Evernote Set-Up

When you first create your account and install Evernote, there will be one “Default” Notebook. I do not remember what it will be called, maybe your user-name or something cute like “My First Notebook.” Anyway, first thing to do is rename this to “_InBox”. The underscore makes sure that your InBox Notebook always sorts to the top. This is where everything will, by default, flow into Evernote. If you email something to Evernote, it shows up here. If you use the Evernote Web Clipper, it shows up here. You get the idea.

Create Your Thesis Notebooks

Next, I created 5 notebooks based on those 5 Primary parts of a thesis that we talked about in the outline. I used Uppercase Letters as prefixes to make sure they stayed in the right order, but also to remind me that these were not necessarily Chapters, but sort of Meta-Parts. If they were Chapters, they would use numbers.

Next, I created another notebook and titled it “zz.Admin”. The “zz” prefix makes sure it sorts to the end.

If you are REALLY only going to use Evernote for your Thesis materials, then your set up is done. I use Evernote for all kinds of things though, and I have the feeling that once you get Evernote running in your workflow, you will too. You can see over in the SHORTCUTS Sidebar that I have 2 other stacks there (collapsed).

01. Current contains notebooks for every project I currently have going on.

  • Every freelance client has a separate notebook, full of ideas, sketches, inspirations images, invoices, emails, proposals, etc…
  • I have notebooks for recipes, preparing this presentation, things I need to add to my CV, Maintenance on my car and house, gardening, gift ideas, etc… Every project gets a notebook.

02. Someday contains notebooks for things that I might want to do in the future.

  • I have notebooks for fun things to do with my kids, home improvements that I am not doing yet, Cool places to visit, books to read, films to see, etc…

I also have notes in Evernote that just help me remember things that I will need again in the future. For example: I have a web-clipping of my odometer reading from the last time I changed the oil on my car, incase the little sticker the oil change place put on my windshield vanishes. I have photographs and notes about things I buy regularly at the store but can never recall the specific brand or type (spaghetti sauce, hygiene products, wine, etc…) so that I can make sure to get the right one when I’m at the store. Things like that. Evernote remembers things so I don’t have to.

So yeah, if you are going to use Evernote for anything in addition to your thesis, we have 2 more steps to the set-up.

Create Your Thesis Stack.

Take any one of your thesis related notebooks and drag it onto another thesis related notebook. This creates a stack. I named the stack “00.Thesis”, once again to control sorting against my other stacks. Now drag the rest of your thesis notebooks to this stack.

Finally, and this is a “PRO TIP,” create one more notebook. Title it “!Thesis Inbox” and drag it into your Thesis Stack.

Collect ALL of your thesis related materials

Evernote is now ready to get down and dirty with organizing your stuff. Start dumping all your pdfs, notes, readings, course plans, whatever you have thesis related into Evernote. You can upload it to the “_InBox” or since you are focused right now on just collecting the Thesis related stuff, dump it directly into that “!Thesis Inbox” Notebook. Scan or photograph everything that is currently paper. If you have tons of bookmarks of site, visit them and clip them using the Browser Web-Clipper. Go through all your physical notebooks and/or folders and computer folders looking for an uploading EVERYTHING related to your thesis. Get it all in one place.

Note: During this process is the only time I ever ran into a problem with the free account’s data/month limit. But I was uploading two-years of work in the space of a little over a week. You will probably be fine.

Using Evernote during the Pre-Writing Phase

So now all your stuff is in one of those two inboxes. This is where we start getting into the workflow stuff for real.

Every time you fire up Evernote, and it will be nearly daily because all your stuff is there, one of your primary goals is to get these inboxes to contain ZERO notes. INBOX = ZERO!

We start in that default “_InBox”. This inbox is triage. It is the bottleneck that makes sure that every new note gets put in its place. You can very quickly grab thesis related notes and drag them to the “!Thesis Inbox” and other notes to their notebooks. The twice-baked potatoes recipe will get dragged to my recipes notebook and be there to remind me when I do my meal planning that this sounded good. You don’t do anything in this notebook except skim the note enough to move it where it goes.

The “!Thesis Inbox” is used the same way, but I generally did not get this to ZERO every time I opened Evernote. Rather, this generally got cleared out either during my weekly review sessions or at the beginning of dedicated focused work on thesis sessions. Remember these from the calendar discussion? Either way, the focus is the same, triage. Move notes from here to where they really belong.

So what goes where?

