Steven Berlin Johnson talks in this much cited article about his research workflow using DevonThink. In short, he advocates for creating 50-500 word focused text snippets from your research readings and placing them in DevonThink for future use. Reason: short, focused snippets allows DevonThink's "See Also" AI feature to come up with many overlooked associations between your snippets. These associations allow you to get a much more in-depth use of your previously read research that you may have forgotten about or never made a link to on your own.

My question: is it worth the effort? Is the pain of accumulating enough 50-500 word snippets in DevonThink during research worth the gain you receive from it in the writing process? Converting previously-read articles to 50-500 word snippets can be very time consuming. And the effort required to create a DevonThink snippet database large enough to make the "See Also" function useful is a substantial investment.

Has anyone used both Johnson’s DevonThink workflow and another database applicaton with standard search features? Can you offer a comparison? Are the associations and “new leads” that are uncovered using Johnson’s DevonThink 50-500 word snippet technique worth the effort? Or will you get, for example, 80-90% of the same results just using whole articles dumped into Evernote, EagleFiler etc and relying on its built-in search functions when retrieving research ideas? Are these two research techniques comparable or entirely different in their results? If so, how?

  • One comment I've found that addresses this situation: why does splitting up longer documents help? The answer is written here by Willam J. Turkel:
    – ckib16
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 20:14

1 Answer 1


I've never heard of wasting so much time doing it that way. But it is not uncommon to write a single paragraph, and then create a series of short one or two line MRUs (Motivation Reaction Unit) lines from it.

This method is used a lot in mysteries so you do not overlook clues, or use them, or a description of something more than once. Or to prevent redundant descriptions of a scene.

When I am compiling my research notes, I often write a list of keywords or short sentences to glance over quickly for what I'm looking for. The programs I use now let me link the notes to the articles, so if I forget what my note meant, I can click on it and it takes me to the article. I often have several links to the same article to cover all facets of what it contained.

VTY Dutch

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