How to Start a Swipe File

A Snappy Way to Store All of Your Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes

Chris Jones
4 min readMar 12, 2015

I discovered the brilliance of swipe filing when I read John C. Maxwell’s “Today Matters.” In his book, Maxwell talks about four principles by which he guides his every day life. He said, “I read, I write, I think, I file.” Let’s take a closer look at filing.

Why File?

A swipe file is a collection of clippings, quotes, images, and inspirations that can be used when speaking, presenting or writing a book. For any writer, presenter or public speaker, swipe filing is the golden goose of personal content curation. I have been able to leverage filing when I need a humorous or inspirational quote for a story, a cartoon to illustrate a point in a presentation, an excerpt from a book or article that I need to make a point in a speech, and as a way of keeping my pond stocked with ideas and knowledge. I also use filing to store educational references that I can use later.

I use two primary methods — electronic and paper-based. The electronic methods I use are Pinterest and Evernote Web Clipper. The paper-based model is simply cut and stash.

Electronic Swipe Filing

1. Pinterest

I use Pinterest for its highly visual nature to create a digital swipe file. At first glance, Pinterest doesn’t seem like it would be a tool writers could take advantage of, but it’s is. Beyond the standard boards you can create, Pinterest allows you to create invisible boards, if you want to build your swipe files for your eyes only. Pinterest also has an applet you can download and attach to your browser so that when you’re surfing the Internet, you can “pin” the things you find to a board. This is an effective way to keep websites catalogued. I have a pinboard for every facet of my interests and invisible boards for specific research — like books I’m planning. Using the Pinterest mobile app, you can snap photos and save them to pinboards through an upload from your camera. The one added benefit of Pinterest is its large community. With an estimated 50 million active users, you can find millions of ideas and inspirations to file away for a later date. (Check out my boards)

2. Evernote Web Clipper (with Evernote)

I use Evernote Web Clipper when I’m surfing the Internet. Like the Pinterest applet, Evernote Web Clipper places a small button in your browser menu bar. When you find something you like online, you click the button and it saves it to one of your Evernote notebooks. You can also add descriptions and tags for easier searching within your notebooks. I tend to like this method better since I use Evernote more.

Evernote really is a do-all kind of application and the mobile application work very well. It also allows you to collaborate and leave notes with others, if you’re using a shared notebook or are working on a piece with another writer. Like Pinterest, you can snap and save from your phone’s camera. An added benefit is of course being able to create audio notes to swipe file. Sometimes you’ll want to record a conversation, or verbally communicate something you saw or heard.

3. Paper Swipe Filing

Of course, if you’re a tangible type, you can always use the paper swipe file. Many public libraries allow you to purchase old magazines before they recycle them. Buy those magazines for pennies on the dollar and clip the inspiration out of them and place them in categorized manila folders. When reading books, copy down the quotes you like into a small notebook or onto index cards and save those index cards in the swipe file. It doesn’t matter when you plan to use anything, whatever you find that fits your platform and can be possibly used for future works, be it a book, a blog or a tweet, save it. It’s always better to have more clips that not enough. The best writers are those who are the best researched. To that I tip my hat to John C. Maxwell, who I think is one of the best, if not the best, researched writer I have read.

Swipe filing is an essential tool for writers and speakers. Use the method that is best for you and that gets you the results you want. My only recommendation is that you do it. Having research ready to go at your fingertips is invaluable.

Originally published at on March 10, 2015.



Chris Jones

I write about the creative, production, and business sides of writing. Find me—and my podcast, The Art & Business of Writing—at