Tag Archives: collaboration

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.

A Skype Workshop

At work, I’ve found instant messaging a much simpler way to work with a group of people than either email or the phone. I create a private chat room and invite my co-workers. Once set up, it’s an on-going conversation right at our fingertips.

Have you finished those updates?
They’ll be done before lunch. 

We’re pushing patches this weekend.

Have you fixed the style sheet yet?
Does that look okay?Perfect! 

How do I . . .

Our IM system is pretty primitive compared to Skype. I can’t share files, let alone share my screen. Even so, it’s still a more relaxed, yet quite productive way to work together across distances. The chat window stays open all day and messages flow as needed. On my desktop it sits at the bottom corner of my screen so it’s always visible. I don’t have to stop and check my email just to see if something’s happening. And, I don’t have a collection of email messages to dispose of either.

At home I’m buried in round-robin emails from this group or that association trying to get work done. Often it takes days for decisions to get made because the email conversation frequently dies when it gets lost in someone’s inbox. Think how much easier it would be if the question was put out via Skype text message and the conversation was in real time? With Skype available on most mobile devices, it’s easy to connect no matter where you are. Instead of trying to get everyone at the same physical location at the same time (The scheduling alone can take more time and effort than the meeting itself.), how about a Skype workshop? It works more like an open house where you set the available time period and people wander in and out as their schedule permits. Announce the workshop ahead of time with agenda and expected results.

Here’s how to start your workshop in Skype:

  1. Once logged in, select File > New Conversation then click the Add People button and start selecting the people you want to attend your workshop.
    Skype Screen
  2. Once you’ve selected the participants, type and send your first message. It will be sent to everyone you invited to the workshop.
  3. Begin the workshop by presenting the agenda and either forwarding any related documents or, better yet, linking to them at your favorite doc-sharing location. All of the conversation appears in the message log so anyone arriving later can quickly catch up.
  4. Each individual checks in, performs their required task(s) and reports via text message.
  5. If a vote is necessary, post the motion, give everyone an opportunity to comment, then ask them to post their vote.

The workshop won’t interfere with any other Skype conversations going on at the same time. You can have separate chat windows to text with others and even pop in/out of voice or video calls too. Any workshop attendee can have a private conversation – text, voice or video – just by clicking on a contact and starting a new session.

If your workshop will be a recurring event, you can save it by right-clicking on the icon in the sidebar and choosing Add to Favorites. You can also rename it by right-clicking on it in the sidebar, choosing Set Topic . . . and entering your new name (Board Meeting in the above example). The next time you want to have a workshop, just click on the item in your sidebar and type your first message.

You can also use the chat history as a record of your workshop’s accomplishment. Check your Skype Preferences to set how long your chat history is kept. Unfortunately, there’s no longer a facility to export that history, but you can have your preferences set to keep your history forever and you can copy/paste specific chat text to a text editor. There are Skype plugins available for recording voice and video calls.

Skype offers many easy and affordable ways to work together. And, thanks to the growing number of systems and devices that are Skype-enabled, you don’t have to “be there” to participate. Starting with a group text chat as the foundation of your workshop, members can take advantage of voice, video, file sharing and even screen sharing to accomplish the goal. Start small – maybe with a workshop just to experiment with Skype – and let your members get comfortable with the various features. You’ll find it quickly becomes second nature to have multiple text conversations going on with a voice conversation on the side. As the comfort zone increases, so does you potential for getting work done online.