My favourite study applications – Evernote

Over the course of the MBA I have used a number of different software applications to support my studies, for writing study notes, collecting and reviewing useful articles, and keeping up with business, management and leadership news. I was originally intending to write about a number of them in one blog post, but found that I’ve already filled it writing about Evernote, so will write about the others in a later post.

EvernoteEvernote is categorised a note-taking application, although the functionality added to the application over the last few years has led to it being far more useful than just for taking notes. Here’s a summary of how I have used, and continue to use Evernote to support my MBA studies:

Writing notes with EvernoteWriting notes

Initially I started using Evernote just for writing notes whilst studying, alongside MindManager (I’ve written previously here and here about where I used traditional notes vs. mind-maps). I created a different notebook for each module of the MBA, within which I would create the following notes:

  • 10 lesson notes, one for each of the module lessons
  • A note for each of the wbsLive webinars (see below)
  • Notes with reminders and ideas for the TMAs and final assignments
  • Other notes for ad-hoc purposes such as end of lesson tasks and Warwick Week activities

Each note can contain a combination of freeform text, tables, lists and images, and although the level of control over formatting is not as comprehensive as a traditional word processor such as Microsoft Word, it is usually sufficient for general note-taking. To make it easier to structure the notes, I created a template note with some pre-set headings, and then used this as the starting point for each of my new notes.

Evernote Quick NoteNote-taking during webinars

My next use of Evernote was to take notes during the wbsLive online webinars. I used the Quick Note feature for this purpose: this is invoked by clicking an icon in the toolbar on a Mac (and presumably something similar on a PC),  and creates a note without having to open the Evernote application. Within this was an option to take a screenshot of a portion of the screen, so I could take a copy of slides or whiteboard content that were being shared in the webinar, and embed it in the note alongside my comments. Although most of the slides were shared at the end of the presentation, they didn’t include annotations and whiteboards which were often used by some of the MBA lecturers. By embedding the slides directly, I retained the annotations and could also write my notes next to the slides themselves, and all of this was fully searchable thanks to Evernote’s image search function (see below).

Storing articles

One of the capabilities of Evernote that I have started using recently to support my P&D research is the Evernote Web Clipper. This is a browser plug-in that allows you to copy webpages into Evernote. Each webpage is stored as a note, along with any comments and tags (eg. strategy, innovation, leadership) that are entered when you ‘clip’ the web page.

Storing articles in Evernote

One of the great features of the Web Clipper is the ability to store the article in different formats:

  • Full article – stores the article without menus, headers, advertisements and other distracting content on the page;  if it is a multi-page article, Evernote will also attempt to capture all the pages in one note automatically, which I have found to be a real time saver for longer articles
  • Simplified article – based on the above, this copies just the text & images, and removes all formatting specific to that website
  • Full page – stores the entire web page
  • Screenshot – although the above methods allow highlighting of the text, taking a screenshot also allows full annotation of the webpage before it is sent to Evernote, with arrows, text, markers, etc. (see below)
  • Bookmark – this just stores a link to the webpage with a comment, which I have found really useful for keeping a reference to videos (although if you can find a transcript of the video, its better to use one of the top three options because the transcript can be searched whilst retaining a link to the video)

In addition to using the Web Clipper, Evernote also allows PDF documents to be stored as notes, by dragging the PDFs onto the Evernote icon in the Mac dock. This has been really useful as I undertake my P&D research, as I now have every document I have read or found interesting stored in Evernote for searching and easy reference.

Annotating research content

Annotating documents in EvernoteEvernote also produces Skitch, a complementary application that allows images and PDFs to be annotated, and whose functionality is now built directly into Evernote. When reviewing articles for my P&D research I can highlight text, write notes, leave markers, and make other annotations directly onto the PDFs themselves. These annotations can be made and viewed not only on the Mac application, but also within Evernote for iPad – great for when I’m reading articles on the train or away from my laptop.

Another really nice feature that they created is an annotation summary – at the top of the PDF is a section that shows all annotations made throughout the document, so rather than having to review a 30-page article, I can quickly see the 5-10 points that I commented on or highlighted.

Searching for content

Evernote’s search facility includes all the capabilities you would expect, including searching by notebook, tag, keyword, creation date, etc., and also searches the content in attached PDF documents as well. As I am uploading all my research documents into Evernote, this means I can now instantaneously search all of them for a keyword or phrase, which I am sure will be extremely valuable when writing my dissertation, and wouldn’t be easy if they were just stored as files on my laptop .

In addition, Evernote can also search images as well – this means it searches all the screenshots I captured from the various webinars, including handwritten annotations, plus any images that I have uploaded from the notes.  This is really helpful for PDFs that are just a scanned copy of an older article or book, and do not contain the text in a format that is searchable using normal PDF readers.

Tip for those using Evernote during the modules: Creating notes with just one image of a model/framework, along with the title of that model, is a really good way of keeping all the models in one place – I did this for one of my later modules and it was really valuable, I just wish I had done it from the start!

Studying on the go

Evernote is completely cloud-based, so my notes are always available from any device & platform (Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android, web and others). Although this is expected given the increase in tablet and smartphone use over the last few years, Evernote have done a fantastic job with implementing these applications, and preventing the mobile/tablet versions from being a cut-down version of the desktop ones. This means they are very usable for reviewing, searching, and adding content – for a number of modules most of my notes were written on the iPad using a bluetooth keyboard, as was most of my revision for the exams.

Evernote on the iPad

Another benefit of the cloud-based approach is that search results from Evernote can be shown alongside my web results if I search for something in Google – this has been very useful in reminding me about content I had written in my notes when I started the MBA over two years ago.

And more…

That’s a quick overview of how I use Evernote, but there are lots of other features that I haven’t mentioned but use regularly, including:

  • checkbox lists
  • reminders
  • shortcuts
  • presentation mode
  • notebook sharing
  • emailing notes

As you can probably tell, I am very impressed with Evernote, particularly as I have recently started using some of the functions that are well suited to studying, such as article clipping and annotations.  Best of all, you can download it for free, although there is an affordable Premium version if you want to use some of the more advanced functionality.

Hopefully this post has given you a useful overview of how Evernote can be used to support your studies, and if any current students also use Evernote (or other note-taking applications), it would be great to hear how you use them – just post in the comments area below.

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8 thoughts on “My favourite study applications – Evernote”

  1. Hi Matt, great article again. Thanks for sharing. I used Evernote for semester 1 and am now trying OneNote for semester 2. Nothing particularly against Evernote (although the premium nagging was a little tedious) but OneNote arrived free on Mac just as I was finishing semester 1 and I use that at work, so I thought I’d give it a try. As it turns out, I’m not missing Evernote at all. Cheers, Larry

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    1. Hi Larry, glad you liked the article. I used to use OneNote as well for note-taking at work – both of the applications had their strengths, but I think that when I started using Evernote one of the reasons was because there wasn’t a Mac version available. I admit I haven’t looked at OneNote for Mac since it was released though, so can’t really comment on how they compare now.

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  2. Great article! Evernote is absolutely amazing. The web clipper functionality is brilliant. Also the functionality to e-mail directly to your Evernote is superb. Helpful to read about Skitch as that’s something I don’t really use. A little request: could you write a blog entry about the wbs software? I’m researching distance learning MBA’s and will definitely apply for a spot on the MBA that starts in January 2015. I haven’t seen much of the wbs functionality. Imperial have a great demo of the software on their web site but it’s difficult to understand how good the software is. What do you think Matt? Great blog by the way which definitely helped push Warwick to the top of my shortlist.

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