7 Smart Ways To Use Evernote For Research As A PhD

If you could choose only one software tool for your PhD, what would that be?

In my case I have it very clear: Evernote.

What would you prefer: to use 10 different software tools or only one?

Evernote is the Swiss-knife of software and a great tool to organise your PhD. I have used Evernote for research since day 1 in my PhD.

OK, I have to admit that I have a crush on Evernote, so I might not be very objective. This is not the first time I recommend Evernote for research as a PhD student.

But hey! I am not alone in this. In Academia, lots of scientists use Evernote for research. Some people use it to improve academic productivity. Others to keep track of everything in a single notebook. It just makes life in academia easier.

Evernote is waaaaaay more than just a notepad. Let me show you 7 smart ways to use Evernote for research.

Evernote for research #1 Meeting minutes

OK, meetings suck, everybody knows that. And yes, my first tip to use Evernote for research has to do with meetings. Since you have to attend them, why not doing it in style and productively? With Evernote you can track all the information related to meetings.

Start by creating a notebook called “Meetings”. Here you will dump the following:

  • Meeting minutes. You write down all the important issues, take-home messages, action points discussed, who does what when. You can even have a minutes template to reuse for ever meeting.
  • Meeting notes. Keeping minutes is for pros, but sometimes it is too much. A simple note with some key ideas would do. Well, that’s what Evernote is for.
  • Audio recordings. Writing everything said at a meeting at the same time it’s being said might be a nasty task. Why not record it in audio and transcribe it later? Just use an audio note instead of text.

It doesn’t matter if you have created several notes with content of the same meeting. Each note has a unique link (like a URL). You can refer to other relevant notes from the master note by inserting their links.

Evernote for research, it has a funny logo

Evernote for research #2 Snapshots of a whiteboard

Exhausted. That’s how you feel after a brainstorming session with your colleagues. You have generated new ideas, discussed, proposed arguments and facts.

The result is a whiteboard full of formulas, diagrams and information. That’s the baby of your intense thinking process. A whiteboard full of science. A scientific roadmap for your next months.

It even looks pretty. So pretty you wish you could submit it to a journal. Now pat yourself in the back and go implement those ideas.

But what do you do with the precious whiteboard? Unscrew it from the wall and carry it with you? Write down everything in a sheet of paper? Come on, of course not. You are a digital PhD student. You use Evernote. And your phone’s camera.

You snap a photo (or several) of your whiteboard and store it in the notebook of the project where it belongs. Let the character recognition algorithm do its magic. In a second you will have a crisp snapshot of your ideas, whose content can be queried from the search bar.

If you also use Skitch, you can add some notes on top of your photo, store it in Evernote and share it with those that helped to brainstorm.

Evernote for research #3 Scientific conferencing

Let’s continue with using Evernote for research and snapping photos.

Take photos of posters in conferences and let Evernote detect the text. Take photos and store all travel documents, tickets, time departures. Take snapshots also of all your bills and expenses so you can easily declare them when you are back.

So you managed to go to for the first time to a conference during your PhD, kudos! Now, how to look professional?

  • Tip 1, don’t be all the time overdressed with a suit and a tie. Don’t forget you are a scientist. Relax and wear clean and comfortable clothes.
  • Tip 2, don’t walk all the time behind your professor like a little duckling behind mama duck. Explore the area. Learn to socialize at a conference by yourself.
  • Tip 3, don’t ask people to send you their poster handout. Instead, take a snapshot with Evernote.

From my experience, I only receive via email half of the posters I ask at a conference. Maybe the person forgets to send it, he looses my business card or simply doesn’t feel confident sharing the poster.

In any case, if you keep a photo of the poster in Evernote you don’t depend on others sending it, you can access it when you want and again, search easily the text included in the photo.

Evernote for research #4 Academic literature

Let’s see now how Evernote can help you with a typical task in academia: reading papers.

Create a notebook “to read” and clip every scientific paper directly from your browser.

As a PhD student you need to digest a lot information. You are bombarded in many ways: papers, websites, Twitter, emails and blogs. You are constantly discovering new information. But you might want to read it later.

Even worse, you might not take action when you come across a piece of information and regret it down the road. Where did you see it? In a blog, a journal website, the newspaper? Why not to store everything just in case you need it?

Welcome to Evernote clipper. It allows you to create a new note with anything you see in a website. A photo? Got it. A paragraph? Sure. A whole pdf? You name it

The idea is to dump everything in Evernote and read it later. You can batch process several “to read” notes when you have some iddle time. Remember, grouping activities in batches is a productivity must in graduate school. And here, Evernote for PhD students is a must.

Evernote for research GTD method

Evernote for research #5 Task manager

Tasks tasks tasks. We PhD students have lots of things to do. Finish that draft. Review those articles. Read those web clippings. Cry in silence. Redo that experiment.

You can simply track some tasks by writing a key phrase like “Create Figure 4″. For this a to-do list software like Wunderlist would be enough.

Other tasks need linking an object or longer information, like “Reply email (link to email)” or “Read latest post of Next Scientist (copy of the post)”. With Evernote you can track all types of tasks.

I will mention 3 ways to use Evernote in research as a task manager, in increasing order of complexity.