This, to an extent, should be sort of self explanatory. If it is related primarily to the Introduction, it goes into the “A.Introduction” Notebook… related to the Background, it goes in the “B.Background” Notebook, and so on. That stated, it is important to clarify that Evernote is a tool for managing your materials and resources, not for managing your thesis writing only. So the things you put into these notebooks can be ANYTHING related to helping you with that part of the process. To help exemplify this, here are some of the types of things that I kept in the various notebooks.

  • A. Introduction: Sample Abstracts, Abstracts of papers that I thought were similar to the abstract I would eventually write, Notes on people I wanted to remember to thank in my acknowledgements, PDFs of presentations I gave for courses where I was postulating my research question, scope, hypothesis, etc…, my third-quarter poster, blog-posts on how to write effective overviews, To-do lists, etc… Once the writing process started, I also had PDFS of drafts of this chapter here for safe keeping.
  • B. Background: For me, 2/3 of this section was what you might call my literature review, so there was A LOT of the following. Articles from databases, blogs, and books with accompanying notes & citations, mind-maps of topics and how they might relate to each other, notes from discussions with advisors, clippings from wikipedia of specific topics & jargon, lists and stats on various technology adoption rates and classification systems, TO DO lists of things to read/look up/reflect on/write, Papers I wrote for other classes that might be helpful, etc…The other 1/3 of my background section was my four primary research activities. So for this I had spreadsheets of survey data, notes on interviews, articles about various survey technologies, feedback from students about their experiences, lists of people with their contact information, drafts of survey questions, articles about how to write good survey questions, to-do lists, etc… Once the writing process started, I also had PDFS of drafts of these chapters here for safe keeping.
  • C. Methodology: My IRB proposal, papers published that described similar research methods, reference material that I used to prepare IRB proposal, annotated bibliographies of related content, the PDF and notes from the IRB info sessions I attended, to-do lists, etc… Once the writing process started, I also had PDFS of drafts of these chapters here for safe keeping.
  • D. Data Gather & Analysis: Spreadsheets of data, articles for case studies, exploration drawings & inspiration images of various way to represent my concepts visually, notes from meetings with advisors, scans and photographs of pages in my physical notebook (usually before and after Liz and I would draw all over them), charts of data, notes from informal interviews and discussions, random thoughts about patterns I thought I was seeing, to-do lists, etc… Once the writing process started, I also had PDFS of drafts of these chapters here for safe keeping.
  • E. Discussion & Conclusions: Admittedly, this notebook was probably the lightest on content. But I did have lots of notes, quotes, flowcharts, mind-maps, and such about where these chapters would be heading and documenting my thoughts as they developed. I also had to-do lists. Once the writing process started, I also had PDFS of drafts of these chapters here for safe keeping.
  • zz. Admin: This is where I kept anything related to the larger MFA Thesis process. Course plans, notes about other courses that people would tell me would be good classes to take, reference material for formatting the thesis, to-do lists for graduation, calendars of various deadlines (obviously these also were put on my real calendar), versions of my outline as it evolved, Scans of anything that I ever needed a signature on (things like 3rd & 5th quarter review forms), etc… Once the writing process started, I also had PDFS of drafts of the total thesis document in whatever state it was in periodically (usually every couple of weeks) for safe keeping.

A few more notes about Evernote organization and use.

During the pre-writing phase of my thesis, this is largely how my Thesis stack remained organized. During my weekly review, I would set myself tasks that I wanted to accomplish for the week and made lists of to-do, both for the coming week and for the notebook as a whole. These would be things like “research the topic of crowdsourcing” or “read and summarize Crampton reading.” Then, during my scheduled focused time, I would really only worry about the things on that week’s list of tasks. I would open up Evernote, open the notebook for the section I was focusing on at that time, and get to work on the list I had made during my planning time. Sometimes, like intense reading times, I would open Evernote on both my computer and my iPad. This would allow me to read on my iPad and take notes at the same time on my computer. If other tasks popped into my head, I would be very careful about adding this to next week’s list, but not letting myself get side tracked. This is one of the reasons that having that weekly planning time was so important. By taking a hour or so at the beginning of the week to set goals allowed me to spend far less time overall trying to figure out what I should be doing during my focused time.

Here is a literature review pro-tip: For everything you read, make a separate note for your reading notes. Title it with the reading’s citation and copy & paste the citation below the note that contains the reading as well. This allows you to easily associate the note with the reading, but when you get to the writing phase, helps you look at your notes, rather than the reading, which lowers your chances of accidentally plagiarizing your sources because you are working from your notes.

Now, assuming you have been reading this site in a linear fashion as I intended, you are now all set up to go for several more months making organized and productive progress on your thesis.

You could stop here for a while, but if I know you (and I think I do) you will want to keep going and begin to explore what the Hacking the Thesis methodology here can do to help you Manage Writing. ->