Your Materials

At this point you should be getting a pretty good handle on managing your time and managing your content. The next thing we need to talk about is organizing your thesis related materials.

This is a very big job because there will be A LOT of it. Outlines, Chapter Drafts, Magazine/Journal/Blog Articles, Class Notes, Reading Notes, Thinking Notes, References, Bibliographies, Proposals, Forms, Course Plans, Papers you write for other classes that might be relevant, Data Spreadsheets, Interview Questions… The list could go on. You need a way to bring order to these things.

Because most of the literature on these types of things have all been written in the dark ages, like 2002, the most commonly recommended tools for this job are a sturdy file cabinet and a ton of file folders. To some, VERY SMALL EXTENT, I agree with this. There will be documents that you want to hold on to paper copies of for some amount of time. The really important stuff, like anything you have to get some sort of signature on, the most recent draft of your thesis documents, stuff like that – it would be a good idea to keep hard copies of just in case. In case of catastrophic digital Armageddon – your laptop is stolen, your hard-drive craps out, or you spill a coffee on your computer, hard-copies MIGHT save your thesis. So yeah, keep hard copies of the important stuff.

But we are not still in the dark ages of 2002. Certainly back when trees were infinite, people were less mobile, and we did not all have extremely powerful computers in our backpacks and pockets, paper made a lot of sense. Now though, you should not be printing every article you might want to read. You should not be striving to fill rooms with file cabinets. If you do, you will inevitably not be near your file cabinet when you need that information it contains. You will be at school, or the library, or the coffee shop, or somewhere else. You are a student and with the student lifestyle comes the fact that you are always on the go.

So we need a better tool than File Cabinets and Folders.

You Need Evernote (

Evernote is a suite of software and services designed for note-taking and archiving. A “note” can be a piece of formatted text, a full webpage or webpage excerpt, a photograph, a voice memo, or a number of different file formats such as .PDF. Notes can also have file attachments. Notes can be sorted into folders, then tagged, annotated, edited, given comments, searched and exported as part of a notebook. Evernote supports a number of operating system platforms (including OS X, iOS, Chrome OS, Android, Microsoft Windows, Windows Phone, BlackBerry and WebOS) and also offers online synchronization and backup services. Evernote lives in the Cloud and most importantly, the basic account is FREE. I use Evernote for everything and I have never needed more than the basic account.

Evernote allows you to, in their words, “Remember Everything.” Evernote is amazing and it is going to be our do nearly anything, go nearly anywhere, accessible nearly anytime, digital file cabinet.

Just to illustrate how amazing Evernote is, here are a couple use case examples.

  • Find a PDF online that you want to read. Clip it to Evernote. It will be there later when you want to find it. Don’t remember the name of it. No problem, search for whatever you do remember about it… the date you found it, the author’s name, a word or two from the topic as you remember it… Evernote will find it because it has OCRed the whole thing and not just the meta-data is searchable but the actual content is. Read the article and type your notes and thoughts right below it so that you know what article you are referencing. While you’re at it, do yourself a favor and jump over to and get the citation info to copy and paste into your notes so that you have it when you need it.
  • Do some awesome white board brainstorming. Snap a picture of it and upload it to Evernote and it will OCR your HANDWRITING in the photograph. Your handwriting, in a photograph, will be searchable to you.

Everything that gets imported into Evernote is also available nearly instantly in all other Evernote instances you might be running, your phone, your tablet, your computer, and the web interface. Because everything is synced up to the cloud, it is always available so long as internet is. Also, if you have it installed on your computer, everything is also stored locally so that even if the internet falls for a few hours, you are still good to go. And because Evernote is so popular, because it is so awesome, it interfaces nicely with lots of other applications. For example, I use Feedly for all my RSS reading. When I see an article I would like to send to Evernote, I just hit the “Share to Evernote” link and it goes there, no questions asked. Evernote has extensions for every major browser out there so that when you are on a webpage you would like to save for later, you just hit the button and it goes to Evernote, and it will still be there even if the website itself disappears for some reason. You can also email things to Evernote, so every time I would get some important email regarding my thesis, I would just forward it to Evernote and have a backup of the communication.

There are similar other services out there, and I suppose you are free to try them out if you like, but in my heartfelt opinion, there is no reason to use anything but Evernote. It is awesome. It is one of the very limited number of applications that gets installed on every new device I get, no questions asked.

So… enough gushing about Evernote. Go to and create a free account, install it on every device you use, put your custom email address for sending things to it in your contact list, go to their support page and work through their getting started tutorial for your platform (I linked to the OS X one because I am a Mac snob).  Seriously, go do it now… I’ll wait here.

Evernote Jargon

Hopefully you have worked your way through a few Evernote tutorials and you are now convinced that this is the tool for the job here. Now we should get some Evernote specific jargon out of the way to help us talk about setting up Evernote to manage our thesis materials. Evernote uses the metaphor of the physical notebook as an organizing principal. It helps to understand this when using Evernote because it explains the logic behind it all.

So, there are:

  • Notes: A note is a single item stored in Evernote. You might think of this like a page. It can be a photograph, sound file, text, a computer file, website clipping, to-do list, whatever.
  • Notebooks: A notebook is a container for notes. This is like the Composition book here. It can hold as many notes as you want, but a note can only exist in one notebook at a time.
  • Stacks: A stack is a container for notebooks. You could think of this like a shelf or, well, a stack of notebooks. A notebook can only exist in one stack at a time.

This is as deep as the general organization can go. There is no ability to have shelves that contain stacks, or rooms that contain shelves. You have to stop at stacks, though there is no limit that I have found to how many notebooks can be in a stack.

There is also a way to link notes outside of this standard organization.

  • Tags: A tag is meta-data that can link things in non-hierarchical ways. You could maybe think of this sort of like those color coded post-it flags for marking pages. You can put blue flags in lots of different books, in different stacks on your desk. Assuming a blue flag means something to you, it will be a convenient way to find the things related to whatever blue flags mean in separate books. You can put a blue and a pink flag on a page if the content of that page relates to both blue and pink things to you. This does not really get the full potential of tags and meta-data, but it will work for us.

So… that is the Evernote overview. Now let’s dig into the useful Evernote Set-Up. ->