“Remember Everything”: How I’ve Used Evernote To Take Reading Notes

Evernote has been lauded in many corners as a must-have in a scientist’s toolkit. But I’m sure that like me, there are people out there who don’t know where to start in using Evernote as a scientist-in-training. I’ve decided to share a bit of my thoughts on how one can use Evernote as a scientist, but rather than provide a simple listaragraph (list + paragraph) on how Evernote can be used, I will share more deeply on the workflows that I’ve designed using Evernote. In this post, I’ll share how I use Evernote to take reading notes on the papers I read.

It starts with actually reading the paper.

But once I get over what I call the motivational hump and actually finish reading the paper, there’s a few things I do with Evernote.

Firstly, I create a new note, and title it using the citation. (I have Papers3 for Mac, so a keyboard shortcut is all it takes to insert the citation in the title of the note).

Next up, I start typing down a summary of the paper, along with preliminary thoughts I have about the paper.

Aside: I found this strategy to be immensely helpful in remembering the content of the paper. By exercising my short-term memory, I’m employing a memory technique that I learned while as an undergraduate, that the length of retention of a concept or an information snippet increases with the number of strategically-spaced recalls attempted.

I then mark on the printed copy of the paper that it is read.

Typically, while reading, I find myself underlining things to highlight them, especially if it’s something worth remembering. To speed up access to these information snippets, I invest the time to highlight them on the PDF copy in Papers, so that if I need a quick fact-check, I can look through the highlights for that piece of information.

Finally, I bring the paper home, scan it in on my home printer, and attach it to the Evernote note that contains my preliminary notes.

As I write up my reading notes on Evernote, because I am a premium subscriber, Evernote intelligently seeks out related notes for me, and therefore gives me access to other notes that i have written up on other papers that may be related. This has been really useful in reviewing old thoughts that I had written down, which turned out to be erroneous assumptions I had made about the influenza viral packaging system. Even now, as I’m drafting this post on Evernote, I’m getting a lot of notes that are “ways to research smarter”, or ‘ninja tricks for making Evernote better” or “mandatory tools for digital scientists”, underscoring the power of their recommendation tool.

In the long run, I can foresee this becoming a very useful tool in my effectiveness as a researcher. In a separate post, I will detail how I use it as a “digital lab notebook”, and how it’s actually been more effective than a pen-and-paper lab notebook in keeping all my thoughts together.

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