PAWDOC: Use of Information

The practice of sidelining text in articles, papers, and books is not uncommon and is something I started doing in the late 1970s – primarily to assist the writing of technical books when I was working at the National Computing Centre. I started to use my PAWDOC filing system in 1981, so, by the late 80s I was aware that a) there were a lot of documents in my filing system that I hadn’t looked at for several years, and b) inside all these documents were a large number of sidelined significant points. I started to think about these points as nuggets of information, some of which perhaps were the bedrock of my developing ideas, but others of which perhaps I had simply forgotten. I wondered also if an explicit examination of all these nuggets might prompt inter-relationships to be identified and new ideas to be developed. I considered this to be a potentially valuable spin-off from all the effort expended in operating a very comprehensive personal filing system. The notion of actually making use of the information that PAWDOC contained instead of having most of it just lie there statically, was very attractive.

Consequently, I looked for some simple and inexpensive tools to try out these ideas, and came across Mind Mapping software on the free disks issued with PC magazines in late 1990s. I started experimenting with one of them but found it was too bitty just pulling nuggets out of the odd paper – I felt I needed a whole set of material to work with. So I created Mind Maps for 19 esoteric books (on subjects such as The Great Pyramid), but found it too difficult to inter-relate the different Mind Maps. That’s as far as I got.

I’m still not sure if there is any merit in explicitly managing nuggets to either just cement them in one’s mind, or to inter-relate them and develop new ideas; and, I must admit, I’ve never done any serious book review to see what other work, if any, has been done on this subject. The retrospective work that Peter Tolmie is planning to do with me may throw a little light on the impact that such nuggets may have had on me – but that’s as far as it goes. My current view is that explicitly managing nuggets is probably not worth doing, and that adding extra tasks to the job of managing a personal filing system may well be the stone that breaks the camel’s back.

Specific questions relating to this aspect are answered below. Note that the status of each answer will fall into one of the following 5 categories: Not Started, Ideas Formed, Experience Gained, Partially Answered, Fully Answered.

Q27. How can an electronic filing system be used to develop and use knowledge?

2001 Answer: Ideas formed:

  • Include substantive information in the index entries, for example phone numbers, book references, and expense claim amounts.
  • Identify the nuggets of information (i.e. the valuable bits) when you first read a document (Wilson 1997: 3 – 4).
  • Capture and structure the nuggets into the overall nugget-base at the same time as indexing the item (Wilson 1997: 3 – 4).

2019 Answer: Ideas formed: The first point in the 2001 answer to this question (‘include substantive information in the index entries’) has proved useful: so much so that I started including substantive information in the file names of digital documents (for example, total amounts claimed in the file names of expense claim spreadsheets).

With respect to nuggets, those ideas emerged from my practice of sidelining text that I thought significant. I developed the idea that these pieces of information (which I called nuggets) might be picked out, recorded and combined with other nuggets to produce novel ideas and concepts. I explored technology options that might assist in this process and decided Mind Mapping software might be worth trying, and tried it out with a variety of esoteric books that I was reading at the time. Although I Mind Mapped 19 books, I never took it to the next stage of combining them to see if I could develop any new concepts – there seemed to be no easy and effective way of doing so. That is as far as I got with this notion. I’m hoping that the experimental work I’m planning to do with Peter Tolmie on this subject might indicate if there is any merit in exploring these notions further or not.

Q28. What is the best way to capture and structure information nuggets?

2001 Answer: Ideas formed: By using a Concept Development tool. Some initial prototyping has been done using the Visual Concepts package and the eMindMaps package.

2019 Answer: Experience gained: I explored the use of Concept Development tools for this purpose by using the eMindMaps tool to capture nuggets from 19 separate esoteric books (on subjects such as The Great Pyramid). I found that, although it was probably quite a good way of summarising a book (or article or paper) on one page, there was no easy or effective way to combine several mind maps together or to relate an item on one mind map to an item on another mind map. So I concluded that such tools were not going to be an effective nugget management solution. I’m not intending to explore this any further; however, if I did, I would look into the collaborative concept development tools that I know were being explored by the CSCW community in the 1990s and from which commercially available software might have emerged by now. An alternative, much more feasible, solution might be simply to accumulate the nuggets in a spreadsheet. I guess the question of what tool to use is very much tied up to what one wants to do with the nuggets and what benefits can be achieved by working with them.

Q29. Is it feasible and practical to capture and structure information nuggets as well as indexing items?

2001 Answer: Not started

2019 Answer: Not started

Q30. Is it worthwhile building and developing an information nugget base?

2001 Answer: Not started:

2019 Answer: Ideas formed: I’ve always thought there was value in the nuggets I sidelined in articles and papers – which is why I started exploring this topic in the first place. However, whether there is any value in working with them in any way at all (either just accumulating them in a spreadsheet to cement each point in one’s mind, or inter-relating them in a specialist tool to develop new ideas) is still an unknown.

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