Evernote: A Guide for Academics

30 Sep

Whenever I rave about Evernote (which is quite often) I get a lot of questions about how I use it. A lot of people don’t know where to begin or aren’t sure how to get the most out of the application. Maybe an Evernote Guide specifically tailored to how an academic might use Evernote might help demystify this great appl.

I’ve been using Evernote since 2008– early enough in Evernote’s life that I actually have only my first name as my login. I’m not sure why I was such an early adopter. I probably read about it on Lifehacker, and was probably at the stage in my dissertation that having a place to organize digital material seemed useful. And as part of the Great Dissertation Avoidance Plan (doesn’t everyone have one of those?), having a place to save cooking recipes and knitting patterns was also welcome.

So, what is this Evernote thing, anyway? It’s simply an application (for your computer, phone, ipad) where you can save every bit of text you might ever need again. It’s like a filing cabinet, but because it’s a digital one, you can tag and categorize notes in ways that let’s you cross-reference different ideas. And you can search everything in a second, which you definitely can not do with a filing cabinet.

What I love about Evernote:

  • It’s my brain dump for EVERYTHING I want to remember:
    • Articles (or blog posts) clipped from the web that might use for teaching or research.
    • Lists of documentary/film recommendations, reading lists, classroom activity ideas etc. that come from the collective wisdom of the listservs that I’m on.
    • My tenure notes. I keep a list of what I accomplish (committees, panels, writing etc.) during the year as they happen so that I have it all there when it comes to putting together my retention folder.
    • Meeting notes. Whether I’m at conferences, workshops or committee/department meetings, I take notes in Evernote.
    • Personal stuff: Recipes, gift ideas, knitting patterns, medical info etc.
  • Assigning tags to individual notes means you can sort your data in meaningful ways (and then Bubble Browser which I show below is a fun way to look through it).
  • What I clip is saved forever. Online news sources do not keep articles available forever. Web addresses change. Blogs go down. Posts are deleted. When you need to access something bookmarked again, you’re SOL. Evernote saves the entire article or webpage, so you never have to worry about something (even the included images) disappearing ever again.
  • Searching all content (or a selection of content) is fast. Fast enough for me to find what I want and print it out in minutes before class begins!

What I don’t use Evernote for:

  • PDFs. I still find Evernote clunky with these, even though there is OCR. I save my article PDFs in a folder labelled by the author and year of publication.
  • To do lists: I like the Reminders app on my iphone for a to-do list. I do use Evernote for larger project-related lists, like moving across the country, etc.
  • Pictures: I only use Evernote for pictures when they’re inside an article that I’m clipping. Otherwise, I save images for teaching/research that aren’t part of an article in Pinterest.

Getting Started:

  1. Download the application Evernote. Sign up for an account.
    1. The application is free, but you can pay $45/year for more upload space per month. Honestly, I used the application 4 years, nearly every day, and never ran into their upload limit. I just decided to upgrade to “pro” this year to support the application that I love so much.
  2. Install the webclipper extension. This adds a button to your web browser (Firefox, Chrome or Safari) that gives you a way to clip things from the internet.
  3. Open the application on your computer, and create a couple different notebooks. My notebooks are:
    1. Personal Notebook
    2. Sociology Notebook
    3. Retention & Tenure Notebook
    4. Sociology Department Notebook
    5. General Notes
  4. Start clipping, tagging and organizing!
  5. You might want to start with a binge-clipping of things you’ve been saving in other ways (e.g. links and stuff saved in emails). Clip while you watch TV or something, and you’ll have a little database before you know it!

My Evernote Workflow:

When I see an article or blog post online that I like (usually posted to Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and I think I might want to use it in class, or in my research, I click the Elephant icon on my browser.

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Here’s what your Evernote clipper probably looks like. You’ll notice on the top left that Evernote also installs an icon in your menu bar which you can use to save text and other desktop notes.

When I clip the Evernote Elephant, a window comes up that gives me a chance to select how the note will be clipped. I have it defaulted to “Simplified Article” which gives you a nice print-friendly version, but you could select “Full Article” for a shot of the entire webpage.

