Keeping your quotes in order

Frequently pastors ask me to explain my method of indexing quotes. You are looking at it, really.

1. Value blogs

One of the primary reasons for launching this blog was to allow myself enough categories to track quotes easily and to have the freedom of classifying quotes into multiple categories. You, too, may find it helpful to start your own blog simply for the purpose of keeping quotes in order.

But here are a few more suggestions to keeping your library well-indexed…

2. Value commentaries

I intentionally avoid a lot of “contemporary issues” books. There are thousands of books out there on the newest controversies, debates and methods. While these can be helpful, they can also be an overwhelming time-consumer and impossible to adequately index for a busy pastor. Start to collect a few hundred of these books and it becomes easy to forget what issues you have already covered.

So my goal has always been to spend more money on commentaries than on topical books. As an expositor, this has proven very helpful over the years. If you do not index well or don’t have the time, buy the very best commentaries you can. They need no indexing (and will hold their value better over time).

[Speaking of excellent commentaries, tomorrow we will look at Jeremiah Burroughs’ commentary on Hosea, recently re-printed by Reformation Heritage Books.]

3. Value a book with a good index

If you must, look for topical books with scriptural and subject indexes in the back. Someone has done the indexing for you.

4. Value an organized library

Be certain to group your topical books that cover the same issue. It may be nice to categorize your library by author, but it’s not practical. A few weeks ago I posted my library database here so you can see how I grouped my topical books (click here for the .pdf).

5. Value a database

Another useful tool is assembling a simple Excel database for quotes. Here is a .pdf version of my very small but growing index.

Hopefully these simple suggestions will help maximize your study time and feed your flocks more efficiently.

10 thoughts on “Keeping your quotes in order

  1. An Excel worksheet, thanks for the idea! I sometimes get frustrated when I remember a quote but not the origin of it or vice versa, thanks man…

  2. I have found a likeminded brother here! I agree with you about spending time and money on commentaries versus topical books. As preachers we are to be studying the Word, not all the modern methodology books. I think that is where many pastors go wrong. They spend all their time reading topical books and no time digging in the Word–and it shows in their sermons on Sunday morning!

    I find that I spend all my time reading commentaries preparing for my weekly Adult Sunday School lesson (book studies) and therefore have no time left for reading those contemporary books. The little time I have left is for being with my wife and children.

  3. Tony,

    Thank you. I’ve been thinking through various ways to keep track of quotes for sermon prep and I’ve had a hard time figuring out how to best do this. Your method looks promising. Thanks.

  4. Tony – good post. You resonate a lot with my thinking. I would, however, like someway to utilize tagging with a way to keep up with quotes. I have been thinking through different apps this past week that might satisfy what I am looking for. Anyone out there know of an app, desktop or web, that would allow for small chunks of data either tagged or easily linked together such as a wiki? Of course, I would prefer free, but that is not likely possigle. Some that I have tried have been Writely, Backpack (which I love and use a lot, but does not manage books quotes very well), jotspot, wridea, sticky, and a few other personal wikis.

    I have a good collection of quotes from the past 7 years of reading and I want to be able to get to them years down the road, if the Lord tarries. I do like your system though and may give it a try if I find nothing else.

  5. Thanks for the ideas! I’m currently using Tinderbox for mac to keep track of some quotes and readings for college; you might also want to look at (also for mac) Voodoo Pad – there’s a free version on their website that you might find worth checking out.

    Another option might be to email them to yourself: perhaps setting up a gmail account (gmail seems to have the best searching options) that is just for storing quotes?

  6. I have started a similar Excel spreadsheet, but I haven’t put much into it yet. I have been debating between putting in only references to the quote locations (as you have done), or typing in the actual quote as well.

    I am also working on my D.Min. dissertation, and for that I am trying to work out a way to record my citations. For that I want a more flexible database solution.

  7. Hey, good thoughts, Tony. I recently read the Mortification of Sin by John Owen, which was so good that I broke my life-long no-underlining-in-my-books policy and started marking profound lines (of which there were many–the Puritans were punchy, weren’t they?!). I began saving them all in a Word document (which was particularly easy with Mortification because I could copy and paste from the digital edition), but I hadn’t thought to index them by subject. That will doubtless become important as my library of quotations grows. For everyone searching for a software solution, you might start with Google Directory on Bibliographic Utilities:

  8. […] As an aside, I was speaking with a close friend recently who admitted that keeping a list of quotations was very difficult for him. One of the great difficulties to making an effective index of quotations is the inability to view an individual quote within the big framework. Some will read a quote about the power of the Cross without thinking how it would be properly indexed (ex. Christ > the Cross > effects of > power in believer). […]

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