By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Organizing notes for a book project: Your thoughts?

I started down this road last fall and got sidetracked. Now I’ve got to get serious about organizing the notes I’m starting to put together for my next book project.

For my last book, I simply saved everything as Word files. An interview? Word file. An article? Word file. Notes on a book? Word file. Then I entered each of them on an Excel spreadsheet that I could sort and search. I built in a link on each entry to the underlying Word document.

Several people have suggested that I switch to DEVONthink, which has a reputation for being a sophisticated but difficult program. Or Evernote. I haven’t spent enough time with either one to form an opinion. But what is the advantage to using one of those programs over the method I just described? What am I missing?

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  1. Evernote.

    I’ve been using for 4+ years and can’t say enough good things about it. Very powerful, but easy to use. And it will work on every device you can imagine – phones, tablets, computers, web browser.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bill: Thank you. But why? Other than working on multiple devices, what does it do that my Word-and-Excel combo can’t?

      • Well, there’s no two step process like you’re using now to track documents. You can organize your documents in a couple of broad ways: using “notebooks” and tags. Your tags can span across notebooks. The search feature is the best. Best.

        Evernote includes text recognition. For example, using your phone you take a photo of a text document, sign, business card, then upload that photo into Evernote. A couple of hours later that photo is part of the regular text search (I use that feature all the time to save business cards, which I then throwaway).

        The search capability is a big improvement from your current system.

        You can save all document types within Evernote. PDF files become fully searchable just like images (I don’t know about Word files).

        You can make specific notebooks public if you like, or make them available to only other people using Evernote you’ve given permission to. With certain permissions, you can collaborate on a document with someone. I have a professor friend that uses a public notebook for a class he teaches. He puts documents in there that are updated regularly for the class. Sometimes they’re web pages he’s captured, or articles that students have passed on to him that he wants to share with the whole class.

        Another big feature is the powerful web browser integration. There are plugins for all the major browsers that allow you to capture web pages easily (the main column or the whole page if you like.

        I’m an Evernote fanboy.

        • Dan Kennedy

          Thanks, @Bill. I just watched a video tutorial about Evernote. It looks like you can’t search inside documents unless you go premium. Is that right?

  2. It might have changed to no search inside docs, I don’t know. It used to be delayed search processing for the free version (it would take Evernote servers 6 or so hours to index files, as opposed to almost immediate for premium). If you’re working on a book (plus whatever you use it for), I assumed you’d go premium. Double check the details.

  3. Al Fiantaca

    I can’t give you any specific experience like Bill Weye, but I feel that the Word/Excel procedure you have been using requires an extra step to record your work and put it into a searchable form so you could utilize it for your project. Using the dedicated programs you mention might allow you to simplify that, saving time and effort. Is the final output something that you could then edit and submit for publishing, or would you have to take an output and run it through Word to arrive at the final form for submission? Anything that saves manipulation work and gets you to the submission point quicker is worth thinking about.

  4. robert a

    Evernote … Very easy !!

    Rob A


  5. Nancy Pierce

    If you’re already using Word and Excel, Microsoft OneNote is a great choice – at least it has been for me. Like Evernote, but easy to install and totally free. (As I understand it there are some charges associated with heavy use of Evernote.) As others have said, you can clump all kinds of stuff together but also can easily impose and change its organization as your ideas evolve. It’s easy to get odds & ends into a notebook, via a print function that will put them exactly where you want them in your existing information. It’s easy to export as well, via a similar function that will email a piece of the notebook, or send it to Word.

    You can also easily embed links: to documents on your computer, to other pages within OneNote files, to web pages. You can record audio and video. Everything you put into the notebook is searchable, so you don’t have to remember which page you put it on. Finally, your notebook will smoothly save itself, and sync across your devices without you having to remember to do it. Gee, I sound like I’m selling it, and I don’t think of myself as a Microsoft fan. But it’s made a huge difference to my writing process, because it holds all the helter skelter bits together until I’m able to start work in earnest.

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