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Experimenting with Evernote

As an avid Google user, it was difficult for me to embrace an entirely new system for looking at my documents, whether they were generated by myself or downloaded from the web. I like Google because it keeps all my documents in one place, is connected to my email, is easy and simple to navigate, and it doesn’t hurt that I’ve been using it for years.

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Good old Google Drive

Making the switch over to Evernote was, to say the least, very difficult for me. First, I found that there were a lot of things going on without a lot of explanation as to how to most easily and efficiently optimize the services Evernote was offering. Making a new note was easy enough, but I had a lot of difficulty figuring out how to create groups and subgroups for organizing the types of materials I was using–I wanted one group for PDFs, another for notes I had created myself, and different groups for different classes. I wanted to use these groups within the shared notebook I had made for class; however, this proved to be easier said than done. I ended up creating a few different “notebooks” which sometimes held what I wanted and sometimes did not. It looks something like this:

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The reason my notes ended up slightly jumbled is because I had a hard time moving my notes from group to group–and even more trouble moving groups within groups.

Another aspect of Evernote that was hard to adjust to is the way new notes look while one is drafting; the text bank is very small and can be made larger horizontally but not vertically:

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This is quite the departure from Google Drive, which formats your document to look something more like a Word document or text on an 8.5″x11″ page.

However, I did, with a lot of time and patience, begin to enjoy a lot of what Evernote had to offer, especially the web clipper. I had never used web clipping software before, but when I realized I could take articles and PDFs directly from my internet browser, I was excited. Before using the web clipper, I had to find a print option and make a PDF and then email it to myself so it would be accessible through multiple devices. Evernote made it easy for me to look at my readings on my computer or iPad, and make them accessible very quickly. 

Even though I had trouble navigating Evernote’s application on my laptop, I really liked how the application worked and looked on my iPad. It made looking at PDFs and scrolling through my notes much easier, and I think the iPad’s application is a little more simple, making it easier for me to interact with:

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The only trouble with the iPad application is that it does not enable web clipping, which is the main reason I wanted to explore Evernote. 

Overall, though my experience with Evernote was slow at the beginning, I grew to appreciate the unique services it offered me, despite the few drawbacks it also sent my way. I will definitely continue to use it for reading PDFs and other articles, but may stick to other applications for drafting my own notes and documents.

As the tile of this post suggests, I first started using Evernote at the beginning of my Creating Digital History class.  At first, I was hesitant to use a digital tool for note taking.  I had also been an old-school, notebook and pencil type of student.  I did not consider the wide range of capabilities that the application allows for.   Technology has not always been my friend, and I was hesitant to give up my standard form of taking notes.  After a few weeks of getting comfortable with the digital tool, Evernote made me a believer.

The Evernote logo.

The Evernote logo.

Over the first few weeks of the semester, I transitioned from taking hand written notes to bringing my computer to class and typing them.  Having my computer in class had added benefits in itself, let alone taking notes on Evernote.  I had never previously brought my laptop to any class over my student career.  This pulled me outside of my comfort zone, but it enhanced my experience in my Creating Digital History course.  Professor Cathy Hajo’s seminar-style class is centered on lessons guided by her computer, which is hooked up to a large screen.  Having my laptop in class allowed me to follow along on my own screen rather than only watching that of Professor Hajo.  The main reason why I was so attached to my old-fashioned note taking method was because I felt that I better retained information when I wrote it down.  In this digital history seminar, I certainly retained information better by following my professor’s lead on my own computer.  Evernote gets credit for this because it was the reason I began bringing my computer to class to begin with.

Screen shot of my blog post note within my Evernote notebook. Notice the tags "blog" and "evernote".

Screen shot of my blog post note within my Evernote notebook. Notice the tags “blog” and “evernote”.