  • Add a reminder with a date to each note that has an action for your to do list. An example would be, the date you have to send your boss that draft you are preparing with Evernote.
  • Create a (default) notebook called “To Do” where you dump every single note that you have to manage. Then create a notebook “Today” where you will drag the notes you want to tackle today.
  • Implement the Getting Things Done system with notebooks. If you want to learn how to do GTD in Evernote I recommend you the free course The Secret Weapon.

If you want a quick fix or you don’t enjoy process and systems, go for option 1 or 2. If you require absolute control and don’t mind putting some time to learn the GTD system, go for option 3 GTD in Evernote, it will also be a long-term productivity investment.

Evernote for research #6 Automate your life

Here’s a great time saver, IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That. You can automate your life with IFTTT and Evernote.

IFTTT has a list of channels that you can “connect”, creating a recipe. The idea is that an event in channel A triggers an action in channel B. And you guessed it right, there’s an Evernote channel in IFTTT.

For example, if in Twitter you mark a tweet as favourite, then store that tweet in Evernote. Another one, if you check-in in Foursquare, create a note in Evernote with the info of that check-in.

Evernote for research automate your life with IFTTT

Image by LifeHacker

The list of channels is so long that you can get very creative with this automagical way of keeping track of your life with Evernote.

Since I have a terrible memory I used two recipes with Evernote: store my Google Calendar events and my Foursquare check-ins in Evernote.

Evernote for research #7 Academic blogging

I heavily use Evernote to run my academic blog. You already know that you can clip everything you find on the Internet. That’s what I do when I research new ideas for blog posts. These are some of the things I clip:

  • Articles that cover an idea I also want to write about. You can see these as reminders of what to write. I store them in “Ideas”. This is relaly handy when I get stuck and I don’t know what to write about.
  • Photos (and the link) that I might want to include in my posts. For instance, all those funny memes I use thoughout Next Scientist.
  • Articles I want to link to from my post. They cover in depth some ideas I mention, support my statements or simply count as extra content to read. These get the tag “cite”.
  • Blog posts that I want to imitate. What? Copy? More or less. They might have a catchy headline, or a visual division of the content. Maybe I like the writing style, or the tone. If I like a specific construction, I might just clip a few sentences.

Many of blog posts start in Evernote as a draft. In fact, I drafted this post as a note in Evernote.

Evernote’s simple text editor is great to get your writing started without worrying too much about the formating. Once I am satisfied with the content I move my text to WordPress, where I work on the formating, images and headlines.

BTW, If you are thinking of diving into academic blogging check these resources and our free videotutorial on setting up your academic blog.

I cannot finish this post on Evernote for research as a PhD student without recommending the best, must-have, awesome learning material for Evernote users. It’s called Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly.

With Evernote Essentials you will learn many ways to squeeze all the juice out of Evernote. It’s been such a successful product that it’s not on its 4th edition. The nicest thing is that Brett keeps improving this e-book and you will get all the future updates free of charge.

You can buy Evernote Essentials here. Highly recommended.

Do you know other uses of Evernote for research as a PhD student? Share them in the comments.

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About Julio Peironcely

Julio Peironcely, PhD is the founder of Next Scientist and a PhD by Leiden University. He helps PhD students to stay motivated, be more productive and finish their PhDs. Follow him on Twitter (@peyron) or read more from him on JulioPeironcely.com.


  1. I’m curious what you’ve tried in addition to Evernote?

    I’m losing interest in Evernote, and find it doesn’t work well for me. For instance, once a PDF is stored within, no other programs can access that version on the PDF. That is, it isn’t stored on Dropbox as a normal file. I’ve long since stopped annotating in Evernote, but seem to recall the annotations didn’t work in other programs.

    I’ve also grown frustrating with the structure of the interface. Notebooks are just buckets you throw things in with little to no structure. Then you can have stacks of notebooks, which is like having a pallet-load of buckets. I much prefer the organizational structure of OneNote, but Microsoft has made it difficult and cumbersome to share notebooks between Mac and iOS.

    At the moment, I use Notability for taking notes during lectures. Notability has the ability to record lectures and sync note taking to the audio. When played back, the notes are draw on the page as if I did them in lecture. One can also click on a hand written note and jump to that point in the audio. Very nice. On the other hand, I’ve only used this review technique two or three times in the three or so years I’ve used Notability, and will probably just use paper and pen next semester.

    For PDF management, I use BibDesk on my Mac, and PocketBib on my iPad. Annotations work as they should, files are stored on Dropbox in a subfolder (configurable), and the PDFs are moved there and named something meaningful automatically. Of course they both play nicely with Texpad, my LaTeX editor of choice for creating documents. But I don’t really like any reference manager. I feel like I can’t “see” the papers. I know things are in them, but finding the information is a challenge. I need something like Docear (not ready for primetime in my opinion) or other mind mapping software to which I can attach my papers so I can see the structure and relationships. I’m currently exploring iThoughts but haven’t paid the price yet.

    I’ve been using OmniFocus for task management. I really like the location based reminders so I can set a reminder when I arrive (or leave) school, for instance. But alas, it has grown tiresome too and I’ve starting looking at Wanderlist as a simpler replacement.

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Trello to manage tasks and/or projects. I used shared boards for managing projects for about six months and it worked well. Very intuitive, shallow learning curve, and well received by all skill levels.

    In conclusion, while Evernote is nice, I would like to hear what else you’ve used and why you consider Evernote superior to them.

    (I think it would be nice if your blog posts were dated.)


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