When so much information is in a digital format, it makes sense to explore digital ways of capturing and annotating it. The digital has implications for note-taking, in that it does not restrict the form in which notes are recorded: they could be text, but could just as easily be an webpage, image, video or sound. Digital notes can also be stored in multiple places at once (both your own computer and the cloud, to be accessed from any web-enabled device) and searched for metadata and keywords. The benefits over paper-and-pen notes are obvious, although it may mean reassessing your approach to note-taking to make the most of these possibilities.
This week, we are also beginning to explore two of the major aspects of digital technologies on Humanities research practice: searching of machine readable text, and the cloud.
Evernote is a tool designed for digital note-taking. You can download it to your computer (or download the app to your mobile device), but by creating an account, you can synch your notes to the web and access them by logging in on any computer with internet access. Evernote is a ‘fremium’ service, in that the basic service is free (limited to a a certain amount of storage a month), and you can pay for an upgrade if needed. You can type notes, of course, but also make image or audio notes, clip webpages, email and tweet yourself notes. You can then organise your notes into folders, tag your notes with metadata to enable alternative organisation and better searching (keyword, location, date etc as well as wherever you filed them), search text in PDFs and images, compile notes into ‘notebooks’ to export.You can also share notes by email, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook with others by clicking the arrow icon above each note, as well as share whole notebooks with others.
There is a good guide to getting started with Evernote online. Follow the instructions to download the software, create an account, download the webclipper and explore how to take text, image, audio and webpage notes. You can then experiment further during the course of the week as you take notes as part of your usual research, to see how you might use Evernote to organise and search your notes, and how Evernote impacts on your note-taking strategies.
Key skills: given the possibilities offered by taking notes from digital material in digital forms, it would be worth beginning by taking a moment to review your current note-taking strategies. For many of us, we may have learned ways of taking notes in more traditional ways, using paper and pen, and have adapted these to some extent when working with digital material. We may have begun to use digital tools to make notes which aren’t necessarily designed for this purpose, so you might think about any shortcomings of the tools you currently use to take and store notes digitally.
Discipline-specific: When taking notes for academic research, we have particular concerns which impact on our strategies whether we use pen and paper or digital tools. We need to make a clear distinction between the original material and our own excerptions, annotations, alterations, summaries, paraphrases, commentaries etc. We need to preserve the context of the original source from which we take notes. You will probably have developed your own well-tested strategies over time for this; how does using a digital tool like Evernote impact on your practice?
Digital Humanities: Digital formats enable us to take notes in new ways. Does this mean that you are interacting with the source material in new ways, or are you replicating paper-and-pen strategies?
Evaluation: How well does Evernote work in terms of your note-taking preferences? How easy to use is it? How well does it accommodate the specific note-taking needs of the academic researcher in the Humanities? Will the ability to take notes in the form of images and sound be useful to you?
Integration: Evernote automates so many things which were laborious in paper-and-pen days, and even before cloud computing. Backing up your notes is made much easier with cloud computing (though it may still be sensible to store them elsewhere in addition), organising and searching is automated, and bringing together different formats from different sources is easy. So much more is possible; do you think the transition to this way of creating and storing your notes will be seamless? Or will the transition require more thought and work?