Typing notes on Evernote supplemented my experience of following the class on my laptop.  Note taking on Evernote capitalizes on many digital possibilities.  Tagging is one of my favorite tools within Evernote.  I always make sure to tag keywords on every individual note that I take so I can easily search throughout and group them together.  For example, this very post started out as a simple note that weighed the pros and cons of Evernote with the tags “blog” and “evernote”.  I also rely on the search bar if I forgot to tag a keyword in a note.  This searches through every note for what was typed in the bar.  Oh, the advantages of technology.  I do not miss the search bar on my handwritten notes, which consisted of me aimlessly flipping through pages until I found what I was looking for.

List of tags that I have used in my notebook. Each tag is significant to me and helps me maneuver throughout my notebook. They might seem confusing or inappropriate to someone else.

List of tags that I have used in my notebook. Each tag is significant to me and helps me maneuver throughout my notebook. They might seem confusing or inappropriate to someone else.

This is an example of me using the search bar for the word "blog". Every note with the word "blog" in it will show up in the results of the search. This is independent of whether or not a note was tagged with the word "blog".

This is an example of me using the search bar for the word “blog”. Every note with the word “blog” in it will show up in the results of the search. This is independent of whether or not a note was tagged with the word “blog”.

There are more positive qualities of Evernote that I appreciate.  One is that I made my personal notebook public and available through the Creating Digital History class website.  This way I have been able to access my notes when I am away from my personal computer.  This has come in handy when I have been on other devices in libraries and archives.  Another thing that I like about Evernote is that there is no save button.  The notebook is constantly saving and syncing with my computer.   This way there is no save button to worry about clicking (or forgetting to click).  Although I am not one to forget to save documents in say Microsoft Word, I always press the sync button just to be sure.

As glowing a report as this may seem for Evernote, I do have some complaints.  I will preface my paragraph on the cons of the digital tool by saying: I am using the free version, which seems to have some limitations as opposed to paying for the full service of Evernote.  One problem that I have encountered is a data limit of 100 megabytes per month.  This is not an issue if only typing notes.  However, for a time, I was uploading images into my notebook, and I quickly reached my monthly limit.  It would not surprise me if this is one of the negatives that is rectified if using the paid version of Evernote.  The second thing I wish to bring up is on maneuverability between notes.  I have found it difficult to consult multiple pages of notes simultaneously.  As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, I am not a technology expert, so this is something that I will leave to the grizzled veterans of digital history.

I use Evernote for every aspect of my Creating Digital History class.  This usage has steadily increased over the course of the semester as I have become more comfortable with the digital tool.  I type my class notes, research notes, and blog entries all into my digital notebook.  This has created one convenient location for me to store and search through everything I need for this course.

I will close with a disclaimer: There are even more capabilities within Evernote that I cannot speak knowledgeably on.  I have been told that there is an iPhone application for Evernote, but I do not have it.  Also, there is a web-clipping tool that can make deposits directly into your notebook.  Once again, I have not used it so I will not speak critically on either this or the smart phone application.

Evernote

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Over the past few months my use of Evernote has increased from grocery lists and to-do lists to a more productive educational tool. Evernote markets itself as a tool that promises to “Remember Everything” and, “make life manageable.”  If you use it to its fullest capacity, it really can help you organize whatever it is you are inputting into the program. It is the modern solution to the notebook. It is really quite simple to create various “notebooks” which act just like a physical notebook would. What I have done for my current semester is breakdown my Evernote into separate notebooks for each course I am taking and then created an additional notebook for any larger projects that I am currently working on. It leaves my bags lighter on my commute to work. If you do not go over its capacity of memory on a free plan, it is a great free tool to use.

 

My favorite function of Evernote and other applications that are similar is that it runs off of the cloud. Although majority of applications run off of the Cloud today making it a less rare feature, it is still very helpful. I work on about three to four different computers during the week. When I have downtime I will often fill it with some light research or drafting of whatever my project may be at the time. Traditionally, I stick to Microsoft Word when drafting a paper or blog. However, this can be a problem when you save one item to a desktop, log on to another and realize what you are looking for is not there. Typing up notes or drafts for myself on Evernote has alleviated this annoying habit of using different computers. While working on my ongoing online exhibit I have drafted a separate page in an Evernote “notebook” that I can pull from my phone, tablet, lap, or desktop at work. It also clears my inbox of cluttered e-mail to myself of a word document.

