As you undertake a serious study of the Bible, it is a lifetime proposition. I like to call this "The Grand Adventure": your journey of discovery between the miracle of your origin and the mystery of your destiny. Why an "Adventure?" Because it isn't a spectator sport: it's a participation!
As you continue your journey, you will tend to develop areas of special interest and personal discoveries from which you will accumulate notes, references, and the like. You will, of course, want to build your own personal collections of these things. It will prove to be a non-trivial problem to manage your accumulation of notes, favorite quotes, and the like. It will help to start on a sound footing so I have included a review of some filing suggestions.
One of the things that you will soon discover is that alphabetic filing doesn't work well. "A–Z" files are fine for proper names, like people you correspond to, and the like. There is no ambiguity as to where to file "John Jones" or "General Motors."
But there will emerge a troublesome problem when you start dealing with topics. Suppose you have a special study that you want to save that deals with, say, Russian Nuclear Weapons. Where would you file this? Under "Nuclear Weapons," or "Russia?" Or "Magog," "Ezekiel 38," "End-time Prophecy," the source of the information, or "Uncle Al's Visit last summer?"
There are numerous potential categories that might be appropriate to any specific article, study, or series of notes. That is why most filing systems fail. You can only put one label on any particular file folder. What category will be the likely one you will want to use when you want to retrieve it? And will this label retain its usefulness as your own intellectual horizon matures and builds?
Information retrieval technology has made great strides over the recent decades, and can be an essential aid to the serious researcher. There are many sophisticated systems that could be applied to this type of application. There are relational data base systems, and other advanced techniques that could be applied to problems of this kind.
Fortunately, these need not encumber the average person. Like so many things, you can get 90% of the value with 10% of the effort. In fact, it has been my experience that, given a few fundamentals, the simpler the better.
The primary insight that will result in a workable topical file system is the principle of separating the logical addresses from their physical location. The link between them is known as an index.
When you encounter any item that you want to save, give it an arbitrary file number: "A001" for instance. This is often called an "accession number," and is usually the next unassigned number in a series. This can be a file folder, 001, under "A" in a drawer; and it can also be a file name under a computer directory.
You now can create a log listing your file item under multiple headings. In our example, your item could be listed under Nuclear Warfare, Russia, Soviet Union, Magog, Ezekiel 38, Biblical Battles, End-time Prophecy, or whatever suits you. Associated with each entry is the file number, A001.
This list can provide the "link" between the physical location, A001, and the various potential labels, and is called an index. You can keep such a list manually in an tabbed notebook, card file, or better yet, you will find this easy to organize on any word processing program on your computer. You can simply add references as you go and then re-alphabetize your index at any time.
Be sure to keep multiple copies of your index in more than one place to protect against its loss. It is the essential link to your "data base."
This use of accession numbers—file references—will yield many advantages. There is no real limit to how many different labels you can put on your "file folder." Each one increases the likelihood of retrieving it when you need it.
Also, as the occasions arise, you can reorganize your indexes as you and your files mature, and grow in different directions. Your index can be as elaborate as you care to make it.
The file references are also easy ways to reference your special studies within your notes themselves. I have adopted the personal convention of using square brackets, [ ], to identify accession numbers within my own documents. Any time I encounter [F307], I know that it is a reference to one of my special files, either within my word processor, or in a nearby cabinet.
Many computers require their file names to begin with an alphabetic character. That's one of the reasons to begin with a letter, such as "A." You can physically store your notes by simply assigning their accession numbers as their file names.
There are many more elaborate ways to build your files on a computer using one of the "data base" systems. There are also "personal note" features are often built into your Bible programs that allow you to link your notes associated with specific chapter and verse references. (This makes it difficult, however, to change, later, to a different Bible program. And they, like everything else in the industry, are always improving.)
However, while I occasionally use these types of aids, I have found it far more practical to stay within my word processor. Most word processing packages have all the features you need to develop you own system, and that way you never have to leave what you are doing. You simply index and file as you go. And you can retrieve what you want, as you go.
I have also found it useful to develop two special directories within my computer: topical references, and Biblical references. I file topical notes, etc., under a directory "TREF" and Biblical studies under "BREF." I have found it much easier to simply put specific Biblical annotations and study notes under the book and chapter, such as
rather than bothering to link it with my Bible program (which I may want to change from time to time.)
I have collected notes, charts, insights, etc., over a span of 40 years. I wish I had started with this approach. And you don't need a computer: a tabbed notebook, or a 3-by-5 card file, will work just fine for your "index."
As you collect your own favorite items, developing a topical reference indexing system of your own"which can grow with you over the years"can spare you the frustrations inherent in insurmountable collections of scraps and clips stuffed into file boxes littering your garage, inaccessible when you need them.
And you don't have to depend on your memory as to where you put that item you now are so desperately looking for. Browsing your index will highlight it quickly. (There are three things that happen when you get older: the first is you begin to lose your memory. I forget the other two.)
* * *