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ETpro's avatar

What suggestions can you provide for organizing a list of worthwhile quotations in an Excel Spreadsheet?

Asked by ETpro (34202 points ) February 19th, 2013

I’ve never delved into an organized book of quotations. I usually just remember a worthy one that might add to a discussion, and I search the Internet to get the exact wording and make sure I am giving it proper attribution. It’s amazing how many things Hitler and Mussolini didn’t actually say.

But I know there are large tomes dedicated to famous quotations. How are they organized to help their readers find something that relates to a specific topic? Given that I’m using a spreadsheet to do my organizing, are there ways I can index and annotate my list that would be beyond the reach of the dead tree information industry?

So far, what I have is columns for:
Last Name, First Name, Quotation, Work, Context. I usually keep it sorted alphabetically by Last name, First name.

Work, of course, is the title of the book, article, movie, etc. where the quote first appeared. Context doesn’t get used often, but where a quote can mean several things, I use context to pin down its meaning in its original source.

I’m open to all suggestions for improvements. The list is getting long, and I’d really like to make it easy to find specific items.

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21 Answers

DrBill's avatar

alphabetically by subject matter

elbanditoroso's avatar

At least 8 individual columns for keywords that you assign.

And you will need to create a “dictionary” of keywords for yourself that will enable you to be consistent in which ones you assign.

You might also want to have additional columns for “also attributed to” and/or “claimed by” or similar.

SomeoneElse's avatar

You might want to get someone to assist you by the sounds of it . . .

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Why not create a Microsoft Access database rather than an Excel spreadsheet?

blueiiznh's avatar

I too would go past Excel as the tool of choice. Unless you are using pivot tables and have everything set and developed, you will find it a kludge to work with.
In reality it rolls down to what the intended use will be and the key factors.
Access would be a better fit for its ability to search and categorize.
Web Based front ends against a back end database like SharePoint.
Depending on your skill set and software resources might point the way as well.

janbb's avatar

Many quotation books are organized primarily by topic. You might want to consider what your main purpose in compiling it is and what points of access will help you the most.

Kardamom's avatar

Yes, like @janbb suggested, topics would be good in addition to the names of people who made the quote. Some quotes are famous, but the person who said them are not, so you need both.

Topics could include humor (like Mark Twain or Laurel and Hardy) literature, philosophy, politicians, movie quotes, transportation, economics, farming, sports, art, architecture, food, poetry, US History etc.

I agree that Access is a better way to categorize these types of things (because you can add all sorts of weird written categories), as opposed to Excel which works better for tables of numbers and costs of items.

flutherother's avatar

I’d assign a main subject heading for each quote and use this to bring quotations on the same topic together. You should also give each quotation a unique reference number.
I would construct indices of subjects and authors that refer to the quotes by their reference numbers so they are easily found.

glacial's avatar

I agree that a topic/subject heading is needed. I don’t think there’s any need for reference numbers unless the list is going to be printed off. An Excel worksheet (and presumably also an Access database) is sortable by each field, and searchable as well. And you can sort hierarchically (for example, first by topic, then by author) quite easily. So, you can add rows anywhere you like, and not have to worry about keeping things in order.

You might also want a year or decade column, but I think you’re pretty much covered.

wundayatta's avatar

The standard way to add information to a database is to do as the librarians and others have suggested: add a number of fields where you can add topic/keyword/subject metadata.

You should use Access or a real database instead of Excel because it is too easy to make mistakes in Excel, and lose correlation between your data variables. Do that once, and you are dead. You lose every bit of information since the last backup. Do you have a backup? You do, I hope.

@elbanditoroso suggests 8 fields for topics, and that seems reasonable to me. You don’t have to use all of them, but it seems like it will probably be enough to get at just about any way you want to categorize your quotes.

It would be better if you had a variety of attributes of the quotes. Like era. Mood. Literariness, or whatever. Those are just examples. You’ll want things that are meaningful to you, not my ideas. It should be based on why you are collecting the quotes. Metadata that reflects your reasons for saving these quotes.

glacial's avatar

@wundayatta If you separate the topics into separate columns, you lose the ability to sort alphabetically by subject, which makes it harder to search within a specific topic. But whatever floats your boat.

wundayatta's avatar

No, @glacial, I don’t think you understand. But even if you were doing what you propose, you can easily search for records where the topic of interest appears in any of those categories, and then sort alphabetically, if alphabetical order means anything.

glacial's avatar

I understand you, I am just proposing something different.

