Knowledge Mapping and Management

non linear writing : the SGH notation and concepts

From the linear coding of discourse and writing …

Linear writing was the great invention of the Babylonians towards 3600 BC (1): a series of graphic symbols is conventionally associated with a series of sounds. Writing consists in writing on a substrate (clay tablet, papyrus, paper) these symbols in an ordered sequence, which allows to code and reproduce speeches.

Writing has been a fundamental tool for the transmission of knowledge and Cognizance.

    and secondary notation

Contrary to a sometimes simplistic view of writing which is limited to the alphabet, the scripts, in order to better encode the discourse, also use series of symbols to code the rhythms (the points, the commas …), the emphases underlined , bold ), the intonations (the? and the!). Recently, emoticons have emerged to better translate the states of mind of the speaker.

Other writing conventions also facilitate the understanding of complex and lengthy discourse: titles of variable size, letter form, indentations, paragraphs, etc. Here, we call ” secondary notation” this complete environment of non-alphabetic symbols.

These other symbols are not merely a complement but an integral part of the discourse and its quality for transmission: there is nothing worse than a speech without intonation or rhythm!

Secondary notation is an essential element for the transmission of knowledge and cognizance.

… to the linear coding of thought

Writing codes speech, but does not code well thought or cognizance ( cf article on notations ) .

When the discourse presents a reasoning, an exposition, a story, a series of concepts are exposed and concatenated: the beginning of the discourse is at the beginning of the written sequence, and the end of the discourse is later at the end of the coded sequence. We thus write a bijection between the time of the speech (linear) and the space of the substrate (linear cut in lines and pages) .

While thought and reasoning are highly non-linear, there is only one possible linear physical order: writing introduces restrictions related to expression.

Let us take an elementary example of a syllogism:

  • Linear coding: “Socrates is a man, all men are mortal, so Socrates is mortal.

There are in fact at least 6 different ways of expressing the same reasoning :

The complexity of understanding this simple text is that the mind has to divide the three basic concepts (” Socrates is a man “, ” all men are mortal “, ” Socrates is mortal “) using concepts (the comma, the point, etc.) and the reasoning markers (“car”, therefore “,” or “).

Socrates is a man , because everyone knows that men are mortal, so there is no need to remind the reader who already knows. Let us imagine for a moment that the concepts presented in a syllogism A and B => C go beyond a few words and constitute a paragraph or a page of text: the reader is obliged in spite of himself to go through all the text to arrive at his point of view, interest. The breakdown of the text to identify parts A, B and C is not necessarily immediate.

Criticism of the Linear Notation of Writing

The disadvantages of linear writing are thus:

  • Writing is a sound concept : many people subvisit the text (silent inner reading to the rhythm of speech). The sound processing system mobilizes about 10% of the brain.
  • Symbols relate relatively well to sound discourse, but it takes a real intellectual effort on several levels to reconstruct the meaning (words -> concept -> reasoning).
  • The first accessible elements are the words, not the type of reasoning followed
    • we would also like to have a reading format that would have the following form: I will present a syllogism whose conclusion is “Socrates is mortal”, and the premises are “Socrates is a man” and “Every man is mortal} .
  • The reader can not easily skip items he already knows or does not like:
    • he is obliged to go through the paragraphs that do not interest him to find the end markers (words, punctuation, layout, etc).
  • The text is not manipulable by computer at the level of meaning and concepts.
  • The temporal linearity of discourse induces the linearity of thought which is limiting :
    • the perception of other orders and possible points of view is not obvious.
  • The advantage and also the worst is that it leads the reader to elaborate a linear internal representation conforming to the exact presentation of the reasoning of the writer, thus forcing a form of intellectual mimicry, useful for propaganda but not for understanding and originality of thought. It is also very difficult to extricate oneself from this formatting of thought.

It is now time to realize that this technology is not performing well, but that the computer has not brought much at the conceptual level, essentially replacing gum and pencil and accelerating principle of engraving on clay tablets:

  • The linear writing with its 5000 years of age is always based on the notion of physical substrate (the clay tablet, then the A4 page or that of a book that has been computerized, but whose traces are found via pdf and printer).
  • Worse, existing software is not adapted to speech manipulation :
    • the word processors are de facto treatments of sequences of symbols (one can move blocks, underline, etc).
    • For the meaning one would like to click on a button to pass from a sentence to the active in the passive directly, or to have alternative sentences from a single original sentence as above.
    • The commutation of 2 sentences comes up against the back references, or even requires complex recombinations (compare: { The cat caught the mouse, he eats it } and { He eats it, the cat has caught the mouse } the mouse he caught })
  • The text is thus engraved in the computer as it is engraved in stone or printed on paper.
  • There are other simple limitations: parallelism does not fit into discourse (how can we simply translate that two ideas are at the same level, or that two actions happen at the same time?), Or the course of time (coding a music score as text is an impossible mission!) .
  • The visual processing system mobilizes about 50% of the brain.

