Research 101: Taking Notes with Evernote

Can you imagine research without notes? Neither can I.

Taking notes is as personal as it is imperative. We all have our own style and habits which impact how we take and organize our research notes. I was taught to take notes using index cards with one card for each bit of information I uncovered – along with its source. That format suited me well in my analog youth, allowing me to rearrange my notes both for analysis and to organize my thoughts when I was ready to start writing.

The digital world has made note-taking a lot easier. Just about every computer and tablet sold today includes some kind or notes application. And, as users discovered the advantages of storing content online for access from just about anywhere, a new type of notes management system developed. It is called Evernote. Evernote is an amazing platform that makes it easy to capture and organize all kinds of information. With Evernote, you create an online account which becomes your notes archive. You then install the Evernote application for your computer. When you add a note using your desktop app, it’s automatically synched with your online archive. That’s just the beginning. There are also apps for your smart phone and your tablet .  A note added to one of these devices is automatically synched to all of them. This means you can have your notes within easy reach wherever you go.

Using the Web Clipper to capture a web page.

Using the Web Clipper to capture a web page.

Clipped page as it appears in the Evernote desktop app. Click on image to view full size.

Clipped page as it appears in the Evernote desktop app. Click on image to view full size.

Evernote has few limitations on the types of notes you can create. Notes can include text, photos and attached documents. You can capture all or part of a web page and save it to Evernote. Got a microphone or headset attached to your desktop or mobile device? You can record an audio note and include it in your Evernote collection. You can even email notes, images and documents to your Evernote account. The Evernote Web Clipper can be installed in most web browsers, giving you one-click clipping for all or part of a web page.

Sample text note with editing tools in the Evernote desktop app.

Sample text note with editing tools in the Evernote desktop app.

Creating and capturing notes are one thing. Finding them when you need them can also be a challenge. Evernote has some amazing organizational features too. Notes and clippings are organized into notebooks and you can add tags (keywords) to your notes to provide additional search parameters. Evernote’s search function can find words within a scanned document or graphic image – and can even read some handwritten notes. Common searches can be saved and new notes matching the saved search criteria will automatically be included in that saved search group.

Results of a search using Evernote desktop. Click to view full size.

Results of a search using Evernote desktop. Click to view full size.

We’re still not finished. You’ll find Evernote has some amazing collaborative tools too. You can share notebooks with others – either specific individuals or the general public. This can be used to share notes with research cousins, organize family events or manage projects.

Shared public folder used to share information with attendees at a virtual conference.

Shared public folder used to share information with attendees at a virtual conference.

Evernote offers both a free and premium service. With the basic service there is a limit to the number of notes you can upload each month as well as a 25MB size limit for each note. The premium service [$5.00/mo or $45.00/yr] gives you more upload volume, larger note size, more collaboration and more security. It also allows you to take your notebooks offline so you can access your research information even when you aren’t connected to the Internet. While both services can share notebooks with others, only a premium account can set up an editable shared notebook (where invited collaborators can add/edit notes within the notebook). Note that only the user hosting the shared folder needs a premium account – basic accounts can access and edit within that account.

If you are looking for a notes management system that adjusts to your work style instead of forcing you to conform to theirs, take a look at Evernote. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

It’s amazingly easy to get started with Evernote, but to take advantages of all its capabilities you’ll need a guide such as Katherine Murray’s My Evernote.

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