I am writing this post from Evernote, a note-taking app/software and organizational system. I had tried out Evernote a few years ago, when I got my iPad, but didn’t really see the practical utility; I was using it as a glorified legal pad. This seems to be a bit of a trend– academics try Evernote without considering its full utility only to be shocked by its awesomeness years later. On the sage recommendation of Prof. Suzanne Edwards, I gave it another shot, and now I, too, have seen the light.
The key to Evernote is using it for serialized or multi-piece notes to which you will actually need to refer. For taking notes intended to help you absorb and process discussion in the moment, I wouldn’t bother— I found, for example, that I rarely referred back to the notes I took during seminar. But anything you anticipate rereading is perfect for Evernote.
That’s because Evernote is endlessly navigable and easy to organize. You can create different notebooks and then different notes within each. It has two sidebars to show your recent notes as well as the content of the current notebook. It is fully searchable, and has the option to add tags to posts. I used this while I was a TA in the fall, and I found myself tagging each class period’s notes with the genre and century of the literature under question, as well as any major concepts. When it was time to study for the exam, students would 1) ask to borrow my notes for classes they missed and 2) ask me in tones of desperation and terror what “fin amor” meant and when we talked about it. While, thanks to Suzanne, I now feel confident in my ability to rattle off a definition and list of characteristics of said term, I also referred back to my notes; using the search function, I could see every context in which we used the term “fin amor.” Or “satire.” Or “long prose narrative.” You get the idea.
In this way, Evernote is perfect for the content-driven literature class. However, few of us teach these types of classes with any regularity. But it is a powerful tool applicable to many areas of academic life– particularly the hectic and overwhelming time of exam reading.
If I had a time machine, I would go back and read for exams again, and this time I would take my notes with Evernote. Instead, I have approximately a thousand separate documents, one with notes for each meeting with my committee members, which have been compiled into four master documents (major list, major list scholarship, secondary list, and secondary list scholarship). It’s messy. Because each document is in the 75-100 page range, the only way to find specific notes is to use Control F, and I always have the niggling feeling that something is missing— perhaps on my H drive, perhaps in a different document, perhaps lost to the ether. Evernote perfectly solves this dilemma. You don’t need to worry about whether to have different documents for different texts, or meetings, or whether to compile notes into one major, unnavigable document. The Evernote model has notes instead of documents and notebooks instead of files— there is no need to compile, because they are already in one place, but you can switch between them without the hassle of Finder (on macs) or My Documents (on PCs). You can also add extra details like attachments, audio files, or take images right from your webcam. These notes are easily shareable, automatically backed up online, and available through app or browser.
A number of you may have seen My Exam Binder. This is because I shamelessly show it off. But the binder is a product of my frustration with my digital notes— I couldn’t find anything as I began writing my dissertation proposal, so I organized. As an aficionado of color coding and sticky notes, I wholeheartedly recommend Evernote; it has the capacity to be the digital corollary to The Binder.
- it’s handy
- easy to navigate
- super intuitive to learn
- has tons of useful features