Linear coding does not readily allow complex thinking. This technology, which has more than 5000 years of age has been barely improved by the computer.

Nonlinear Notation Concept: SGH

Nonlinear writing is based on schemas. The preceding syllogism is thus represented by:

The SGH notations

The SGH notation (Scripto-Graphic with Hyperlinks) is a writing principle based on these drawings mixing traditional writing, graphics and graphs, as well as hyperlinks.

A knowledge graph is composed of GH representation atoms, linked by links. Each atom is a combination of:

  • A short text, in traditional writing.
  • A graphic or image
  • One (or more) links to other atoms of knowledge
  • One (or more) hyperlinks to other knowledge graphs.

Hyperlinks refer to other graphs, and more generally to any type of computer document accessible by the computer (files, web pages, etc.).

The SGH notation favors the top-down approach (from reasoning to detail) in relation to the bottom-up approach (from details to synthesis). This gives a great efficiency to the thought patterns that are recoverable and instantiable with other elements.

The difficulty is the scaling-up: do working with these graphs bring about higher forms of productivity?


Nonlinear notations have several advantages:

  • the breakdown of concepts is clear and immediate to be perceived
  • the articulation of the reasoning is immediately visible
  • partial reading is possible
  • the number of symbols decreases, and the structure of reasoning is obvious, understanding is improved
  • there are many ways of reading in the order in which the diagram is read.
  • the secondary notation is an integral part of the communication system
  • The visual system mobilizes 50% of the brain and presents a great degree of parallelism and power to treat it of this system of notations.

By hand, a paper and a pencil are enough. But this solution is impractical.

Multiplying the power of writing

Thanks to the computer, this solution is the technology of the future because it uses the full potential of computing (3):

  • there is the possibility of having almost infinite pages
  • the graphic schemes can be manipulated easily by computer, for variants, including in reading:
  • reading can be done with tools that speed up reading or information search,
  • there is no fixed structure because the screens can be modified infinitely,
  • there are many sense of reading or exposition from the same pattern.

Of course there are some disadvantages and difficulties with this system of notations but which are not intrinsic to him:

  • It is not generalized, nor is it taught at school:
    • it takes a learning of specific reading and writing
    • luckily this learning is not too difficult
    • the diffusion of non-linear documents comes up against the omnipresence of the linear.
  • It relies essentially on the functionalities of computing: it is better to have a large screen.
  • The production of a linear document from SGH schemas is facilitated by the organization, but requires a specific interpretation (a path) of the schema.
  • The format leads to conciseness, which is not always easy …

The real revolution of the computer is that nonlinear notations become a tool effectively usable for many uses : creation and transmission of knowledge, definition and management of projects, brainstorming, management of unstructured information, etc. both manual and automatable.

The SGH notations are simple and practical to handle:

  • The reasoning of assembling ideas must correspond to a graphic assembly of several schemas. An assembly of schemas is also a schema:
    This assembly is much simpler than for pure text, the content of each sentence of which depends on the preceding sentences.
  • Reasoning calls for knowledge or reasoning that is established elsewhere, and whose full inclusion would overly complicate a pattern. It is therefore necessary to have a system of references in the diagrams as in the texts. IT has proposed an elegant solution with hyperlinks that just click to access their content.

Scaling up: the KM2 method and software

Handling drawings is an unusual task. But figuring out in thousands of diagrams representing knowledge, information, analysis and projects is an impossible task. It is essential that the manipulation of SGH is at least as easy as that of conventional texts.

This is why a complementary reflection has been made to develop methods of using these graphs. This led to the development of a method and the development of the KM2 software.

The KM2 software provides the essential elements for the efficient use of graphs and SGH notations:

  • a search engine in these graphs, which makes it possible to locate instantly the elements sought.
  • a graph assembly engine, which allows to select subtrees in several graphs and to assemble them automatically in a single element.
  • of the graph generation engines, for example for the notes of the working groups, which are made up of several meetings, each giving rise to a specific graph. Under certain conditions of authorization of the software of mail, the sending to the participants is automatic.


1 – Source: wikipedia / writing . We could also discuss the date and place of the invention of writing …

2 – The use of pictograms (hieroglyphs, sinograms, etc.) does not change this principle of linearity, but abstains from the sound coding by directly representing symbols of concepts, independent of the spoken language of the speaker.

3 – The software of MindMapping are quite well adapted to this system of notations. Some free (eg Xmind , Freemind , …) or paid (MindMeister, iMindMap, etc.).

4 – Simple examples of schemas: here (Freemind) or here (biggerplate) or here (Xmind) .