As I’m thinking about organizing Stuff, I’m also thinking about organizing Ideas.  I’m supposed to be writing this book (oh, lordy, how did it get to be more than 4 years later?), though during the last few months I’ve been wrapping up other projects in order to clear the decks for it.  There are words written and bibliography assembled, and yet I’m still, I think, at a relatively early stage in the process.  So this might be the point at which to tackle some new technology that could make the whole thing easier.

If it would make it easier.

Sometimes I think I might be better off just to assemble all my bits and pieces into boxes, and spread papers out across the floor, a la the early John McPhee.  I’m visual and tactile and it helps to spread things out.  On the other hand, if I wind up with a silo’s worth of material (like John) that could get messy.

I’ve found some posts online raving about Evernote and OneNote, but these are often by fiction writers (“It helps me keep track of my characters!”—not my problem) or by people who are teaching undergrads to organize their research papers, or else obviously by marketing people who say “it’s fantastic!!11!!” but omit anything useful about how the program works and why you might actually want it.

What about you, scholarly readers who write scholarly books?  How do you organize your sources and notes?  Are there programs you would recommend?  If you have either advice or warnings, I’d be glad to see them left in comments.

Thank you kindly.


14 thoughts on “OneNote/Evernote question

  1. I’ve tried both One Note and Evernote, but vastly prefer Zotero, which was developed by academics at George Mason U for the kinds of writing humanities scholars do.

      1. I use Zotero for notes, too. I can attach notes to particular sources–this is how the notes come closest to something like an annotated bibliography–or they can be free-standing. Zotero has tagging features to allow for cross-referencing, and I can put both sources and notes in folders, and so on.

      2. I can grab screenshots and add scans, pull in articles/pdfs, organize things in a folder system, link things between folders, select the cite format I need for a given project, share my stuff over various devices – basically, work the same way I used to with notebooks and paper bits, except it is all contained electronically and some of the grunt work (citation especially) can be done for me.

    1. I’d use Evernote over OneNote, in part because it has pretty good syncing/cloud support even at the free level, and it works for all sorts of devices. One Note can be odd on some tablets, and it’s assumptions that it knows the spelling and formatting you really want are annoying.

      I hate when people answer a question about software by reccing another app, but I’m going to do that anyway. Check out Scrivener from Literature and Latte. Try the free 30 day download. You’ll want a word processor to do final formatting, etc. BUT for the draft, it’s really lovely to be able to have multiple research files, including media, available from within the app, and the ability to incorporate various kinds of note taking (a corkboard/outlining tool, etc.) is helpful. Yes, Scrivener was designed with fiction, but it works quite well for non-fiction, for many folks.

      Go here:

      Watch some videos

      There’s a good Take Control of Scrivener book too.

      Use Scrivener with DropBox for backup, too.

  2. I haven’t tried an app to organize notes. I just write my own annotated bibliographies. But then again, I’ve never written a scholarly book (yet!). I’m combining bibs from past papers into one monster bib for the book. I’m hoping it helps. I definitely have more sources than I originally thought!

    1. That’s more like what I do. I’ve played around a little with OneNote, and I like being able to expand an outline easily while also seeing the highest level of it clearly. But I think I could mimic that in Excel. I also think there are some advantages to having to deal with material in multiple places (so long as you don’t lose bits; that’s a worry): it gives you extra ways to “think through” material. The boosters of various programs make it sound like the program will do this for you . . . but is that a good thing?

  3. I can relate to your thoughts on spreading bits of paper out on the floor, having been trained back in the 3×5 file card days. At different stages in a project, there can be real value in physically touching and moving them about. I have not made a conscientious effort to master Evernote, in part because it seems to me that to do so requires a great deal of high-level understanding of where the project is going and how it is going to take shape. (Perhaps readers who know and use the program can show otherwise.) So, my latest foray into hoping the technology could really help in the organization and reorganization processes, I tried Scrivener, spurred on in part by their 1 month trial period. Again, I have remained a dilettante, but do find the pinboard and the page organization useful in the first stages of putting thoughts together. They have a feel not unlike the physical act of moving 3×5’s around—although here, in the ether. On some level, the mobility in the document hierarchy even helped me become a more efficient user of Word’s outline mode.

  4. I’m an Evernote dropout–that is, I use it sometimes but it hides things on me. Scrivener works better, but I really mostly use Word.

  5. I have a friend working on a dissertation who swears by Evernote. The scanning and annotating apps Evernote has for phones are pretty amazing. I haven’t played with it much, but I’m just starting to move all of my recipes to Evernote.

    For my diss, I used a bibliography program (BibEdit, I think. It was fine, but nothing spectacular) and Scrivener.

    I liked that Scrivener was easily searchable, and I could have both notes and my draft document on a split screen. I didn’t use the storyboard/notecard feature of Scrivener much. (But I can see how it would be helpful in moving ideas around.) I tended to write a whole chapter in a single file.

    I also rewrote using the split screen. For second and third drafts I tended to start with a blank page, but I could have my previous draft on screen to cut and paste from easily.

    I then moved the text into Word once I had the basic shape of the chapter and needed more careful editing (and had others reviewing my work).

  6. Evernote works really well for me and my goal in 2016 is to integrate my workflow between Evernote and Zotero (which I use for bibliography). Evernote syncs all of my devices (two computers, a tablet and a phone) so seamlessly that it’s wonderful. I have notebooks for projects on the go as well as my teaching, so I’m never losing track of key resources or sudden inspiration.

    What really helped me with Evernote was Alexandra Samuel’s book “Work Smarter With Evernote” –

  7. The one thing I don’t like about Zotero as a research program is that you have to tag your notes as you take them — the notes are not (currently) searchable. But that means if something/someone becomes important later, it’s hard to find notes that might reference them.

    I’m actually thinking that for my next project, I’ll take notes in word, at least on primary sources; but the comments here have suggested I really need to try to work out Evernote. I’ve used it for taking notes at conferences, but not much else. I tried to work with Scrivener, and ended up hating it at the moment I needed to pull things together and export to word. It may matter that I’m a PC person, and scrivener was designed for macs. But many friends have raved about it, so as with all these things, YMMV…

    And there are times when you need to have pieces of paper on the floor, just as all my real edits are on hard copy.

  8. I keep trying to use these programs but secretly like best just a word processor and physical files and notecards. This may have to do with being a good typist and having a good eye for proofreading and citation formats. I would really like to move it all online but I seem to lose things there, not be able to settle down. Maybe if I had many large screens I could keep track of them. So, I am useless here. But I love the idea of these things and I do use Evernote for small projects, and get students to use it and Zotero and Scrivener.

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