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 A screen capture of Google Chrome with the web-clipper elephant icon on the right.

 

The Web-clipper function is a lifesaver and the biggest convenience of Evernote. While I attempt to keep my bookmarks organized in folders on my browser, I do not always succeed.  My worst habit is when I believe I will remember a page and decide I do not have to bookmark it. Inevitably I do not remember it later and then end up searching keywords that I think may be part of the page with hopes that I will stumble across it again. The web-clipper feature on Evernote has made this scenario less repetitive. Download the web-clipper and you get the little Evernote elephant on the task bar that magically clips a webpage and saves it to your notebook. You can save it as a .pdf file which is helpful too. Later when I have time to look at what I have clipped I am thankful for the convenience of the icon on the toolbar.

My least favorite aspect of Evernote is that it is proprietary. Each note that you save in the application turns into one specific and foreign file type referred to as .enex. Even if the file was originally a .jpeg or .pdf, once placed into Evernote it will not be saved in that format. If I was unable to find this file again in its original format and Evernote ceased to exist, I would have a difficult time retrieving the information. Yes, you can download all Evernote “notes” and “notebooks” in HTML format. However, if I have to download HTML from my Evernote files to ensure that they are always accessible even if there is an Evernote shutdown, it takes away from the convenience of the application. Not that I anticipate Evernote to cancel their application, but we must be realistic as many applications or programs from ten years ago do not exist today.

Having proprietary content makes me feel iffy about saving my work on the application alone. This detail changes the way that I use Evernote. While I still use it for notes and rough drafts of papers and projects, I use it more for when I am on the go. When I get home from class or work I tend to create a Microsoft Word document of whatever I may have typed up in Evernote just in case. Does this make me a bit paranoid? Perhaps. But it leaves me feeling more secure about my work, especially if it is notes from a class that was over two hours long. That would be a lot of work to lose. This is coming from a person who still stores their physical notebooks from undergraduate introductory courses.

ImageThe proprietary .enex Evernote file being exported to my laptop.

 

Overall, the look and feel of Evernote is appealing. It does not look to childish trying to imitate a notebook, but it is also not too complicated to navigate. Everything from creating a note to exporting files is simple if you have used any computer program before. I do not use it to its fullest capabilities and if I were to upgrade to premium and pay for the full application, I would use it more personally than just professionally. However, for what I need to do it serves its function and has helped me to organize various projects in the last few months. Evernote is useful and keeps me organized and for a person who stuffs papers in notebooks and scrambles for them later, I am thankful.

 

 

 

 

One of the tricky things that I’ve encountered with web-based research is keeping track of it all. The web has greatly expanded the quantity of resources available, and that’s great. But keeping track of the million tabs I have open in my web browser, .pdf files I’ve downloaded, and all of the notes I’ve made along the way is not exactly convenient. While they all may exist on my computer, they are sometimes scattered. Every now and then I’ll accidentally save a file in the wrong location (I can’t be the only person who has done this) or close a tab that I had yet to bookmark. Having lots of information isn’t useful when you can’t find what you need when you need it.

Before taking this class, I had never used or even heard of Evernote before. However, I was intrigued that Evernote could potentially resolve some of the issues I had previously run into while trying to keep track of my web research.

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Just as printed books seem to be giving way to e-books in many ways, the standard notebook and pen system for taking notes is facing competition from various computer-based note-taking programs.  This semester I used Evernote for the first time.  However, while I’d never used Evernote before, I have been using Microsoft OneNote for a few years already, and I must admit that my love for OneNote prejudiced me against Evernote from the start.  For the sake of fairness, though, I will try to explain why I like OneNote so much and why, despite its benefits, Evernote does not measure up in my estimation.

