Nota Bene

I have increasingly had the feeling of frustration with Microsoft Word as software for research and scholarship and I recall that in the 90’s, Bob Franson from UBC hosted at least one conference where he introduced a software programme called Nota Bene. I have played around with this somewhat. It can be quite complicated, but looks like a very powerful tool if you can master it. Does anyone else have experience using Nota Bene or more knowledge of its use in law and legal research that they can share?


  1. I’ve not used Nota Bene, Neil, but I understand your annoyance with Word. I suppose it would depend on exactly what you want a program to do for you. Most people, whether scholars or other kinds of writers, would probably be best servered by a simple text editor, or perhaps one that does RTF, most of the time — put footnotes in braces and have a macro zip them into proper shape etc.

    You might take a look at a simple-seeming Windows (and Linux) program called TreePad: It is a personal information manager, an outliner and a general database tool that lets you create text of pretty much any lenth. There’s a good list of features on the site. It has a free version, and a version with most features is cheaper than Nota Bene. (It won’t compile a bibliography for you, as NB will, though not in legal style.)

  2. Neil – try using Microsoft OneNote.

    I also have had success with Mindjet Mindmanager which has a new release at

    They’re both described in an essay in the NYT on how novelists are using software at

  3. First, I have no experience with Nota Bene to offer. The price tag is steep enough, though, that I would have to want some particular feature or functionality very, very badly. The second key question for me is, What kind of XML could I export from the software? I poked around the website, and took the “tour”, and couldn’t find that question addressed at all. A little bit of unimaginative Googling left me just as uninformed. So, personally, I remain wary.

    Second, broadening the discussion, I wonder if anyone who has experience with OpenOffice would care to contribute to the discussion. No charge at all for this software, and it implements the Open Document Format (ODF). It seems to me that ODF is likely to provide the best alternative to Microsoft’s Office Open XML. A recent posting from Betsy McKenzie over at “Out of the Jungle” links to a posting at Computerworld in Microsoft’s success in lobbying state governments not to adopt odf, and this seems to be where the action is.

    In Googling Nota Bene, I came across an interesting wiki hosted by OpenOffice called “Bibliographic Software and Standards Information”. It discusses CiteProc, a related open source project. It’s nice to know people are thinking about this stuff.

    Third, though I wouldn’t recommend this approach to many, I have been fooling around with writing in XML and letting my server transform to xhtml, pdf or rtf. I’ve worked out all the major challenges, I think. Hopefully, transforming to odf through XSL-FO (like pdf) is or soon will be possible. This XML transformation approach provides maximum flexibility, though the learning curve is very, very steep.

  4. I appreciate the frustration with Microsoft Word, not just for research but the amount of time lost to struggling with formatting issues just doesn’t make sense. You may want to look at Author Max — — it is a Word add-in that provides some functionality that will be helpful to legal research specifically (such as Paste Unformatted when copying from a legal database), and other functionality that just makes good sense (such as setting once my rules for front matter, footers, headers and then applying automatically, or pre-flight check to look for leftover revision marks or broken cross-references). I like it.