Looking forward to the future of journalism

Writing tip: Using bookmarks and links to organize better notes

There are all kinds of writers out there but most of us have something in common: We take notes. We talk to people and type up the interviews. We jot down ideas and observations. We write phone numbers, key dates, to-do lists and questions. And as we amass all this raw material, we can get lost in the chaos of our own notes if we’re not careful.

One solution is a handy feature in Microsoft Word, Google Docs and other software that allows you to insert bookmarks and hyperlinks within the document you’re working on. These tools are usually found in the “Insert” menu. With bookmarks and links, you can create a table of contents at the top of your document, and use it to jump to different sections of your notes.

Related: How to contact an investigative reporter in Texas

Here’s my notes template in Word. I crank this puppy up whenever I start a new story, whether it’s a quick article or a long project. Here’s a Google Docs version I created today.

I use eight sections in my notes: Chronology, Contacts, Draft, Resources, Interviews, Art Ideas, To do, and Questions. You can change or move these around as you see fit. Clicking on one of the links at the top of the page takes me to the section. Here’s a description of each one:

  • Chronology: This is where I plug important dates in chronological order, with a description of what happened and the source. For long stories, I might plug this info into a spreadsheet so I can sort it by date and categories.
  • Contacts: For phone numbers, e-mails, addresses and other contact or biographical information for people connected to the story.
  • Draft: This is where I start writing early drafts and outlines of the story.
  • Resources: If I come across an important Web site or stats or other resources, I’ll bookmark the page and also paste a link here with a description.
  • Interviews: Clicking on “Interviews” takes me to the very first interview for the story. From then on, I click on “interview end” whenever I do the next interview, so all my interview notes are in chronological order. I note the date and time the interview was done.
  • Art Ideas: This is where I type info for possible graphics, photos and online features, which are just as important as the actual article.
  • To do: I keep track of what I need to do and what I’ve done to accomplish that task.
  • Questions: Here’s where I jot down the questions I need to ask of different people.
  • How do you create a new section? Let’s say you want to create a “Contacts” section in your notes. First you have to make the bookmark. Go to the spot in your document where you want to keep your phone numbers, click on the “Insert” menu, and select “Bookmark.” Create a bookmark called “Contacts.”

    Then go to the top of the document where you have your table of contents and type “Contacts.” Outline the word with your cursor, and under the “Insert” menu select “Hyperlink” or “Link.” (A common shortcut is “Ctrl K.”) A menu pops up that allows you to select what kind of hyperlink you want. There should be an option to select a bookmark within your document. Select the “Contacts” bookmark, and you’re done.

    Link Page Grab

    Now every time you’re at your table of contents and click on “Contacts,” you’ll instantly see your Contacts section.

    To outsiders this might seem like mundane stuff but it’s actually important. When we create order out of the chaos of our notes, we become better writers.

    Any suggestions? Fire away.

    (Photo credit: Derbeth)

    2 thoughts on “Writing tip: Using bookmarks and links to organize better notes

    1. Wow, this is awesome. As I posted on FB, my notes usually look like a rambling stream of consciousness. This is great.

    Comments are closed.