“Don’t try to remember it; write it down,” should be the mantra of every researcher. Of course, there’s every chance that the brilliant idea will pop back into your head, but probably not until after you’ve submitted your thesis. In this week’s Thing, we’ll investigate note-taking apps. This technology can be used for everything from quickly recording your thoughts, through to managing all your digital research material. Let’s get acquainted.
Create a Second Brain with Evernote
Arguably the most popular note-taking software, Evernote has become an indispensable part of many people’s lives. It’s essentially a great big repository for all your digital material. You can use it to store notes, slides, images, PDFs, video, audio – just about anything. You can either rely on the excellent search engine to retrieve your stuff or organise it into different notebooks and add descriptive tags. It’s a breeze to upload files with your smartphone, by email, or by simply dragging and dropping. Once you’ve created a login, you can sync your content across all devices – PC, Mac, Android, iPhone, iPad – and access it with the well-designed apps.
If you don’t have time to stop and type a note, you can take advantage of Evernote’s voice recognition feature. The app will record your memo as an MP3 file and also transcribe your words (as we saw in last week’s Thing). Evernote also recognises text in images. So, you can upload photos of whiteboards, book covers, or neat handwriting and search the content afterwards. Yes, it’s magic.
The powerful functionality of Evernote is also one of its limitations. New users can be overwhelmed by all the features and struggle to see how it can help them. The answer is to start small by creating some basic notes, then get more sophisticated as your confidence grows. There’s lots of step-by-step guidance on the Evernote website, too.
Evernote is freemium software, which means there are both free and paid versions available. A free account limits you to 60Mb of uploads each month – sufficient if your content is mainly text and PDFs. The premium version, with a more generous monthly limit of 10Gb, costs £44.99 per year, but students with a valid academic email address receive a 50% discount. That works out a less than £2 per month to increase your brain capacity.
Keeping it simple with SimpleNote
If Evernote is too complicated, you might want to try SimpleNote. This free app, owned by the company responsible for WordPress, is designed to be “light, clean, and free”. Like Evernote, you can sync it across all your devices, courtesy of specific apps. The interface is much simpler than Evernote, and the functionality greatly reduced. However, it’s perfect if you have hundreds or thousands of text-based notes and need to search them quickly. You can also add tags to link them together.
Although the idea is to keep it simple, you can use markdown to format your notes. Markdown is a lightweight markup language used to improve readability across different apps and platforms. It’s also easily converted into HTML.
One of the best features is the ability to restore previous versions of your notes – especially useful if you’re using SimpleNote to draft blog posts or your academic writing. You can also share your notes and invite other people to collaborate.
Get it out of your head and into your inbox with Braintoss
The mobile app Braintoss captures your thoughts as images, text, or voice, then pings them straight in your inbox. The audio feature allows you to record a voice memo (saved as an MP3 file) and also transcribes it into text. Now, the transcription doesn’t always work brilliantly, but the other features are immensely useful. You can quickly type a note, take a photo, or talk to yourself – then it comes through as an email.
Nothing is actually stored in Braintoss, so there’s no danger of it becoming yet another repository. All your stuff ends up where you’re likely to see it.
You wouldn’t want to use Braintoss for sustained writing, but it’s great for those of us who struggle to keep an idea in our heads for longer than 2 seconds. It works on both Android and iPhone and costs around £2.00.
Even if you’re an analogue researcher and prefer your handwritten notes, these tools can still help you. Taking photos of your notes and index cards and storing them in Evernote ensures that you’ll never lose them. You might also get new insights when your material is presented differently.
The suggested activities for this week are:
- Give SimpleNote a try – it’s completely free!
- Get the free version of Evernote and dedicate a day to learning how to use it.
- If you’re already au fait with Evernote, rummage around on IFTTT to discover how you can get it to work with other apps.