The iPad is a marvelous tool for researchers. It’s lightweight and easy to carry with you yet has a nice-sized screen and the on-screen keyboard can actually be used for typing. The battery life hangs with you through those long hours in the research library and there’s room – and apps – for your research database. It is also home to one of the most impressive research notes applications I’ve ever seen.
Notebooks [iOS Universal - $8.99] will not only manage your research notes, but it will replace your research logs, todo lists and reminders. You can stash hyperlinks, web pages, images, PDF documents and any number of other files in it and find just what you need in seconds. And you can share, sync or send with just a tap. You don’t need a desktop version of the app because all your notes are synched to your desktop as text files – plain old ordinary text files that can be read by any computer. It’s simply amazing!
Your information is organized into notes and books. Books can be nested inside other books to provide the hierarchical tree we all find familiar. Notes can be either text or sketches. Need to draw a quick family tree to define a relationship? You can do that in Notebooks. In this example, you are looking at the books and notes contained in my Family Research book. At the top of the sidebar is a Notebooks button. Tapping this will take me to the top level of my notebook. As my Family Research book grows, I can always find any item quickly using the search function at the top of the sidebar. At some point, each of the projects shown in my Projects note will be given its own book to hold notes, links, images and sources. Once a project is finished I can compact that folder or even archive it offline to free up room on my iPad.
Books can be set up as task lists like the Henry Log book you see here. Notice the check mark in the book’s icon. When I add items in that book, they will appear as tasks with a functional checkbox icon describing their current status – new, in progress, completed or cancelled. Notice the blue buttons to the right of each item in the sidebar? Tap one and it will take you to that item’s information pane. Here you’ll find information like the date and time of the latest change to that item. In the case of a task item, you can include a due date for that item and Notebooks will remind you when it comes due.
Did you notice the toolbar at the top of the keyboard? As a die-hard outline fanatic, I love the tab “key” to organize my notes in an outline format. The toolbar also makes it easy to add links, images and date stamps in my notes.
This shot shows you the information pane for a note. At the bottom of the pane you see icons for additional functions. The folder icon is used to move this item to a different location within Notebooks and the process icon will let you duplicate the item, email it to someone or copy the link to the item. If you would like to reference a note from another note, use this command to copy the link and then paste it into the referencing note.
Using this feature, you can set up notes to provide details about sources – both attribution details and a screen shot if you have it – then just link to your source note when you add something related to it. Think of all the possibilities from this feature alone!
Combine Notebooks and Dropbox and you have research nirvana! You can set up any and all parts of Notebooks to synch with your Dropbox account. Then, as you add to your notes, they are automatically saved in a Notebooks folder in Dropbox. As you can see, your hierarchy of books and notes is maintained and instantly available to you on your desktop.
One more thing . . . There’s a bookmarklet available and instructions for installing it in your Mobile Safari browser so you can easily capture online content and stash it in an appropriate book. Web pages are saved as web archive files so they can be read offline.
I’ve only touched the surface of the things you can do with Notebooks. There’s a 40-page user guide full of details, and while I’m still learning all it’s capabilities, I’m finding that just the basic functionality has helped my research and organization efforts tremendously. I spent a few minutes yesterday learning and configuring the Dropbox synchronization and those few minutes will save me untold hours of effort in the future. Who knows what the next feature I tackle will do!