Academic Skills Blog - note making tools

Let us shine a light on tips and tools to support your research process. This week: note making tools.

note hanging from a washing line

When I started in post in the summer of 2017, I was initially itinerant and, necessity being the mother invention, decided to try out a new way of working. I didn’t want to lug around notebooks and also needed somewhere new to write reminders as I didn’t have a desk to cover in post-it notes.

I tried Evernote and I haven’t looked back. I don't use physical notebooks any more and while I love the look and idea of bullet journals I find the searchable functions, the ability to copy and paste text into other formats, the ease of organising and retrieving notes plus the to-do list functions makes digital note-making tools invaluable in my work and home life.

There are however, lots other tools available, and so here are little summaries of each.

If you are interested in learning more about techniques, book a place at the Note Making workshops for first year undergraduates on 21 November and for other Wolfson students on 27 November.


There is a desktop and online version, plus an app. The primary function is to store notes. You arrange each note (up to 25MB and 100,000 in total) into ‘notebooks’ (maxmum 250). There are also alarm and checklist functions, web clipper, you can add images and audio files and keep handwritten notes. It is all searchable to help you find it again quickly. You can also share notes and notebooks with others.

The free account has a monthly limit on the amount of data that you can upload (sync) per month and the overall amount of storage space.


This is Microsoft’s notetaking software, so obviously works well with Office and you may already have it on your computer or through the University's Office 365 package, which is free to staff and students. The functions it offers are very similar to Evernote. It particularly highlights the facility to make handwritten notes. If you start using Evernote and then change your mind, Onenote lets you migrate content over so that you don’t lose anything.

Zotero or Mendeley

Bibliographic Reference Management software lets you take notes alongside the reference for the text so that they are easily retrieved. Mendeley has a rather simple interface; Zotero is more advanced. If you don't like using their text editors, you can always attach a Word document to the reference to help keep your notes in order.


Not surprisingly, there is a solution from Google too. It looks more simple and is aimed at the post-it note brigade. If you want to keep longer, more detailed notes, the sticky is linked to a Google doc. It foregrounds its audio feature for capturing your thoughts.

There are several other tools out there for writing longer documents too such as


This is an online LaTeX and Rich Text collaborative writing and publishing tool. It is aimed at the scientific community with a view improve the workflow of writing, editing and publishing. In addition to the LaTeX version, there is a WYSIWYG editor; a structured, fully typeset document is produced automatically as you type. It is used by a range of institutions and there are lots of templates to choose from.

The basic version (1GB storage) of this is free.


All the above will automatically backup and sync across devices. If you decide after reading about the above tools that paper-based note-making is still for you remember to back up your notebooks. Scan or photograph them and store them online so that you have anther copy of your notes, just in case you lose the original. Giving the files helpful names (the topic the notes are about plus which notebook it is in) will help you track down the notes too.