If you have decided to create a Personal Knowledge Base(PKB) using Evernote, you may be wondering how you can use it to meet your goals. Whether you are trying to prepare for exams, gather research into an argument for an essay, or just compile your notes pertaining to an enduring interest, you can use your Evernote-based PKB to organize, synthesize, and evaluate knowledge based on a collection of your notes.

Synthesizing Across Notes in Your PKB

There are as many ways to synthesize as there are learners. Two ways that you might find useful include (1) creating a "synthesis" note that summarizes a collection of notes in useful ways; and (2) using a mindmap or other visual organizer that allows nodes to be hyperlinked to notes in your PKB. Each of these options is described below.

Step 1: Assemble your collection of notes

  • Call up a list of notes that you might want to include in your synthesis by choosing the tag or notebook that defines the collection.
  • Using shift or ctrl-clicking, select subset of notes you want to include in your synthesis and ctrl-click again on the selection to choose the option "Copy Note Links" from the popup menu.

Now you are ready to assemble this collection of note links and use them as a group.

Strategy 1: A Synthesis Note

The first strategy is to create a note that gathers links to a collection of notes and provides a space to identify connections, themes, etc. . For example, say you have been researching a topic for a paper, and each time you found a source, you clipped it into your PKB. For each clipped resource in your PKB, you tagged it based on the project, read it, and wrote a brief summary of its relevance.

Now how do you look across the sources to identify main ideas, themes, and points of departure? Looking across your resource summaries might help.
You can start the synthesis process by creating another note that contains links to each of these notes as well as other information that helps you think about how they are connected. To do this, follow these steps:

  • Get a collection of note links for the notes you want to synthesize by following the process described previously.
  • Create another note to contain your synthesis note. It might be a good idea to create a separate notebook to keep these synthesis notes together.
  • Paste the collection of note links that you copied previously into this note.
  • Next to each note link, copy a brief note summary after the note's link on your synthesis note. If you have already read and summarized each note, you can use the summary you've already developed.
  • As you review the information from each of your linked notes, you can organize these links/summaries in a way that you find useful by cutting and pasting the note link with its summary under common headings.
  • As you assemble multiple note links under a heading, it might be useful to write a summary of the heading, citing the range of information contained in your linked notes.


Strategy 2: A Mindmap of Linked Notes

Sometimes, it is useful to be able to arrange and rearrange ideas in a more graphical way to see connections and patterns. One way to do this is to represent the ideas you're working in a visual map such as a mind map, a concept map, or a web diagram. An example using the web-based mindmapping program MindMup is shown below:

Click to go to map.

To connect your visual representation with you PKB, it must support attaching hyperlinks to each node, concept, etc. To create a hyperlinked map, include note links for your collection of related notes in you map. Again, once you create your map, you can arrange its ideas in ways your find useful. Note: The links in the map below are for shared versions of the original notes.

If you attach or link this visual representation file to a note in your synthesis notebook, you can revisit and refresh this map as your knowledge collection grows. The diagram illustrates the relationship between the map and the notes.

(insert mindmap with hyperlinked notes)

A note about note links: There are two types of links that can be generated for a given note. One type is a link that will launch the note by first launching the Evernote application on your computer. This link is generated by the "Copy note link" menu item in Evernote. The second type of link will launch a publically shared version of your note within your Internet browser. This link is found as "Copy share URL" in the export menu button just above the note's text.


Why is synthesis and evaluation so important? The kind of learning that you are expected to engage in in college is very different than what you experienced in earlier grades. In many of your high school courses, academic success involved producing correct answers that parroted what was covered in courses. In college courses, students are often expected to recognize and understand problems from different points of view and understand that most real problems have many solutions, each with its strengths and weaknesses. Over their college career, successful students develop the ability to understand a situation from a variety of perspectives, and construct evidence-based arguments based on their own evaluation of the merits of the situation. Having a collection of the ideas and knowledge you gather along the way may assist you in making more connections.