What would a single Excel line look like if there were eight columns for topics? Would you fill each of those fields for each quotation? What I am proposing is that a sample would look like this:

Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.. | Augustine…...... | Love
I am become death, the destroyer of worlds…..........................| Oppenheimer… | Death

With a single topic column, you can very easily sort the columns by topic, so that all of the “death” quotes are together for a quick review. If you separate the topics into several columns, you would have to be careful to keep specific topics within one column only, and then repeat the sorting process for each column until you find them (assuming there will eventually be hundreds of quotations in this file). The former is less time consuming, although it does limit you to using only one topic per quotation. Perhaps that is a dealbreaker for @ETpro. It’s his database, after all.

wundayatta's avatar

It is his database. I would want multiple topics because that’s how I think about things. Sometimes one way. Sometimes another. That’s how most librarians think about it, too. I’m not sure how search engines work, and it may not matter much any more. If you can get google to word cloud your database, you might learn something interesting. There are many analytical tools and many organizational tools. It all really depends on what you want to do, and for me to even start figuring that out, I’d need to talk to @ETpro for around an hour. But I’m not at work. So I don’t have to do that. And @ETpro can give us as much or little info as he wants to.

ETpro's avatar

@DrBill So you would limit each entry to s single subject or “keyword”?

@elbanditoroso Good point on items that have unclear or disputed attribution.

@SomeoneElse Why would I do that? I’m certainly able to manage Excel. I could use Access on my desktop, or MySQL and PHP on my server. The tools of database management, I feel capable of applying. But designing the database so you can get the most out of it, that’s where the rubber meets the road. And I definitely don’t want to outsource that unless I hear of someone who is vastly more experienced than I am as this exact task, and works for a pittance. An unlikely pairing, I should guess.

@SadieMartinPaul As I am reading the responses, I’m beginning to think a SQL database might be the cat’s meow. I could even allow access for others to use it to search quotations. Sort of a demo project. I could then have multiple keywords per entry, assign a weighting to each (arbitrary, but close enough for government work) and run a filtered sort by relevance.

@blueiiznh I’m on the same page with you. As a Web developer, it would be a great demo tool that would draw visitors if I build it up enough. I have MySQL, PHP and Perl to work with. I just don’t yet have nearly enough quotations to make it a major web destination, but why not get there?

@janbb Main purpose—Bingo. I thought this morning when I asked that it was just to build a nice local library of quotes I personally like. But reading the collective’s responses has me headed in an entirely different direction now.

@Kardamom Yes, topics is probably a more accurate word than keywords. And I can see that with multiple topics per quote, I am going to need a relational database management system and not a spreadsheet. At least, I can yank what I’ve got in Excel out as a CSV file and push it to MySQL.

@flutherother What this discussion has highlighted for me is that many quotes will have multiole “subject headings” or “topics” and that to deal with that, I need to migrate my data to a full-blown DBMS.

@glacial Dating each quote is a great idea but would mean a considerable amount of work for the bunch I already have. Maybe this, I can outsource. I think that the cleaner way is to move up into a DBMS. Also, if I do this, I can make it a Web based resource free to all at some point. Just have to get enough quotations cataloged.

@wundayatta I definitely do want to be able to list multiple topics per quote.

Thanks, all. And additional thoughts are encouraged as this project takes shape.

DrBill's avatar

@ETpro not at all, you could us as many as you wanted.

ETpro's avatar

@DrBill Certainly. It’s just that yanking results from all of them at once is going to be easier in a DBMS than Excel.

DrBill's avatar

@ETpro
I agree a database would work better, but the question specified a spreadsheet.

ETpro's avatar

@DrBill Indeed. The answers to the question nudged me in a completely different direction from what I was thinking when I asked. Funny how that sometimes happens on Fluther. It’s one of the things that keeps me coming back.

Unbroken's avatar

To have enough qoutes for a DBMS would be the easy part.

You could ask the collective. Maybe stipulating some research as to true source of submissions.

There are so many well read, literary members of the jelliverse. With diverse interests, since you would be inputting the data you would have the final say for contributions.

Putting one together and inputting all the data upkeep and time maintenance would be the real work. My guess it would become a living, breathing, needy pet project.

Sounds great btw!

ETpro's avatar

@rosehips Great suggestion. I will definitely do that. First, let me find the time to build the online app and database. I might even make it one where users can upload quotations for review and approval. I hope it does become just such a project. It would definitely be a worthy use of time.

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