The sidebar also gives you a place to decide what notebook this article should be clipped to, and allows you to assign tags to the article. What I love about Evernote is that the more you use it to save and tag articles, it starts to predict what tags and notebooks are the most appropriate. It knows to put recipes in the “Personal Notebook” and it determines pretty accurately what articles are related to race, gender, education etc.

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This is a must-read article, by the way.

Once you’ve set everything, just click “save.”

What Evernote does next is save the article or webpage to your account. You can access it from your installed Evernote application, from Evernote.com, and from an Evernote app on your phone or ipad.

I rely on the Evernote application for finding and retrieving things I’ve clipped. Here’s what mine looks like.

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On the left are shortcuts to my notebooks, recent notes, and then the contents of the selected “Sociology” notebook. As you select a note, it shows up in the window on the right, complete with tags, and a link to the original online.

You can also just open up the Evernote application and use it as a word processor, typing your notes right into it while at a meeting or workshop (I do this a lot on my ipad). Or, you can cut/paste information into it from email or someplace else.

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Here’s an example of writing a note directly into Evernote. Notice that Evernote starts to relate notes to one another by suggesting similar notes.

Like I said, the more you use Evernote, the better it knows your information. Not only does it suggest notebooks and tags, it suggests related notes. This is very useful if you’re prepping for a specific class, or working through research information.

There are other applications now that interact with Evernote. Bubble Browser is especially fun, and I would love to see it developed further to show the connections between notes in more of a mind map format. Here’s a snapshot of the tags in my Sociology Notebook. You can click on each bubble to drill down to related tags, and then browse to the specific article.

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So, that’s pretty much how I use Evernote. My file cabinet is mostly empty and my Evernote is full of useful stuff I can find instantly.

I would love (I’d actually physically jump up and down) to see Evernote include within-note tagging. It seems like Evernote, with it’s amazing tagging prediction and relation tools, is just one step away from allowing users to highlight chunks of different text within a single note and tag it separately. Like NVivo. But so much better, because it’s not clunky like NVivo. With this functionality, Evernote could be an invaluable research tool for qualitative sociologists. Sociologists who study the internet would have an easy way to save entire webpages for analysis, a process that right now for me is a patchwork of tasks that includes downloading multi levels of html files, converting them to pdf or txt and then uploading to NVivo. Imagine if we could skip all that and just clip! Add in the photographic and note-taking capabilities of the ipad and iphone Evernote apps, and you’d have some very happy ethnographers!

Anyway, that’s how I use Evernote. Hopefully this will help  make it an app that’s useful for you!

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5 Responses to “Evernote: A Guide for Academics”

  1. brittanyissleepingwithsirens September 30, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

    Check out my Comparative Analysis of Two Print Ads Paper? Give information of how I can improve? Thanks

  2. olderwoman September 30, 2013 at 11:48 pm #

    I also use Evernote a lot and pay for a pro account. One advantage of the pro account is you can create a folder to share with others even if they don’t have a pro account. I use that with my spouse and my assistant. Another is that you can save notebooks to your phone if you have a pro account. I also like the fact that the files appear on all my devices, including computers and phone.

    Your sorting strategy seems quite different from mine: I have lots of note books organized into stacks instead of a few note books.

    I’m better at clipping and saving teaching-related things than in having them sorted and tagged well enough to find them again even in the Evernote files. How do you do sorting and retrieving?

    • Jan in the Pan October 1, 2013 at 12:41 am #

      I think it’s great that Evernote is flexible enough to give people different ways to sort their info! I didn’t even know you could put notebooks in stacks. Nice! The pro account does have advantages. You get faster support (I deleted a note once, and this came in handy) and you can save notebooks offline, like you mention. I believe the shared notebook feature is not dependent on a pro account, as I’ve shared my sociology notebook with a few other colleagues for a while now (before going pro).

      • olderwoman October 1, 2013 at 1:02 am #

        A small point: I forgot the details. What you get with pro is sharing a notebook that free users can add to and edit; a free account can share a read-only notebook.

  3. Harry Chamberlain January 24, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    Good tips. I will definitely have to check out that bubble browser. If you want more of a mind-map view, look at Mohiomap. It’s not perfect, but is a neat way to see connections in your notes.

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