My favorite feature about OneNote is its organizational system.  The interface is designed to mirror the appearance of a physical notebook or binder, which is the traditional note-taking system that I have known all my life.  OneNote is comprised of notebooks which can then be divided into sections for different subjects or topics.  You can then create multiple pages or subpages in each section, so you can keep your ideas or your lecture notes well organized.  On each page, you can manipulate the layout in whatever way you’d like: you can start typing in the middle of the page and a text box will automatically pop up around your text.  The text can be dragged across the page, or you can create multiple text boxes all over the page.  I find this extremely useful when I’m brainstorming for a paper or a project and I want to get all of my ideas down in one place.

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A OneNote notebook with two separate text boxes on one page. Different notebooks can be seen on the left, with sections on the top and pages on the right.

By contrast, I found Evernote extremely difficult to organize.  Evernote is also made up of notebooks, but these notebooks are comprised of individual notes that cannot (to my knowledge) be sorted into sections or groupings.  Each note page is also more stagnant than its OneNote counterpart, and cannot be manipulated at all.  Text can be typed from the top of the note to the bottom, and even moving words around the page to reorganize them can be difficult.  I found that Evernote felt more like a stack of post-it notes than a group of pages in a notebook.  The closest approximation I found to the notebook/section/page OneNote system in Evernote was something called “Notebook Stacks.”  With this system it’s possible to group a number of related notebooks together in a “stack,” while keeping them as separate entities.  I did this with a few of my notebooks and then treated the stack as my overall notebook and each individual notebook as a kind of section with pages inside of it.  This helped a little, but still left me feeling that my notes were disorganized.

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Sample view of Evernote- stacks of notebooks are on the far left, while individual notes are in the center

The other issue that I had with Evernote was its lack of intuitiveness.  In OneNote, it’s very simple to start a bulleted list or to create a table in the middle of your notes.  OneNote uses a simple keyboard shortcuts to allow you to make the changes you need while typing.  For example, hitting ctrl + . will start a bulleted list, while hitting tab in the middle of a line will create a new table around the text you’ve been typing.  It’s simple and quick, which is great when you’re trying to keep your notes neat while listening to a lecturer speak at an impossibly fast rate.  However, to create the same note organizers in Evernote, you have to locate the correct button or choose the correct menu option from a variety of drop-down menus.  While this isn’t the most terrible disadvantage in the world, I found that it was something that consistently annoyed me while using Evernote.

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A page from OneNote with a table that I easily stuck into the middle of my notes

Nonetheless, to be perfectly fair, there are a couple of other factors that need to be taken into account in this assessment.  Firstly, there was one component of Evernote that I did find to be truly outstanding and very useful: the Evernote Web Clipper.  The Web Clipper allows you to clip articles, PDFs, bookmarks or other formats from the internet directly to Evernote.  This comes in handy when I’m researching articles and resources for papers and projects and don’t want to have to read a whole bunch of long articles at one time, but I want to keep them in reserve for later.  OneNote does have a screen clipper, but it’s not as comprehensive or easy to use as Evernote’s Web Clipper.  Evernote’s other advantage is its ability to be synced between devices, so that you can access your notes from a computer and a phone.  I found this really useful when I needed to check something I had researched, but didn’t have easy access to a computer- I could just pull out my phone and double check my facts.  OneNote doesn’t have a really good syncing capability, which is probably its biggest shortcoming.  OneNote’s other major disadvantage is that it’s only available on PCs.  I have a PC, so I can enjoy all its helpful features, but Mac users may end up disregarding most of this review.  That leads me to a question: does anyone know of a Mac note-taking program that is more similar to OneNote than Evernote?  I’d love to take a look at that if you do!

I had never used Evernote software before this semester. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of it. I utilized a hybrid-system of typed and handwritten notes that were saved in various places in an array of formats. I would usually transcribe class notes onto my laptop, highlight my digital format readings in Mac’s Preview, write out reading notes from printed materials into notebooks, list things I needed to remember on sticky-notes, and work out assignment outlines in a more compact and accessible ‘travel notebook.’ I wouldn’t say Evernote resolved my obsession with diversified note taking, but I would say it helped organize some of the confusion.

