a sermon later on. At the New Gallery Centre, London, notes I took from a sermon made good reference material for a sermon in India. Notes jotted while attending a scientific course in New York, benefited a patient in the operating room thousands of miles away. Walking through the narrow streets of Jerusalem, I put down my impressions. These notes are in my file.

If your notes require more than one piece of paper, staple the sheets together. Carry a small stapler when you go on trips.

Be sure your notes are legible, so that they will be readable and of value when they are "cold." Possibly someone else may want to use them and should be able to read them.


To find just what you want later, classify your notes accurately. In capital letters in the upper left corner of your notes, write the topic under which you plan to file the material. If you subdivide the subject, add the subhead in lower-case letters as, "SECOND COMING---Preparation," and "HEALTHFUL LIVING--Smoking." A second subdivision may be necessary. For example, "Smoking" can be divided further into "Advertising," "Effects," "Five- Day Plan," "Quitting," et cetera. Your heading would appear like this: "HEALTHFUL LIVING Smoking Five-Day Plan." Instead of underlining you may prefer to letter the last division in red or some other color. When you are ready to file, you know exactly where it goes.

0n the right side of the paper or below the heading, record the source of the information: magazine or book title, page, date of publication, and author. Include also the date you copied it. This information enhances the value the material, lending authenticity when quoted in a sermon or article.

You may want to preserve printed material in magazines and newspapers. After clipping statements, news notes, and illustrations, paste them on the slips, again being sure to label them properly. In recording the source, include the author, volume, and page of scientific and other authoritative information.

Index Tab Cards

Index tab cards are, of course, necessary to properly classify the material. One-, two-, three-, and five-cut tab cards may be used. For main topics use the one- or two-cut cards, typing or neatly lettering the subjects in capital letters with a black or blue, fine- point, felt-tip pen. Colored lettering colored tabs may be used to set off the main divisions. The difference in color may be supply colored tab cards or colored gummed tab paper, which you glue to the tab.

For subheads use the 3-cut tab cards. If you wish further sub divisions, use the 5-cut cards. However, these tabs are so small that you must letter the captions accordingly. You may prefer the 3-cut tab cards instead of the five-cut card making the second sub division on the same card as "HEALTHFUL LIVING—Water— External Use." Use a different color tab for clearer identification.

You may wish to make your own tab cards. One way is to attach plain or colored plastic tabs onto 4-by-6-inch index cards. Type or letter the subject on the small insert and slip it into the tab. We have used and at times still use homemade tab cards cut from stiff advertising material that constitutes some of my junk mail. If you prefer, you can make your own colored tab cards from three-or four-ply colored poster board, which you can purchase from any art supply store. Trace double, triple, or fifth cuts, whichever you need, then cut them out with scissors.

Discarded 8 1/2-by-11-inch Manila folders will provide eight tab cards per folder.

When you begin your filing system, classify the material you already have, not what you anticipate. Add other categories as you collect material. We haven't found it practical to make a classification for material we may. someday acquire.

How to Begin

To begin, classify according to general topics. As the need arises, divide into more useful divisions. Some people are satisfied with a general classification of a topic, others prefer further sub divisions.

You might file everything you now have on the subject of health under "HEALTHFUL LIVING." We, perhaps, have more occasion to speak or write on health subjects, so "HEALTHFUL LIVING" in our file is broken down into about 32 subdivisions, such as Abstemiousness, Air, Appetite—controlled, Appetite—uncontrolled, Beverages, Body Temple, and so on. "Beverages," for instance, is at present just one general category, but someday we shall subdivide it to include "Beverages—caffeinated," "—carbonated," "—alcoholic," et cetera. Someday we may relabel the topics to make the file still more useful. Your needs will dictate how much to include in a general category and when to add subdivisions.

For my wife and me to keep notebooks has proved impractical. We have found the 4-by-6-inch on-the-spot method of note taking and immediate filing to be a time and space saver, and most satisfactory. You, too, may find it to be superior. Try it!

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-A practicing physician and surgeon in Battle Creek, Michigan at the time this article was written

July 1973

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