Flexible Lecture Notes Application for Mac OS or Pen and Paper?
August 22, 2014 5:48 AM   Subscribe

What are the best options for freeform note-taking on a notebook computer these days? (not an iPad). I am returning to Uni to do an MA in Sept and considering whether I should go "old school" pen and paper w/ notebooks or if I should find a reasonable lecture notes application that allows quick easy diagraming, arrows etc and more unstructured text.

I have recently bought a Macbook pro 13" which is non-touchscreen but does have a rather large trackpad. There has to be something good for taking notes on this which allows you to do basic diagrams and arrows etc quickly and easily?

One of the things that I often do with pen & paper is 2/3 column notes where you are drawing distinctions between A and B. This seems more difficult on a lot of the note taking apps I've looked at.

Really it seems like you want something almost like Photoshop - where you can just plonk down text anywhere and manually do line breaks - but also do drawings. - is there anything like that?
But clearly you want the text to be searchable as well.
posted by mary8nne to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't find the research right now, but very recently I read something (Science News?) that indicated that students learn better from physically writing notes than from typing - partly because hand written notes tended to be digested and typed notes included more verbatim from the lecturer. (One of the benefits of taking notes, even if you never look at them is that the process of choosing what to write helps you process the material and connect it to other learning, making it easier to recall) YMMV but I would consider if going old school might not be the better choice.
posted by metahawk at 6:26 AM on August 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

I use OneNote on Windows to take notes like you do. There's a Mac version but I haven't used it much.

There's a wealth of OneNote blogs that contain great tips and tricks. One tip that could be useful is to make a notes template with your 2/3 column so that every time you fire up a new note it's ready to go for you.

It has other great things like OCR, searchable text, audio notes, etc. And there's an iOS app that syncs to it.
posted by photovox at 6:46 AM on August 22, 2014

+1 on metahawk. The world's been vastly improved by computers, and education's no exception. But if the art of class note-taking has been transformed by the information age, 1. I haven't heard about it, and 2. there'd be widely-known apps for it that everyone knows to use.

In other words, the very fact that you need to ask around reflects that you're looking for a slightly more awkward and complex way of doing something that can be done perfectly well with pen/paper.
posted by Quisp Lover at 7:00 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

PS - I would, however, shoot photos of each page of your handwritten notes (possibly using Scanner Pro or Evernote) and transfer to your dropbox and/or computer to have them omni-available.
posted by Quisp Lover at 7:05 AM on August 22, 2014

It sounds like you might find Scapple worth a look.
posted by desuetude at 8:04 AM on August 22, 2014

Response by poster: The OneNote for Windows seems quite good. You can draw basic stuff and highlight and drop in little arrows quite easily and record audio.

There is a free version for Mac OS which unfortunately seems to have none of these capabilities. Literally NONE! Its even a stretch to call them the same program in a way.

I think it would be annoying to have to use VMWare / Windows just to use OneNote.
posted by mary8nne at 8:30 AM on August 22, 2014

Memail me.
posted by tel3path at 9:18 AM on August 22, 2014

Check out LiveScribe pens. Record, synch your notes with audio, transfer to computer app.
posted by PickeringPete at 9:21 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I live and breathe by Evernote and did when I was in school. I did hand-written notes and scanned or typed them in when I was in school. It came in especially handy when I was in classes that progressed over each semester, so I could search past notes. I kept assignments in there and papers and files from the teachers. Being able to search through everything was great. I could access it from any computer and my phone, which was another plus for me. It didn't matter where I was studying, I could access my school notes.

You can do tables in Evernote to do the 2/3 column thing you're talking about, but I usually ended up doing font/color/bold changes to text instead of the columns because it was faster.

I never really liked the pens that transferred what you were writing into software because they missed a lot. They may have improved since I tried them last, though.
posted by schnee at 10:08 AM on August 22, 2014

I use Tinderbox, which in my opinion is the ultimate note taking/brainstorming application but there is a very steep learning curve.

You might take a look at CircusPonies Notebook or Zengobi Curio. I know that Notebook has the ability to do sketches and I would be surprised if Curio didn't. Also, you could take a look at this for a list of Mac related academic software.
posted by Silvertree at 10:57 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

For MacOS, I love taking lecture notes with OmniOutliner, since it's easy to use and doesn't require me to move my hands to the trackpad for anything. Simple interface, does what I need it to. Does offer columns and such, and you'll probably be happiest setting up a template for your notes before getting started with it so you're not messing about with formatting in class.
posted by asperity at 1:17 PM on August 22, 2014

I use paper notebooks by Mod Notebooks. After you finish filling a notebook, you send them back and they digitize the notebook for you which goes into their app, as well as your choice of service (Evernote, DropBox, or OneNote). Then you can either have them recycle the notebook or send it back to you.
posted by thebestsophist at 6:40 PM on August 22, 2014

Handwrite and scan... or maybe don't even scan, you haven't said anything to indicate you need the electronic version. You're just wondering the best way to flexibly organize the page and diagrams, right? Paper should win hands down.
posted by spbmp at 7:15 PM on August 22, 2014

Response by poster: There is a convenience with having all of your notes with you all the time. - ie not having to worry about having the right notepad with you. Which is why i was thinking perhaps using my computer would be good. And also not at the end of the class having these physical notepads that you never know what to do with. - Actually I should have just scanned all my old UNI Notes.

I have been trying the MAC OS version of Microsoft's OneNote app this morning with some readings.
posted by mary8nne at 4:02 AM on August 23, 2014

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