Keynote Address

Keynotes in Revit and the power they can afford any architect from a production standpoint is one of the easier sells for anyone questioning whether it is worth it to make the jump into Revit.  Production tasks are among the oldest and most basic built-in tools Revit offers, making them some of the easier tools to pick up and run with.

Keynotes are very simple at heart: they are callouts that know what they are pointing at.  They know because you can tell Revit what you want any item, assembly or material to be called. This is tied back to a single point of information, meaning that if you decide that a cypress countertop should now be pine, you make that change once, and Revit will know that anywhere it points to that type of countertop to now call it pine, and not cypress.

Coming from the world of AutoCAD drawings, that is a game changer, and can start to inform you as to how you should start to think about an Information Model as opposed to a traditional line drawing.  What’s less obvious out of the gate is how much of your focus and effort is then freed up to explore other things, knowing that notation is taken care of.

Keynotes come in 3 flavors:

Element Keynotes - These will grab any family instance and tie it to a note.  Depending on the type of family, this can serve several different functions.  For instance, a family that is made of several different parts or materials would probably want to be referred to as a whole on smaller scale drawings.


2D detail items can be grabbed as well, in which case you would probably want a work note that is tied to the work and materials involved with the elements drawn in that detail.

Material Keynotes - These will read the material from any family and tie it to a note.  This is exciting because there is no limit to the amount of unique materials a family can have, and so this can be used to dig down into an element and tie notes to individual parts.

These shouldn’t be used to tie the material to any designation (P-2, e.g.) as this is better served by the behavior of a tag as opposed to a keynote.


User Keynotes - When you are faced with a situation where, for any number of reasons, the above systems are not sufficient, you can just place an un-linked note that is not tied to any particular item or material, but is still tied to a particular note.  If you are consistent with these, they work well enough as a stop-gap, but they will stay where you put them; they will not adapt to changes in location or assembly you may make in the model.

Keynote Editing

The magic man behind the curtain here is a .txt file that is shockingly low tech.  It uses tabs and very simple coding to organize itself.  There are very good and potentially worthwhile plug-ins that create a user-friendly interface, but once you learn the rules there’s really no need.

The rules are:

  1. Number everything, with no two numbers alike.
  2. You can create sections and subsections by ending the line with the number you want it listed under.  (This is usually organized by CSI categories).
  3. Tab to separate information.  Always.  Never space (except of course the spaces between words).  Return for a new line.

Here’s a quick sample (I write out [tab] instead of actually tabbing for clarity):

04-1[TAB]King-size Brick: 04 21 13[TAB]04[RETURN]
04-2[TAB]Mortar Net: 04 05 23[TAB]04[RETURN]

This will read in Revit as follows:

04 Masonry
04-1 King-Size Brick: 04 21 13
04-2 Mortar Net: 04 05 23

In every family there is a parameter for a keynote number.  Within this parameter you can simply type ‘04-2’ or you can click the … and get Revit’s keynote browser with expandable sections based on however you’d like to build and group your note file.

The other beauty part of this whole thing is that you can take these notes, and families, with you to any other projects.  You can build it into a template that refers back to a single .txt file that only your spec writer controls if you want to be very rigid about things.  Or you can have an office standard note list that you start each project with that evolves on its own with each project.

However you choose to implement the system, it’s clear that, with planning, notation of drawings at all scales is changed from looming task to a quickly taken-for-granted functionality that allows for everyone, managers and drafters, to get more sleep!