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System for taking and organising reading notes

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Posted by Dr Andus
Dec 4, 2011 at 12:32 AM


What would be the ultimate system for taking notes from readings and then organising them (e.g. for academic projects)? It would have to be something cross-platform, not just across computer platforms but also including hard copy books, newspaper etc.

I’m not satisfied with my current set-up. My notes are dispersed across machines. Some are in Whizfolders on the PC (which was good for capturing notes from PDFs and then organising them into hierarchies. Whizfolders also allows for keywords, but it wasn’t convenient enough for me to start using them). Some are in notes within Surfulater items. Others are in Notebooks for iPad. I want to get more organised for my next project.

So what would be the ideal set-up? I should be able to capture quotes and add notes from hard copy books. Perhaps some kind of digital pen scanner? PDF-reading apps in iPad/iPod can export text notes. I feel I’m missing a central database solution that would help me gather all these notes and organise them and analyse them. Whizfolders’ hierarchy is limited, once you have thousands of notes.

Anyone managed to come up with the ultimate system and workflow for capturing and organising notes from across platforms? I suppose it would make sense to somehow link the notes to references in some referencing system. I imagine Citavi could be one such solution? I just wonder how robust it is for storing, retrieving, organising and analysing tons of data. Or could UltraRecall be such an ultimate database?


Posted by JBfrom
Dec 4, 2011 at 12:42 AM


Cyborganize, lol


Posted by jimspoon
Dec 4, 2011 at 08:50 AM


Dr. Andus - this is a problem with so many parts!  Consider just one of the parts - how to get information from a hard copy document or book.  You mention the possibility of using a digital pen scanner for this purpose.  This might be a good tool for extracting very short blocks of text - but not for larger blocks or whole pages.  Why not capture whole pages at first, and then later on extract the shorter sections as needed?  I’ve used my digital camera in the library to take pictures of book pages.  Because of the positioning of the camera in relation to the book, there is perspective error, and because of the curvature of the spine, the lines are curved.  The resulting images are poorly suited for OCR, but the newer versions of OCR software like Omnipage Pro do a remarkable job of correcting these problems and recognizing the text.

I also purchased a “magic wand” hand scanner - another thing you might consider - but the quality of the image depends on the steadiness of your hand as you move the wand across the page.



Posted by Alexander Deliyannis
Dec 4, 2011 at 10:30 AM


Without saying it’s perfect by any means, I believe that Evernote comes closer to a universal capture system than anything else I’ve tried.

#1 There are innumerable ways to input material into Evernote: capture from web (from just about any browser), send via mail, copy, attach files, direct scan (easier with ScanSnaps I believe), snapshot via smartphone, voice record, handwritten notes via pen interface, note & record via LiveScribe, etc.

#2 Accessing that information is as easy as it gets: universal search across notebooks, full indexing—even of text in images and non OCR’d PDFs, Windows and Mac native clients (why not Linux, I still wonder), smartphone native clients, web interface, local synchronised copies of databases etc.

#3 Organising the information is not Evernote’s strongest point, providing only 2 levels of notebook organisation, but the (unlimited) hierarchical tagging should be enough for most uses. Evernote also allows better suited applications to use it as infrastructure. The easiest way for this is to copy an Evernote info item’s unique link to just about anywhere else.


Posted by Dr Andus
Dec 4, 2011 at 01:43 PM


Sounds like Evernote could make a scanner unnecessary, if I can just use my iPod Touch to take a snapshot, which then would be OCR-ed automatically? Generally the quotes I want to capture are rarely longer than a paragraph or two, so a quick snapshot would definitely be more convenient than me retyping it my iPad…

I have tried Evernote years ago but there was always something that put me off. The tape interface just didn’t work for me. It will sound silly but for years I didn’t upgrade the desktop application because I preferred the old Evernote Clipper for screen capture. But that was before the smartphone/tablet world, so it’s time for another look.

I would just want to make sure that it is also easy to export notes in such a form that I can get them into some more powerful software to analyse.


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