Note taking and tagging software.

Discussion in 'Mac Apps and Mac App Store' started by hypnos tene, Oct 31, 2009.

  1. hypnos tene macrumors newbie

    Mar 18, 2008
    This might be my first thread here... Hello!

    I am writing a doctorate, mostly based on archival sources (being a historian), and recently noticed how the inefficiency of my notetaking seems to have at least some degree of negative impact on my research.

    In previous years, writing shorter papers and articles, I mostly replicated the structure of sources in my notes - thus documents were described under archival units etc. Why perhaps not efficient, it was nonetheless perfectly acceptable. However, this time, having read a few thousand pages and noted down a few hundred of documents and sources, I find the old system completely inadequate - since the archival structure is itself semi-formal and the division not perfect, looking for information within my notes is getting almost as tedious as reading the sources itself.

    I would therefore love to get a decent application that would allow me to take notes (mostly text, but graphics, pdfs, links etc would be appreciated as well), and tag them accordingly. This would allow for easy access to information. A welcome feature would be syncing between my imac and macbook - right now I am forced to only use the latter, as updating the ever changing 'academia' folder manually every single time got old fast.

    So, would you have any suggestions? I realise no freeware will do this and I'm willing to pay good money for the described feature set (provided a single licence would allow me to use it on multiple computers).

    I am also interested in good writing software, as Pages will only get you so far once the document grows over a certain number of chapters, pages and footnotes, but note taking takes priority.
  2. spice weasel macrumors 65816

    Jul 25, 2003
    Greetings from a fellow historian.

    You have several options for taking and organizing notes, and it all comes down to the specific features that are important to you and what your workflow needs are. When I was researching and writing my dissertation, I used EndNote, tweaking some of the existing entry templates for my specific needs (there really aren't any good, stock forms for archival material, or for printed primary sources, for example). EndNote is really designed for the sciences and social sciences, but it can be modified to work well for the humanities as well. The way I used it was to have each entry represent a specific note, rather than a specific source. This meant that I had numerous entries for a specific source, but I could easily tag each one separately.

    EndNote works, but it is a bit clunky in my opinion. Changes to the template are not made to the specific library, but rather to ALL libraries that user creates. Furthermore, if you send your library to another user, or transfer it to another computer, you have to be sure to copy the EndNote folder in your home directory as well, or all of your modifications to the templates will not be seen. This is a major pain in the ass. Also, recent versions have become incredibly bloated. It has become much more geared towards quickly dumping online library catalogs into a database rather than a way to take notes and manage your bibliography. Also, the cite while you write feature, while helpful in some instances, doesn't really work for historians, who a) often cite archival material, which EndNote doesn't do well, and b) often carry their argument into their footnotes. Plus, it is pricey - around $100 for a student license (but check your university, as some offer it for less or even for free).

    More recently I've started using Zotero, a free and open-source bibliographic and note taking app that runs as a Firefox plugin. I use Safari as my browser, which means that Firefox is essentially just Zotero for me. The thing I really like about Zotero is that you can quickly add pdfs to it, which is nice if you spend a lot of time on ProQuest or JSTOR. I was able to get my EndNote stuff into Zotero pretty easily, but it separates multi-word keywords as individual keywords when you import them (for example, if you use "foreign policy" as an EndNote keyword, Zotero will see this as "foreign" and "policy," and not just a single phrase).

    Another way to go would be to use a data management application like Journler, Together, MacJournal, Notebook, Evernote, or Yojimbo. Each allows for various ways to tag your entries, and can handle text, images, pdfs, web archives, etc. Lately I've been agonizing over which one to use (been trying the demos of each), and I think Journler is by far the best. The major downside is that the developer recently quit working on it, so unless the open source community picks it up it is dead. It works well on Leopard and Snow Leopard, but who knows what OS updates will start breaking things. Together and MacJournal are the closest in functionality to Journler. Play around with each of them and see what you like. These apps have the added bonus of being able to handle other data management needs outside of your research and writing.

    I much prefer Pages to MS Word, and use the Office suite only when I absolutely have to. That said, your life will probably be much easier if you use MS Word for your dissertation.

    As for syncing, Zotero allows you to remotely back-up and sync your library. EndNote does not. As for the data management apps, you can generally keep them in sync across computers using something like DropBox, your iDisk, etc.

    My vote would be for Zotero for a bibliographic management app, or for Journler or Together for a general data management app. But try the demos of all of these types of apps and see which one you like best.

    Good luck, and remember that the only good dissertation is a done dissertation.

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