Notes in Evernote can be organized using notebooks and tags, or a combination of these. Because Evernote is so flexible, it can be frustrating for a new user who begins accumulating information when their collection seems disorganized or ineffective. How do you organize academic material so that it can help you with the task of writing a cumulative paper or studying for a comprehensive exam? Here are some suggestions that might get you thinking about what might work for you.

There are as many approaches to organizing information as there are scholars (and students!). There is no optimal solution. You should research how others have organized their notes and be willing to explore different approaches. One resource Is the shared notebook "Evernote for Academics"

On this page, we offer one approach that relies on developing a tagging scheme that helps with input and organization for large note collections maintained over long periods of time. One thing to think about as your begin developing your Personal Knowledge Base (PKB) is how you are going to access your notes once your collection of notes is HUGE and you've been collecting notes for a LONG TIME. How will you access your notes on that article your read five years ago? How will you remind yourself of the analysis you've done now that you have another year's worth of data to add to a study? How can you review a technique you learned years ago and apply it to new situation that has just come up? How can you add a resource to your collection that is actually relevant to a project you "shelved" a while ago, but hope one day to return to?

Some people choose to rely on clever searches to access their information, while others design detailed frameworks relevant to their area of study. On this page we describe one way to use tags to help you organize your PKB. At the heart of this approach is to use tags that include a TYPE, a TOPIC, and (possibly) a SUBTOPIC.

One approach is to group notes in logically connected notebooks, e.g. by courses and then tag notes based on the type of resource they represente, e.g. concepts, projects, writing assignments, tasks, etc.

To do this:
  • Think of the different types of tags you might use. Tags can identify concepts (keywords), projects (e.g. EDC 587 Lit Rev), or even significant people. Choose a prefix for each tag type. For example, tags related to projects can begin with "PR-" while concept tags can begin with "ZZ-". These "type" prefixes force tags of the same type to be listed together in the sidebar and on the tag index page.
    • CL.Classes. e.g. CL.EDC503Su16
    • PR.Projects e.g. PR.ConferenceProposal2013
    • ZZ.Topic or concepts e.g. ZZ.Topic.Subtopic
  • A critical feature of Evernote is that when you begin typing a tag's name in the tag field, it tries to predictively "fill in" the rest of the tag's name. This allows you to use tags with as much detail as you need without having to remember their exact form. Over time, your own taxonomy will become part of how you think about your collection, and categorizing or accessing notes will be a snap.
  • Because you don't have to remember the entire tag name, you can include subtopics in your tags if needed. A subtopic can follow the topic, making a complete tag resemble the last entry in the list above. As you add subtopics to your tagged topics, a digital taxonomy forms that mirrors how you are organizing your knowledge internally. By searching on these tags, you can recall each topic in as much detail as you need.

This idea is illustrated in the figure below:


So each of your tags should have the form:


(PR = "Project")
(CL = Class, for class notes)
(ZZ = my knowledge tag type. PK = My abbreviation for Pedagogical Knowledge)

Once you decide on the types of tags, and your naming conventions, tag away! You can assign multiple tags to any note stored in any notebook. Notes can include more than one tag, so they can be associated with more than one project or writing assignment. By assigning tags based on your research interests as well as key concepts in your field, resources that you come across in the context of a particular course can be recalled months or years later.

You can set Evernote to list your tags in the sidebar, giving you quick cross-notebook access to all you research and project notes. If you've used a different prefix for each type of tag, then they will be listed in neat groups in your sidebar.

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 10.35.28 AM.png

Tip: Once you begin accumulating a number of references under a particular tag, it might be useful to synthesize your knowledge across these sources.

Note: You may be asking yourself:

Why so complicated? Why not just tag notes with subjects or keywords?
Answer: You certainly CAN tag notes any way that is most comfortable for you. This particular approach grew from my own work as a scholar, and a habit of capturing large amounts of web-based articles about issues related to my teaching, e.g. issues around educational reform. By the time I reached 5000 notes, I noticed that the keywords I was using to tag my notes were hard to remember, e.g. Did I use discourse communities, community, or community of practice? Also, the keywords were alphabetically listed on my sidebar, but were mixed in with my project tags.

Results: Many of my tags were close in meaning and required me to keep them straight in my head. The chaotic sidebar was essentially useless.
It was a MESS!

I decided that I needed a way to create a taxonomy from my tags that helped me categorize and access my resources. as painlessly as possible. I ended up using a Type.Topic.Subtopic approach. I now have over 25000 notes and 1300 tags, and I can still find things related to courses, projects, and manuscripts years after I stopped working those items. This approach has worked for me, but your mileage may vary.

It is very unpleasant to have to go back through a large collection of notes to retag them using a new approach, so it is worth thinking early about how you will work with your collection as it grows. - fogleman fogleman