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This is the basic interface of Evernote, although there are a few different outlines you can choose from. I used the list feature here to keep track of which projects I have edited. This feature is great for to-do lists.

There are multiple note taking programs out there, from Google Keep to OneNote, and sometimes it’s just a matter of which is most compatible to your personal note-taking style (or aesthetic preference). However, there are a few features of Evernote that make it a little more versatile than its competitors. To begin, Evernote isn’t an exclusive Microsoft/P.C. product like OneNote, or an Android preferred system like Google Keep. This means that if you do make the daunting crossover from PC to Mac, Android to iPhone, or vice versa, your Evernotes will still be compatible.

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Basic interface of Google Keep, taken from an Android

OneNote

Basic interface of OneNote software

The software’s diversity is threefold in its ability to be referenced on computers as a program, mobile devices as an app, and online as a website. This means you can sync it to your different devices or access it online if you are without them. This does lead into to some interface problems, however. When using your iPad or Kindle the keyboard cuts off most of the Evernote screen making it difficult to use it for anything but reading notes already taken. If you write all your notes on a computer and then use your iPad for referencing, this won’t be a problem.  But that’s likely not the case, and this is something to consider.

While I haven’t used OneNote or Google Keep extensively, I have used Google Docs, which seems to be another popular online note storage method. The appeal of Google Docs is its alignment to a word processing program. You can type up entire papers, save them with multiple users for coediting, or simply have them in the Web 2.0 ether for ready accessibility. This is a dream for the increasing number of students without printers. It also allows you the flexibility to make folder under folder ad infinitum, a more cumbersome task with Evernote. But there is a reason I have been using Evernote for the majority of my notes and outlines, and Google Docs only for my paper drafts.

googledocs

The fluid interface and various tools Evernote offers allows me to take more diverse notes, and track different media elements that would be tricky with Google Docs. The Web Clipper, for instance, ‘clips’ sites you come across that pertain to your interest and store them in your folders for easy access. Because your notes can appear in square thumbnails, previewing what is in them, it’s easier to reference what you were saving. I find this helpful when I am in the beginning stages of writing a paper; having accumulated all my research, it’s an efficient way to skim my resources while I put my draft together.

The Web Clipper also gives you the option of saving the site as an article, a simplified article, full page, bookmark, or screenshot. Then there are ‘Markup’ options so you can make notes on the page to remind you why you clipped it. You can also tag the page, a tool that runs throughout Evernote, which provides subject clouds to pick out themes or find notes from.

webcliping   webcliptools

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The tagging feature is helpful in quickly amassing related topics, especially for a final paper or research paper where relevant notes could be spread out at various points and in various notebooks. I find this particularly helpful when I have notes from different classes that could strengthen my paper, but that I might not have remembered if they were limited to the notebook they are stored under. If the tags are too broad for you to find the specific parts of the note that relate to your interest, there is a text mining capability in the search bar. If you are writing on ‘modernism,’ but can’t remember which parts of the note are specifically on the topic, you can mine it for the keyword.

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Evernote also allows you to upload photos and videos that could be important to your topic or interests. Storing them among your other notes, instead of a different media file, has a similar benefit as the Web Clipper. They are in sight and easily referenced, making them more likely to be intergraded into your project or paper. However, if thumbnails are aesthetically too chaotic for you there are multiple ways to organize and display your notes. You can reduce the files to just dates and headlines, no images or displays, and place these either at the top of the program or to the side.

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Here is another organization option for your Evernote notebooks and notes

In conclusion, I use Evernote for all note taking: in class, reading notes, attaching preview-highlighted readings, web clipped articles, etc. When it comes to writing papers the format isn’t compatible, I would much rather use Google Docs. If Evernote integrated a space for writing papers in a word processing format, I would be inclined to make the switch over. However, the large number of my peers and professors who use Gmail and Google Docs, and don’t use Evernote, might be an impasse. For now, I will mix the two programs. Evernote is great for researching, outlining, and brainstorming for a paper and Google Docs is better for drafting and editing the paper. I rarely find a need for a paper notebook, and with all the capabilities of Web 2.0, this will become increasingly true. I think there are improvements to be made for Evernote, and look forward to their upgrades.

