Five Reasons to Use Evernote for Academic Research

An elephant posing like the Evernote logo. [image source]

I’ve been using the note-collection application Evernote for several months now and thought I’d share some of the reasons why it works well for my researching needs as I’ve been working on my dissertation in American studies.

What Is It?

Evernote is a note-taking and clipping application that lets you save all kinds of things to various project-oriented “notebooks.”  Their motto is “Remember Everything,” and they certainly do help you with that.  It has a desktop application, browser plugins, and mobile device apps galore that you can sync to your account so that all of your clippings, notes and notebooks are the same on whatever device you access them from.

Evernote really does make it easy to collect images, links, bits of text, emails, just about anything you can think of — they even have just released a notebook (an actual notebook not a digital one) with a grid pattern that makes it easy to capture handwritten notes by taking pictures of the page with your smartphone.  Even objects of the material world are not safe from your collecting!

My Evernote window as it looked this morning as I did some writing.

How Does It Work?

Evernote is organized into “notebooks” which are collections of notes of stuff you want to keep track of.  When you come across something that you want to save, you can collect it using a wide variety of methods: you can copy and paste it into a new note, clip the portion of a webpage that you want with the browser add-on (the Web Clipper), drag and drop PDFs and images into a new note, create a new note from selected text — the list goes on.

Part of the appeal of Evernote for me is that it is designed for collecting notes on things from many different sources, and Evernote’s designers made it easy enough that you can collect notes in a few seconds.

After you’ve collected something, you can create tags to help you sort your notes later, you can add comments or your own notes, and you can edit the notes themselves.  One of the things that I like to do is when I download a PDF of a document for my research, I create a note from the page I downloaded it from, then drag and drop the PDF into the note later, so that the full text of the document is there, along with a link to the page that I got it from, and other relevant contextual information.

Five Reasons Why I Use It

Here’s the web clipper in use with Google’s Chrome browser. When you clip something it lets you add tags and comments right away before you save it to your Evernote notebook.

A few of the perks of using Evernote:

  • It has optical character recognition capabilities (OCR) — i.e. Evernote has the ability to convert images of letters/numbers into text that the computer can ‘see’ as text (like words from a photo, scanned document, or PDF). Some PDF documents already have searchable text, but many don’t.  OCR is a must if you have a lot of text that you want to be able to search through.  For example, I took a screen capture of the page of a document on a webpage, and after it went into Evernote, the text on that image was recognizable and I was able to search for (and copy and paste) text from it.  This is also amazing for documents from digital archives — I can easily search all the text of the NASA documents I’ve been collecting for my dissertation, and that saves a huge amount of time.
  • It lets you collect just about everything, including images with your smartphone — so if you have a smartphone with the Evernote app, you can even easily create notes based on stuff from the real-world.  Speaking of screen captures, with one command you can clip a window or your entire screen to an Evernote note.  It’s convenient if you really just want to quickly grab something without messing with the browser add-on.  If you have a Mac, you can have an Evernote item in your menu bar, and making a new note at any time is as easy as pressing control-command-N.  Accessibility to creating notes is everything for me with using a research manager, and Evernote does this really well.
  • The Atlas feature lets you capture GPS information along with the notes you take.  This isn’t something that I’ve used yet, but I think it would be really helpful if you used your smartphone to clip images to Evernote. (I think I’m one of the only people I know who doesn’t own a smartphone, but if I had one, I would use this feature.)
  • The shortcuts for organizing your stuff is flexible and helpful.  You can create your own list of shortcuts based on tags, notebooks, or individual notes.  All you do is drag and drop them into the “shortcuts” list.  I use tags to help sort all of my notes, so when I’m working on a particular section of my dissertation, I can drag and drop relevant tags into my shortcuts and switch back and forth easily.
  • Sharing notes with others via email, Twitter, and Facebook is only ever a control-click away.  Emailing notes works from within Evernote, and it sends the note as a PDF file to the recipient.  Other sharing works via a shared link, so you can create a link like this one and send it to multiple people.

Evernote, like all the applications that I enjoy using, also has a vast and helpful support section, and lots of users on the Internet who can help you with problems you may have.  Although so far with Evernote I haven’t had to use their support section, because the user interface has been quite intuitive — when in doubt, right-click (or control-click) on something!

If you’re interested in reading about organizing your research, you might find the following posts helpful: Organizing Your Research with DEVONthink Pro Office, Comparing Research Managers — Zotero, Evernote, and DEVONthink Pro Office, and Doing Academic Research with Zotero.

About Kim Mann

Kim Mann is the editor and a writer for the Academic Technology Blog. She earned her BA in English from the University of Minnesota in 2003 and her MA in American Studies from William & Mary in 2009, and her PhD in American Studies at the College in 2014. Her research is on technology, the interface, and the body in mid-twentieth century science fiction.

Comments

  1. Andrew Bauserman says:

    Kim – I love Evernote!

    While my “Five Reasons Why I Use It” diverge greatly from yours, Evernote is flexible enough that it’s perfect for me as well.

    My notes are mostly plain text (no images, PDFs, or OCR); I don’t use GPS or atlas data; only use tags minimally; and don’t share to my social network from within Evernote. It’s simply my personal knowledge bank of everything I wish I could remember. And now I can (virtually), with access from home, work, mobile, etc.

    Which reminds me — you didn’t mention offline syncing. Even if I’m out of range of the Internet, all of my notes are available (as of the last time that device was online). And when I get back online, everything syncs up in both directions.

    Evernote is definitely one of my “desert island” apps (assuming internet access).

    • Hi Andrew — glad to hear you’re a happy Evernote user also! I knew there were some other fans out there, and I’m interested to hear that even though you use it a lot differently that it’s still helpful for you — I’m always amazed at how useful it is for all kinds of different users. On that note, I also use it for saving non-dissertation-related stuff, but keep it in different notebooks. I’m still a relatively new user, too, but really enjoy it for clipping things from the Internet rather than bookmarking something.

      Thanks for the tip about offline syncing too — I’d heard that Evernote does that, but haven’t really had the opportunity to use it because I’m only rarely ever using Evernote when I don’t have Internet access. It sounds like it will be quite a helpful feature for when I’m traveling over the holidays, though.

      Thanks for sharing!