Best Mac program for taking notes?
October 16, 2011 5:36 PM   Subscribe

What's the best Mac program you've found to take notes for school lectures?

I've been using Word, or typing directly into Powerpoint decks, but it doesn't really seem to cut it. I don't have particularly intense requirements- just to be able to organize the "heading level" of information, is most important (I'm a law student). Easy to use is a big plus. Being able to embed Powerpoint decks and such could be nice, but it's not a requirement.
posted by demagogue to Education (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a huge fan of Evernote. You can import Powerpoint slides into the notes, and also view them from your smart phone or local machine. Generally I take notes on the powerpoint notes field, convert both slide and note into pdf format and then import into my Evernote note. Other times, I'll take notes during class in outline format directly and then just append the slides to the end of the note. There are a lot of ways to manipulate it. It also provides easy searching within notes. It's easy to organize. All around very useful.
posted by Rewind at 6:03 PM on October 16, 2011

I love Evernote. You could also look at Tinderbox or Omni Outliner.
posted by Silvertree at 6:09 PM on October 16, 2011

I haven't used it for class notes, but Omni Outliner might work for you.
posted by moira at 6:12 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Omni Outliner is the favourite of everything I've looked at so far.
posted by demagogue at 6:21 PM on October 16, 2011

Omni Outliner is awesome, within its problem domain. I used to use it heavily. I don't as much anymore, mostly because I'm now in a mixed Linux/Mac/Windows environment and I need to be able to read the notes across platforms. While OO theoretically writes into a standard format (OPML), it's not compatible with any real-world software on Windows, at least not that I'm aware of. In theory you can export to Word's HTML format, but there are a bunch of limitations and it's anything but seamless.

Honestly, what I do now is either use Word's outlining features (which are nothing as good as Omni Outliner's, but easy to share), or Emacs in outline-mode. I use Emacs mostly for my own notes and Word for stuff that I need to share with others.

One question that you might want to consider is whether you're actually using Word's Outline View and outlining features correctly. Most people don't, and some aren't even aware that Outline View exists; they just do everything by using bulleted/numbered lists. Bulleted lists are not outlines. In outline view, you can drag headings around to move them up/down in the document and in/out in terms of hierarchical level. You can also add text to each heading, which will become the body of a document, if you're actually stubbing out a document rather than just taking notes. It's not Omni Outliner, but it's not that bad and IMO it's sort of underutilized. Given that Word is probably installed on 90% of the desktops you'll encounter in the world, it makes sense to ensure you're at least using it to its full, albeit limited, potential.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:36 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kadin2048: You know what, I think I saw a friend using this the other day. Good points about broad usability. Props, taking a look at your link.
posted by demagogue at 6:37 PM on October 16, 2011

Workflowy is amazing. I haven't used Omni Outliner but it sounds like it may be similar, and Workflowy is free.
posted by incandescentman at 7:03 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Omni Outliner is great. Having said that, you should play a little with Word's outline and styles features first; they're pretty powerful once you get the hang of them.
posted by raf at 7:22 PM on October 16, 2011

I have used wiki software MoinMoin for this purpose. It's easy to install a local copy (accessible only to you), and you interact with it entirely through your browser. Its easy to set up on your own server, too, with access controls built in if you don't want others reading your notes.

My favorite feature is the ability to quickly hyperlink notes together. When taking notes for a class, you can just reference recurring topics and have instant access to whatever you've written about it previously. There are a lot of other powerful features, although you can ignore these if you want something simple.

The biggest downside for me is the awkwardness of writing mathematical notation, but that probably won't come up for law studies.
posted by ahzee at 7:56 PM on October 16, 2011

When I was in law school I used Notebook and found it just about perfect -- it created outlines with the minimal amount of fuss, didn't bog down with lots of extraneous features, and in general did a great job of never getting in my way. They seemed to be targeting lawyers as part of their core audience, which I thought accounted for the well-targeted functionality.

This was 5 years or so ago, and I think they've made some major changes since then. TBH it doesn't look like a huge improvement, but I still think it would be well worth checking out.
posted by bjrubble at 9:51 PM on October 16, 2011

I'm sorry I don't have a specific recommendation for you, but I see Evernote being recommended here.

I'm a law student as well, and I've been using Evernote for the last 4 months of law school.

Here are some of my thoughts:
- The on-the-go synchronization for mobile devices (e.g. Android and iPhone/iPod Touch) is fantastic. If you go premium, you can even get offline syncing for all notebooks (right now only the last few notes are cached offline for mobile devices)
- Good support for Windows/Mac computers - this is important for me because I have Windows, Mac and Linux computers. Linux support via NixNote or Evernote on WINE is robust enough for daily usage
- The interface is simple enough to use and pretty intuitive
- Well, it works, what more can I say?

- The rich text editor is pretty bad - I use lots of bulleted lists to keep my notes organized, and their behaviour is not consistent. If you copy and paste them into Microsoft Word, for example, you see "hidden" bullets that don't show up on the Evernote editor.
- Limited support for file types (though this may have changed; I only use the built-in note editor anyway)
- If you use both the web interface and the desktop client, the web interface has the potential to majorly screw up your notes; this has happened to me more than a few times for me to stick completely to just the desktop clients

The rich text editor is a big enough deal breaker for me to hesitate to recommend it to you; I've spent many hours reorganizing my notes because I needed to shift the bullets up one level, but couldn't do it automatically and had to do it by hand instead.

Also, the problems between the web interface and desktop client bear reminding, since you really can lose a lot of formatting (especially important where you have bulleted lists and sub-headings) that just wastes your previous effort.

Evernote can be a great tool to use, if you get used to its little foibles (as I have; I now stick only to the desktop clients, try not to be too OCD about phantom bullets popping out of nowhere, think ahead to structure my notes properly), but they may take a while to get used to.

posted by titantoppler at 2:59 AM on October 17, 2011

Pearnote is what you want, atleast for initial notetaking in lectures and seminars.

I used to use Omnioutliner (which is fantastic) for most of my college life - however pearnote has several killer features for taking notes in lectures - the main one is that you can click record and your notes will sync to an audio recording of the lecture, meaning that if you didn't understand a section and take bad notes then you can listen to the audio at that section and rework those notes.

My workflow in the last year of university was to take notes in pearnotes and then use omnioutliner to rewrite and revise those notes in the evening. This was by far the best way of uni notetaking I ever used, it gives you comprehensive notes, a chance to check you understand what was said later in the day, and a full copy of the lecture as a recording for revision and clarifying anything you did not understand or daydreamed through when it was being explained during the lecture (land law and trusts, basically).

You could substitute any other program for OO - anything that creates structured outlines will work well for the second part, but I have never seen anything as tailored to "capturing" a lecture as pearnote.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 3:20 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like using Notational Velocity with my notes folder synced to dropbox so that I can easily access them anywhere. If you want things like MultiMarkdown support, there's the fork nvALT.
posted by duomo at 11:58 AM on October 17, 2011

I kept all of my law school notes in Omni Outliner, which remains one of my favorite pieces of software.
posted by andrewraff at 12:10 PM on October 17, 2011

I recommend Growly Notes to you. Free form, and free! Similar to MS Office's One Note, but for Mac.
posted by DandyRandy at 1:39 PM on October 17, 2011

I browsed through some of the other apps, and they look great. Workflowy looks like a great web solution. But, after trying Omni for the past two days, I'm really happy with it. Thanks to all!
posted by demagogue at 4:42 PM on October 19, 2011

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