Today we’re introducing a new Ambassador who’s here to help you better use Evernote for research, whether you’re a working professional or in school. Alexandra Samuel is Vice President of Social Media at Vision Critical, a market research technology provider and the author of Work Smarter with Evernote (Harvard Business Review Press, December 2012). She blogs for Harvard Business Review. Today, she’s sharing her top tips for using Evernote to get more from your research. Please welcome Alexandra!
Whether your work week involves gathering competitive intelligence, writing white papers or planning business trips, the odds are good that research is part of what gets the job done. So if you can become more effective at finding, organizing, absorbing and retrieving your research materials, you’ll be more effective in your job.
That’s where Evernote comes in. As more and more of our jobs involve a significant research element, and as the volume of material available online tempts us into surveying and assimilating ever-larger collections of material, research capacity is a major factor in professional success. But even those of us with formal research training were likely trained in the pre-social media, or even the pre-Internet era: we’ve had to assemble and refine our own practices, toolkits and tricks for effective online research. Using Evernote as the foundation of your online research toolkit can help you master the art of research, and ensure that the fruits of your research labors are always at your fingertips.
I’ve had a chance to refine my own use of Evernote as a research tool in the course of writing Work Smarter with Evernote, released by Harvard Business Review Press today. The strategies I use can help you become a better researcher — and a more successful professional — in 2013. Here are some of the key elements in my toolkit:
Web Clipper: The Evernote Web Clipper is the workhorse of your researching life. Install it in every browser you use, including on your smartphone or tablet. (Here’s how to do that on an iPhone or iPad and on Android). Use it to clip articles and background reading on your client projects, quotations you want to incorporate (and properly cite) in a paper or compile reviews and recommendations for a vacation or shopping trip.
PDF to Evernote: If you download or receive a lot of research reports in PDF form, you may find yourself desperate for something better than a desktop folder full of individual PDF files. Drag those PDFs into Evernote and you can organize them into notebooks (for example, a notebook full of your competitors’ annual reports) or tag them with keywords that will make them easy to find. If you subscribe to Evernote Premium, you’ll also be able to search the full text of all those PDFs from within Evernote.
Paper: Oh, paper. I’d love to think Evernote could make it all just go away already, but there are moments when even the most geeked out researcher will find herself reaching for actual ink-on-dead-trees. Happily, Evernote can make your POFP (plain old-fashioned paper) notes more useful, if you take the time to snap (and ideally tag) them. Whether you’ve scribbled some notes in the margin of a book you’re annotating or diagramming the outline for a research paper on a flip chart, take a snapshot from within Evernote and you’ll be able to find those notes anytime you need them, simply by searching for a distinctive keyword you remember from the text. Thanks to its built-in optical character recognition (OCR), Evernote can even read your lousy handwriting.
Offline Notebooks: If you’re compiling research resources that you’ll need to refer to in the course of your daily work (like tech how-tos) or while on the road (like restaurant recommendations for a city you’re visiting) you may find them most useful if they’re quickly accessible while offline. Set these notebooks as Offline Notebooks in Evernote on your smartphone or tablet, and you’ll be able to quickly pull them up, even if you’re away from an Internet connection.
Interview notes: Heretical though it may sound in the age of Google, your best source of knowledge is often your fellow human beings. You know, actual people you sit down with and ask stuff. The problem is that human beings are not full text searchable…which is where Evernote comes in. Record your interviews, stash the audio recordings in Evernote, and add your written notes or transcript to the same note. (If you took your written notes by hand, snap them and drag the image into the same note as your audio file). Tag the interview with the subject name, topic, keywords covered and (crucial!) the tag “interview.” Now, you’ll never have trouble finding or referencing your interviews, and you’ll have them all findable in a single place — under that “interview” tag.
Tags: If you’re working with a large volume of research notes or resources in order to develop a document or deliverable, you will likely need to organize all that material with some sort of taxonomy. You can keep all related notes in one big notebook (like “Acme White Paper), and use tagging to organize those materials into subcategories. If you’re doing interdisciplinary work, you might use tags that distinguish between materials from different fields (like “organizational behavior” and “social psychology”), or if you’re categorizing an eclectic set of case studies you might tag them with industry or country names. Since you can assign multiple tags to any one note, you don’t have to choose between different taxonomy structures: tag your materials with the field name, country and industry and you can see which insights emerge from viewing your notebooks through different lenses.
Archives: When you’ve gone to the trouble of compiling the ultimate set of clips on motorcycle trips through Argentina, it can be pretty tough to toss those clips in the trash — even if you never expect to rent another motor bike in Buenos Aires. At the same time, you don’t want that notebook cluttering up your Evernote sidebar. My favourite way to archive a completed research project is to stash my now-deprecated notebook in a notebook stack I’ve titled “Z:Archive” (I use the Z so that it gets pushed to the bottom of my sidebar by default). I actually have multiple Z:Archive stacks, with titles like Z:Archive Travel and Z:Archive Household. If you’re getting close to your 250-notebook limit, you can create a single Archive notebook, and put all your deprecated notes in there: before moving a notebook like Argentina Motorcycle into your archive notebook, select all the notes in the notebook and tag them Argentina Motorcycle Notebook. Then if you ever want to re-create your notebook, it’s simply a matter of selecting all notes with that tag, and dragging them into a new notebook.
Sharing: If you’ve done your homework on a personal or professional challenge, the chances are good that your homework can be helpful to someone else. Sharing a notebook full of your Web clips and research notes — either as a Public Notebook, or a notebook that you invite specific colleagues to share — can be a terrific way to make your work useful to others, and can also showcase your own professional expertise. For example, a market researcher might create a “data highlights” notebook to share key survey results with colleagues who could use data snippets or charts in their own presentations and reports.
ReadThis: There’s one thing that all the careful clipping, filing and organizing can’t do for you as a researcher: get all the results of that research into your head. Until we get those Matrix-style jacks in our heads, we’re still stuck with the need to actually read, watch or listen to the stuff we have dug up and now want to know about. That’s why I use the tag “ReadThis” for all the bits of background reading I find and compile but fear I’ll never get to. When I have a few spare minutes between meetings or on the bus, I’ve always got something that I specifically want to read, so I can use the time to catch up. If I expect to have a chunk of offline time available for reading — typically on an airplane — I drag the latest ReadThis items into an empty notebook and make sure to sync it to my iPad as an Offline Notebook before I get on the plane.
Of course, it’s in the nature of research that you always want to find new and smarter ways to do that work: it’s that hunger for knowledge and improvement that drives the research process. As you refine your own research process so that you can work smarter in 2013, make sure to create a notebook or tag that you use to gather, read and recall the very best strategies for using Evernote itself.
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