Evernote is an amazing FREE application that could change the way you record, store and retrieve your data, in the lab as well as at home. The idea behind Evernote, as shown on the right, is to allow you to capture all of your ideas and put them into your personal database on Evernote’s servers so that you can retrieve them later, when you need them.
What’s so good about Evernote?
This is a reassuringly simple idea, but the thing that makes Evernote so special is that the developers have put a lot of effort into making it really easy to capture and retrieve your data, no matter where you are (as long as you have an internet collection). Evernote for PC and Mac sit right there on your main computer waiting for you to drop in or retreive a piece of information as you work. Evernote web allows you to add or retrieve info from your database from any internet connected computer and the mobile versions (currently only for IPhone, IPod Touch and Android devices) let you capture notes and send them to your database while you are on the move.
Put this together and you have a fantastically versatile and powerful system that lets you keep your info organised in a way that was never possible before. For scientists, that is a boon.
I won’t go through the ins and outs of how to use Evernote as that has been covered elsewhere. A good place to start is on the Evernote website itself, where they have a great collection of videos that explain the whole thing.
What I do want to highlight is that the one thing that makes Evernote particularly useful for me is the variety of methods you can use to capture your data. Typing in your ideas to a new Evernote note, clipping a screenshot of a web article or PDF you have been reading to a note are the bread and butter ways, but Evernote also has a built in features that allows you to capture and send images taken with your webcam or (I/android) phone, or even record audio clips, and send them straight to your database.
When you add a new note to your database you can assign it to a project folder and tag it with keywords and text to make it easy to retrieve later. So with a bit of creativity, its easy to fit Evernote into your daily workflow and make your life much easier!
Here are some ideas on how scientists could use Evernote:
1. Capture figures, tables and important passages from papers as you read them. Now you don’t need to search through the whole paper to find the important parts, just go to your Evernote database and search for the topic you are interested in. You can also capture useful information from websites in the same way.
2. Record ideas on the fly. You are sitting at the computer or, even on the bus to work, and you have brainwave. No need to get your notebook out, just make a voice recording or a quick text note and send it to your database to pick up later whenever you want it.
3. Store links to useful websites and categorise them according to your projects. If a website or page is only relevant to a very specific part of your work, you don’t need to clutter up your browser bookmarks with it, just paste the URL into Evernote store it in the relevant project folder.
4. Easily capture your results in the lab. Gels, stains, blots even traces on the monitor of the clapped-out computer that runs the spec can all be photographed and instantly stored in the relevant project folder.
5. An instant protocols database. Whenever you receive or write a new protocol, you can use Evernote to create a database that will help you find it later. If it’s in electronic format, just paste the text in but if it is a hard copy you just need to take a photo. For an added touch of amazingness, if someone is giving you some advice on the protocol, why not ask them if you can record what they are saying, then clip the audio file to the protocol note for later reference?
6. Your work in the news. If your field of work (or even your actual work) is reported in the press then you could take clips of webpages, photos of newspapers etc to build a collection that will help you stay up-to-date with what is being reported about your work.
7. Take less notes at lab meetings. Just photograph and database the whiteboard. Remember, when you make the note containing the photograph you can tag it with keywords and enter text to say exactly when and where the lab meeting was.
8. Conferences to go. When you are attending a conference, create a folder for that conference and use Evernote to record all of the info you get from it. If you are at a talk, you could use your mobile device to record what the presenters are saying and photograph key slides. Just make sure you get the speaker’s permission first. If you take notes in a notebook, there’s no need to let them sit on the shelf gathering dust — just snap a photo of the most relevant pages, tag with key words and add them the conference folder. The same goes for posters — just ask the person who made it if you can take a photo. When you get home it will all be waiting in your database.
9. Business cards and info leaflets. What do you do when someone gives you a business card or leaflet with some useful info on it? I used to store them in a drawer somewhere and hope I’d remember where they were when I needed them. Now I just take a quick photo and store it in my Evernote database. Much less clutter!
As I mentioned before Evernote is completely free. There is a premium version available that has some more features that you might want to check out, but the free version is excellent. To get started with Evernote, click here.
Rather annoyingly, I can’t come up with a 10th idea for a use of Evernote for scientists at the moment. Can you suggest one?
Also, if you use Evernote, or if you try it out, let us know what you think about it.