Doing Research with Evernote

Evernote is the primary tool which I use to keep my research materials, scraps of ideas and other notes. This post will discuss a three step process of researching any topic and how Evernote can help it make it more effective.

TOOLS I USE

Evernote Corporation created a number of products/applications which are key elements of my research process and come handy at different stages. It’s a very neat power pack allowing you to gather and process different types of media and information.

Evernote desktop client

WebClipper – browser extension

Clearly – browser extension

Skitch – desktop client

THE PROCESS

The process I follow is very simple but having it clarified made it much easier for focus on the specific stages rather than jump back and forth.

1) Find a topic

2) Collect

3) Process

4) Organise

Find a research topic

Ideas come and go. They are spurred by events, things we see, read etc. Yet what often happens, when we seek something todo all of a sudden there are no ideas available. Whenever an idea strikes, I make the point of capturing it and sending it to Evernote. If for example, I have an idea for a new blog post I put “PostIdea” in the title, if it’s a different type I type “IdeaPad”. Then I rely on saved search to bring up either in a single list of notes which I can review. Once a topic is selected I move to next phase.

Collect the information

Depending on a topic there maybe a multitude of sources of information relevant to what I’m researching. If it’s on the web I use a combination of Google and Duckduckgo to search through it. Anything that looks interesting whether it’s a quote, a whole article, image or PDF document gets saved into Evernote through use of WebClipper. Sometimes I’m not sure if I whole article is worth capturing and in such case I would bookmark it into Pinboard and then during processing decide if it’s worth keeping.

If I have other sources of information like email exchanges I can forward them straight into Evernote using my special email address. To see your individual address check your accounts settings.

For documents and files I rely on very neat feature called Folder Pickup. All I need to do is save files into the predefined location, wait couple seconds and check Evernote client. You can check the details of the folder location and the import settings under Tools>Import within desktop client.

Images are either taken straight from the web or through screenshots of pages that I specifically need. All it takes is to press “Win+PrtScr” and select the area to capture. Skitch comes handy for this too but I use it more for processing information.

Process

Once I’m happy with the volume of the information that I have it’s time to look through it in more detail and what’s worth. This allows me to understand what I have, figure out key concepts, note most important points and potentially discover new areas to look at.

When it comes to reading and extracting useful points the most effective tool for that is Clearly. Not only it removes all the unnecessary webpage elements leaving only the main content. It also overlays the page with plain background making the article easier to read. Clearly allows for highlight text you find interesting and send the whole article and highlight into your Evernote account.

Copy and paste is a handy way to gather the material but to better understand the concepts and retain information for longer it’s good to type your own reading notes. If I’m doing that I have one a note in a separate window and the switch between the material I’m reading and the note’s window. Once I’m done I makes sure I have the link to original content saved in the link field of the note. This way I can always refer to it when necessary or at least know where it was published.

What I would sometimes do is simply to grab a bunch of quotes from a single article and let Evernote create a series of notes which I then merge into one. It’s neat approach if you want to grab a large number of items without worrying about manual processing of them.

If I’ve captured any images or graphics that I want to analyse and review I use Skitch. This app has only a handful of features but they are very well designed and thought out. I can Annotate an image with highlights, text and arrows it’s very easy and effective. Since Skitch and Evernote desktop client are well integrated all it take is a single click of a mouse to move between the two. See a sample below.

Organise

Last but not least is organising stage of notes. Although Evernote has excellent search capabilities I personally still prefer to organise information in some form. Evernote allows for assigning tags to notes or creating specific notebooks which are note containers. From what I’ve seen the decision on the approach is very personal matter as some prefer the flexibility of tags, were others like the silo structure of a notebook. I happen to rely on both and use notebooks to store all the notes related to a particular project and then assign tags as way of indicating their status or specific theme they belong to. Once the project is closed, depending on the number of notes that I’ve created I would simply merge them on to one. Alternatively as I prefer to keep the folder structure light I would assign a specific tag to all notes related to particular project and then move them into a project archive folder.

This is how I manage research using various tools provided by Evernote. Do you have a process for managing your research? Do you have any tips for making it better? Please share in the comments section.

Organise synthesise and share information with Diigo.com

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If you’re a blogger, researcher, writer or simply enjoy browsing a web and finding useful information you might find Diigo.com one of the most useful online tools for data gathering.

What is it?

Diigo is a cross between social bookmarking, research and collaboration tool. It provides wide array if features to help you organise, synthetize  and share information on the internet.

Here is list of key features.

  • bookmarking – pages are booked marked and organized using tags, list and quick description synopsis.
  • annotating – comments and notes can be added to selected elements of the page and shared with other users.
  • highlighting – interesting sections, quotes can be highlighted using  different colours.
  • read it later – save pages to read later, with iPhone client you can read offline on the go.
  • collaboration – find friends and people with similar interests, add them you your network and share links, comments, ideas.
  • sharing – links, notes and highlights can be easily shared via email, twitter or reports summarising captured content.
  • public or private – links can be shared with Diigo community or made private for your view only.

How I use it?

I was never a user of any social bookmarking services. I dabbled with Delicious for a while but it didn’t go anywhere. However with Diigo.com it’s a very different story. Although at first glace it looks like just another variation of Delicious, it really more than. Here is how I use it:

Research & data gathering
When I’m researching a topic on the web I use highlighter to mark interesting quotes and sentences.Then I book mark the page in my library adding tags and list name. Let say I’m doing a research about Diigo, best practices and use scenarios etc. In order to keep everything in one place I create an ad hoc list and save everything there. Once I’m happy with collected material I go back to my library select relevant list and allpages and highlighted sections are clearly displayed there. For more permanent backup and storage I send the full content of the list to my Evernote account. This way I have a record of my research, interesting sections including links to pages titles etc.

Blog post writing
Having couple dozen of RSS feeds in my Google reader means that I have plenty of sources of interesting productivity articles about different tools, methods, tips & tricks. Diigo allows me to connect with my blog and quickly use annotations highlight  and help me to write. This is particularly useful for my weekly links post. All I have to do is simply tick articles that I want to include in the post and click send to blog.

Information sharing bookmarking service
Sharing information using Diigo is super easy. First of all I can decide if the bookmark is public or private. Secondly as I’m adding tags and saving it I can sent a link to people I have connected with on Diigo, tweet it or simply type the email address and they will get a link to that site. If some piece of information is important I can bookmark and annotate with Diigo and then send to Evernote for permanent storage.

Why it’s great

First of all it’s very easy to use. After initial setup I was able to brows through the features, configure my profile and settings. What’s more important is the breath of features provided and ability to use them straight away. As the developers provide toolbars for every major browser I was able to start bookmarking, highlighting and annotating in no time.

Diigo being a simply bookmarking service would be good but where it truly shines is the whole area of annotating the web. Adding notes, highlights, building lists, summarizing the important are great features that put this service way ahead of others.

As this is online service it’s accessible anywhere you have access to internet. Also each mobile platform (Androind, iOS) has it’s own client and I must say using Diigo on a device like an iPad must be fantastic.

Lastly I’m always wary of being locked in a proprietary format with no way if exporting information. This was one of the main reasons why I didn’t use any online bookmarking service. Having all links in my browser was the safest option. Fortunately Diiggo is not locking me in. There are multiple options of exporting data your have created. Everything starting from bookmarks to annotations and highlights can be exported in text friendly format.

[Note: All opinions are my own, I’m not affiliated with Diigo in anyway nor received any compensation for this post. I’m very happy user of the service and wanted to share my experiences.]