Evernote for Academics: 6 Notes to Help Manage Library Research

Evernote has become a favorite tool for composing class and seminar notes, reading notes, paper ideas and the like. I’ve also found it to be a great place to organize and manage research.

Below are six “notes” I’ve started creating and keeping for each large research project. Each heading below represents a note title in Evernote. Following each, I’ll also provide short descriptions for my typical note content. When working on multiple projects, I add an underscore and a shortened form of the project name to each of these note titles (ex: “Research Log _ Erasmus”). This prevents new projects from having notes with the same titles as older projects.

1. Research Log

Evernote Library ResearchHere I keep short records of research progress. I always note the date and give a brief description of what I have done. So I always know which catalogs or databases I’ve searched using which keywords or subject headings. I know which bibliographies I have searched in the most important books and articles for my topic. I know for which journals I’ve had to manually skim tables of contents, and even where I might need to pick up the task again the next time. Basically, I’ve grown tired of doing the same searches multiple times simply because I can’t remember what I have done a month or more back.

2. Abbreviations

I keep a list of abbreviations (of my creation) for books and articles that I reference as I make reading notes. This is not identical to the abbreviations list found at the beginning of a book or dissertation. I will include abbreviations for book titles and the like, even apart from a series or journal title (which is where abbreviations might typically be used).

3. Sources to Find

As I read, I will often see references to more works I should consult. I don’t want to search for that new source right then—I’m trying to read—so I jot it down for later. With each of those sources, I may also include a brief note on why I need to look for that source: did the author I’m currently reading say this other source is a good summary or authority on a particular topic? I will often include an abbreviation (see #2 above) and page number for the work that pointed me to this new source. Then when I get the new book or article, I have a reminder of why I’m looking at it. I find it frustrating to pick up a work knowing I really need to look at it, but not remembering exactly why!

4. Request(ed) Books

Here I note which book I have requested through interlibrary loan (and occasionally those I still need to request) and the date. Again, I typically note why I’m requesting the book. When they arrive a week later, I don’t want to wonder why I requested it (see #3 above). This list is especially helpful in the early research stages where many of the same titles appear in different database searches. Seeing so many sources in a short time can make everything sound familiar. So it can be difficult to remember if you have already requested an item. I make a note!

5. Books to Pick Up

This is just a list of call numbers. If the books are in different libraries, I group the call numbers by library and write the library name above each group. Then I select the entire list, change it to a “To Do List.” Instantly, I have a book shopping list that I can pull up on my phone. I check them off the list as I pull them from the shelves. Later I will delete items from the list.

6. Things to Read

This is a basic reading list I create as I learn which sources are most important to my research (often by seeing them frequently cited in other sources). Like note #3 & #4 above, I jot a quick bit about why I think I need to read each source. When I get around to reading an item from the list, I know what I expect to get from it.

Some will see these items and think I spend too much time organizing and thinking about organizing—fair enough! I do not intend this list to be prescriptive for others involved in library research. I’ve just figured out I need brief notes to increase efficiency. I hope sharing these will help others generate their own ideas for better efficiency. Those of you using Evernote in the academic world, how are you using it to manage research? Let me know!

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Comments

  1. Very helpful. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Garrick Bailey says:

    Ryan,

    What precisely the difference between ‘Things to Read’ and ‘Sources to Find’?

    • Garrick,

      ‘Sources to Find’ will be anything that appears relevant to my topic I think I should take a look at. It may be worth reading, worth skimming, or worthless for my work. And some of these sources may make the ‘Things to Read’ list. This list is everything I have seen mentioned in my reading or heard about that I just haven’t taken the time to look for in our catalog, databases, etc.

      ‘Things to Read’ are items I’ve determined to be worth reading narratively. These items appear to be extremely important to my thesis and may be books, chapters, articles, etc. Typically, these are items I have already glanced at and determined to be worth much more time. They may also be something another author has mentioned. If I’m reading or skimming one author who writes “the best and most thorough treatment on ‘x’ topic is still ‘this work’ by Jim Bob” — and ‘x’ topic is extremely important to my own work — Jim Bob’s work will be immediately added to my ‘Things to Read’ list. At the same time, I’ll note the author (and page #) who said the work is important. Being on the ‘Things to Read’ list, however, doesn’t always mean that source will be read. There are times when I start reading one of those sources and determine it isn’t worth the time. Then I may just skim it for highlights or dump it completely depending upon relevance to my current work.

      Does that make sense?

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