Evernote is a great note taking software that really helped me both organize my research and prepare a narrative for the GVHDA web exhibit. Its flexibility – which allowed me to make “notes” of my own creation or capture full webpages, excerpts of websites, and images on websites – enabled me to keep a constantly-updating archive of materials necessary for constructing a well-researched final project.

I had never used a digital service or software for note taking before enrolling in this class. I usually rely on my Gmail account for organizing web links and drafts of my writing. Using it as a storage space ensured that my work would never be lost and that I could continually revisit resources and my own research from my cell phone, tablet, laptop, and any computer with an Internet connection.

There are, however, some problems with organizing research in my inbox. Beyond labeling each email with the name or kind of information I stored within it – “draft introduction,” for example, or “New York Times article on Second Avenue” – there is no function for sorting the information that I was keeping and creating. Websites in particular posed a problem because each email simply contained a link with no preview of the actual content. I also had trouble distinguishing between classes when using my email account, making it difficult to keep track of multiple research projects each semester.

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A screenshot of my Evernote homepage.

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The tags I used in my Greenwich Village Digital History Notebook.

As a result, Evernote is a welcome change in the way I conduct research and it solved all of the issues that I had with storing my work online. I can easily access it using the application that I downloaded to all of my devices or through the Evernote website on any computer. I can also sort my resources using tags of my own creation, and I have made different notebooks for the various projects that I’m working on this semester.

The most helpful aspect of Evernote is its tagging capability. As an Internet user familiar and comfortable with tagging, it is great to be able to impose a frame on and implement tags relevant to my research. After making a notebook for our Greenwich Village History class, I classified my notes into various categories. I tagged my comments on our readings and work done in class as “Class Notes.” Materials that I wanted to upload as items for the digital archive were either tagged as “Digital archive” (if I had permission to use them or they were in the public domain) or as “Digital archive?” (if I was in the process of gathering permissions and their status was still uncertain). I created my own notes containing proposals for the exhibit’s layout and drafts of exhibit pages, tagging them all as “Exhibit Planning.” Any resources that I planned to use more broadly for exhibit content were simply tagged “Research,” while more specific clippings I organized using unique tags – “CUANDO” or “Cooper” – relevant to my project. 

I also really enjoyed using the Evernote clipper. It made the research process a lot easier and more efficient, allowing me to quickly save webpages, articles, and images directly to my notebook of choice. I most appreciated the tool when I was working within NYU’s subscription-based databases. A good amount of my primary source research for the exhibit was conducted in ProQuest’s historical archives, which I cannot access unless I am logged into my NYU account. Clipping the entire article webpage with Evernote, however, allowed me to view PDFs of the material, even when I was on a device or computer that was not logged into NYU.

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A blank clipped page from a Google Books search.

The clipper was less helpful when I clipped Google Books resources. I usually began such searches in Google Scholar with targeted search terms that led to specific pages in books and journals. The clipper, however, is unable to “clip” the webpage so the note for any Google resource is therefore an empty page. I also had some issues immediately tagging resources while clipping. The software ran slowly when I did so and often assigned my most-used tag to the resource instead of allowing me to select the appropriate tag myself. I then needed to open the application, manually remove the incorrect tag, and reassign the material the tag I originally intended to give it. As a “free” service user, I’m limited to 60 MB of files every month. This is not an issue now – I still have 59.6 MB of space remaining before my allowance is updated – but can become problematic if I begin to rely on the service for all of my research and work-related projects.

I really appreciate Evernote as a research tool. It replaced the previous way that I assembled materials online, enhancing the process by allowing me to better sort and save my research. Gathering digital information relevant to my work is much simpler with Evernote because of its tagging capabilities and clipper tool. Being able to plan and draft my writing in the same place that I store my class notes also assisted me in better organizing the assignments that I needed to complete. Overall, Evernote made a potentially overwhelming research process both more feasible and enjoyable.
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