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Note-Taking/ Organization

  1. Mar 21, 2013 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm wondering if a certain tool exists for a kind of advanced note-taking of technical material (math, CS, engineering, Physics, etc). Originally, I just wanted to type all my course notes from college into word or possible rewrite them on paper l format. But I thought about it more carefully, and long story short, I concluded that what I really want to do is be able to type hierarchical notes in pdfs. I want to be able to open my digital/PDF version of my notes for a course I took before and initially see what might look like a cheat/formula sheet for a final exam, but under each equation or section, there could be a tab to expand/collapse sections for more detail, and even expandable/collapsible sections within those for maybe further details or examples .. etc, so that in a sense, you'd have a single file of notes that serves as a quick reference, but if you expanded EVERYTHING, it could be as large as 100 pages and be as comprehensive as a terse textbook / lecture notes.

    Does any digital tool like this exist at all? I was ideally hoping i could do this in ## \LaTeX ## if possible, but I'm open to other ideas. Thanks.
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 22, 2013 #2


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    Hey X89codered89X.

    Have you considered using some kind of HTML/Java-script generator where you generate the content that has the normal notes and then has some drop-down functionality that produces the new notes?

    If you were absolutely set on having this, you might want to do some coding and get some open source tools to generate a bulk of the HTML code.

    You would have to provide the indexing/drop down structure in your own add on.

    Maybe you could search for PDF to HTML converters and see if you can hack the extra functionality in yourself.
  4. Mar 22, 2013 #3
    I've been thinking on this for a couple of hours. It's an interesting idea, a single repository for notes that is as versatile as you want would be a cool thing to play around with.

    HTML is a good idea due to the ease of linking multiple documents and sources together, along with the ability to display images.

    X89codered89X, are you on windows, linux, os x? This may alter the tools available to you depending on the type of system. You mentioned PDFs, os x is quite good at handling PDF documents. Just curious.

    I don't know much of anything about database software, but could this be an option for collecting as much information together as you want?
  5. Mar 22, 2013 #4
    chiro: I'm aware that coding may be necessary, but I have limited coding experience and I feel like coding such a thing would be extremely time-consuming for me, possibly more time-consuming than worth, although I'm aware that that this may be my only serious option. I've never used Java-Script and I've also never finished any non-trivial CS/SE project successfully.

    mindheavy: I'll keep HTML in mind. My desktop is what I use 95% of the time and that's win7, but I'm comfortable in linux (mint) which I have on my laptop. Even if OS X is the best at handling PDF's, I'm absolutely terrible at handling OS X so that really isn't an option for me. I feel like PDF's work fine on windows though. The main reason I want PDF's (perhaps this is key which I should have originally included) is that I want to be able to carry my digital notes on my Kindle. The drop-down functionality doesn't have to exist on the kindle however, but I would like the ability to make static/normal PDF's with some sections of the notes open and some sections closed.

    Typing notes for the courses will take enough time as it is, let alone having to invent a tool to do it. It's possible I'll just have to type latex notes for now and maybe wait along until a tool comes along OR I find the time to make the tool myself. The thing is though, "Drop down" functionality is fundamentally useful and I'd be amazed if somehow a tool like this didn't all ready exist.
  6. Mar 23, 2013 #5
    Are you familiar with the Table of Contents feature in PDFs?

    I use OS X and the "Preview" program for viewing PDFs so mine may be different than what you use in Windows. When I bring up the TOC panel, if the PDF is created with a Table of Contents, they will show in that panel, sections, with drop down sections, such as the image included. Is this anything like you're wanting?

    https://dl.dropbox.com/u/15809883/drop.png [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  7. Mar 23, 2013 #6
    This looks interesting. I'm not sure but am I looking at a section of the actual PDF or some software displaying some data it extracts from the PDF's? Because if it's the latter, I don't think it's quite the functionality I'm looking for. On the other hand I'm sure that if software on Macs can view PDF's in such a way, I'm sure there exists some software that can view PDF's this way on Windows as well. That's just a matter of finding the right PDF reader.

    More on what I'm looking at though, could you typeset equations in those tabs and dropdowns?
  8. Mar 23, 2013 #7
    No no, this is just the "Table of Contents" view in my PDF application, it shows the bookmarks in the PDF file. I doubt equations can be typeset in them, as far as I know its plain text.

    What viewer do you use in Windows, theres probably an option under the view menu for "bookmarks" or "table of contents" or something. I will tell you though, not all PDFs have them, I have several that don't have any structure at all, some just list each page as a bookmark, some are formatted nicely as you see above, and some lack any kind of bookmark at all.

    I was able to find an application (for mac) that allows you to edit the table of contents of a PDF file, I made up a quick, few page, test file, and then went in and created a table of contents for it. It worked out well. I do know adobe acrobat (the full suite, not the reader) has this functionality on windows.
  9. Mar 24, 2013 #8
    Mathematica can do this, although it's not free. See if you can get a copy through your school. The program uses the notion of a notebook made up of cells which can be grouped and ungrouped, expanded and collapsed. Of course it can save to PDF also. All this in addition to being a powerful calculation tool which finds use in all areas of science and mathematics. :smile:
  10. Mar 24, 2013 #9

    Dr Transport

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    if you can get onenote from microsoft, you could do exactly what you are looking for.
  11. Mar 26, 2013 #10
    X89codered89X - whats the status? come across anything on this?
  12. Mar 30, 2013 #11
    Actually, I'm really liking the ideas of using OneNote and Mathematica. I'm planning on getting mathematica at some point - funny, I had always dismissed it as an inferior form of MATLAB and I may have to recant. But I actually had MS OneNote this whole time and never knew what it was for. I haven't figured much out yet but I'll post months from now. Over the summer I believe I'll have more time to organize notes and really test out one-note for this. I haven't had much time to mess with it at the moment.
  13. Apr 1, 2013 #12
    You might want to check carefully before you spend your money on Mathematica.

    I believe there are limits on how you can create nested documents.

    You can have one or more Sections and open and close those along with the things inside.
    You can put Subsections inside Sections and open and close those along with the things inside.
    You can put Subsubsections inside Sections and open and close those along with the things inside.
    But I don't believe you can create your own levels or nest your own cells within cells, but you need to know what that means.

    If you can get it to do what you need it to do then that is great.

    If you can find someone who has a copy and a little experience and will let you sit at the keyboard for half an hour while the two of you experiment with what you want then that might be the best way to determine whether it is the solution to your needs.
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2013
  14. Apr 4, 2013 #13
    This may or may not be helpful:

    In Adobe Acrobat Pro it is possible to create links in your document to either open a web page, or navigate instantly to another place in the document.

    How I would set it up is have one front page with formulae or whatever, and set each formula up so if you click on it you will be navigated to an expanded explanation of the topic.

    To make life easier you can also include a "return to top" button on each page.
  15. Jan 5, 2016 #14
    I created a small app simliar to what you wanted (but not in pdf format). It organizes notes hierarchically by using expandable and collapsible panels. It was written in browser-based front-end languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) so that it can run on different platforms, in exchange for performance and user-friendliness. Anyone interested is welcome to get the .apk file and the source codes at

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