Thing 16: Note-taking


Note-taking tools are a powerful category of tools that are proving to be a key weapon in the arsenal of researchers engaged in fighting the war on paper!

In this Thing, we look at probably the most famous note-taking programme – Evernote – and some other tools with note-taking capability.

Evernote is a genuine cross platform solution that works equally well on iPads, PCs, Mac or Android devices. For those that are more Microsoft-centric, then OneNote may well be the best choice because it easily integrates with the other MS Office tools.

Zotero (which we discussed in Thing 15) also has note-taking capabilities.

Note-taking features

Note-taking tools have expanded rapidly in popularity and functionality over the last couple of years, driven mainly by the rapid growth in personal smart devices.

Having started out as a ‘sticky notes’ type of software that replicated Post-It notes on your desktop computer, they have grown to converge with other tools and now incorporate some really useful features.

These include document scanning, social bookmarking, PDF annotation, reminders and lists, and capturing notes and data in multimedia formats.

The exact features of note-taking apps differ from tool to tool, but in general they may include:

  • Being cloud based, they are available automatically on all of our devices after a quick sync. For example, we can be taking notes on an article in the library on our iPad and then have those notes available to us on our desktop in the office or our laptop at home.

  • We can archive our work in Notebooks, Folders or ‘Stacks’ of Folders. Notes within the folders are usually organised chronologically, according to which notes were edited most recently.

  • We are able to index notes with a number of tags. We can then search for the note later or group it with other notes on a similar topic using the tag.

  • We can create notes on our mobile device that are typed, photo, video, or audio (such as for interviews) or document scan, turning our field notes into a PDF.

  • Some tools may also offer bookmarking, which will allow you to attach a URL to a note and then write about the content of your link in the body of the note. Very handy for annotated bibliographies!

Evernote and OneNote

Evernote is a cloud based tool for note-taking, organising, and archiving information (including photos and sound recordings). You can create tags and arrange information into notebooks. Evernote also allows you to easily share information with others and syncs across platforms. It is quite powerful and can search for text even in images (e.g. photos of slides).

OneNote has broadly the same functionality as Evernote with a slight change in some of the nomenclature for features.

This video highlights a number of the key features of Evernote:

Zotero again

Zotero, in addition to its reference management abilities, can also manage notes. This screencast describes how this works:

Although Zotero doesn’t have an official app available for mobile devices, it is quite mobile-friendly if you go to your Zotero website via your mobile browser.  There are several third party solutions available for Android and iOS so that you can take notes on the go.

try-this-iconTry this

We realise that by this stage of the programme some of you might be beginning to experience a little ‘account fatigue.’ Therefore, for this Thing we’ve created a two stage activity. If you understand some of the principles of note-taking software and are happy to reflect on their advantages for you in your practice then take a look at Part A.

If after that you’re still feeling keen, and you actually want to have a go at using Evernote, then you can also take a look at Part B. Good luck!

Part A

Consider at least one of the questions below and think about the organisation of your own research or work. Post your reflection on your blog.

  1. How could we use the notebook structure to compartmentalise notes about different aspects of our research?
  2. Could we use a system of tags to index our notes and make them simpler to find? e.g author, subject, decade, type of data?
  3. What sort of file types would be useful in our research to save as attachments to notes? e.g. PDF, JPEG, MP3, and MP4?
  4. Who would it be potentially useful for us to share our notes with or who could we make a collaborator on a shared notebook and how would that be of use in our research?
  5. Is there value to using the email integration? For example what emails or files would it be useful to email directly into our Evernote notebooks using our personal Evernote email address?

Part B

Still keen?! Ok, in which case give this a go:

  • Sign up for an Evernote account.

  • Create a note, add a URL from one of your favourite websites or research papers, type an analysis in the body of the note, and then post a link to the note on your blog or Twitter to share it with others on the programme.

  • Do you have a personal smart device? Try downloading the Evernote app and signing in with your same credentials. Then scan a document or article with the ‘Document’ option and post the link to that on your blog or Twitter.

explore-further-iconExplore further

Notability is another, less well known solution that offers slightly reduced features and functionality, but may hold something for people that are constrained to using one device for example.

Whilst Note-taking tools are likely to be the principal tool in  your personal research kete, you can also choose to run these together with other tools that will expand your personal research suite.

For example, some people find a personal digital task manager helps with lists and deadlines. Try something like Wunderlist for the best cross platform solution out there.

Padlet is also a useful tool for collaborative, real time brainstorming in a digital Post-it notes format – especially effective for relatively large scale classes or facilitation activities. Popplet is a very similar tool, with a focus on mindmapping and process maps, and Coggle also fulfils a similar function.


Parts of this Thing were adapted from 23 Research Things @ Melbourne / CC By-NC-SA 3.0 and 23 Mobile Things / CC By-NC-SA 3.0

Header image: JogiBaer2 / Flickr / CC By 2.0
Icons: Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon / GNU Lesser General Public License

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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