Using Evernote for Essays

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

I'm a sucker for organisation, and I've spent much of the past academic year kicking myself for not getting into using Evernote before now. There's a fair few blogs around on how to use the app to help write essays, but I haven't found any of them particularly helpful, or at least not in a way that I find applicable to writing essays for nursing.

Basics: Evernote is a free application for every platform ever - I currently have it installed on my MacBook, iPad and iPhone. You need to create a free account to use it, which takes mere moments, and if you wish to access your notes offline, you'll need to pay £4 a month for a premium account (I've been doing this for the past two months as I've had chance to work on essays when I'm at placement, which doesn't have wifi). Your account syncs your notes between all your devices, and is incredibly simple to use.

Now, the reason the other blogs on using Evernote for essays aren't especially helpful to me is that they don't focus so much on referencing. My cohort has had the importance of referencing hammered home throughout second year, and I used to get myself into an awful mess making notes and forgetting where I'd read the perfect evidence for what I was writing about. I started using Evernote to track all my reading, and ultimately my essays are better referenced. Maybe I lied about this being a guide to using Evernote for essays - really, it's a guide to using Evernote to reference essays. But with how much we reference in our academic work, this might still be of use to people.

Step 1: Download your papers

I'm sure I don't need to give advice on not using Google (or even Google Scholar) for this - get a good variety of appropriate papers from EBSCOhost (CINAHL/MEDLINE etc), Science Direct and the like. One of our lecturers insists on ridiculous numbers of references in each essay we write; as a general rule, I have 40-60 references for every 2,000 word essay, less for reflective work.

Step 2: Create a Notebook

I have one for every essay I've done this year, as well as general revision and things I need to learn (medication, medication, medication).

Step 3: Begin creating Notes

I create a note for every paper I've downloaded - and I do this as I'm downloading them. I make the title the authors and publication year, and in the body include the link to the paper (I spent half of first year just finding where I'd downloaded papers from) and a few bullet points summarising the article. I started out trying to copy and paste relevant/interesting quotes, but this is pretty useless for writing essays with.

Step 4: Tag your Notes

Two or three tags will suffice - and don't get too detailed with them. Referencing in essays is quite a general task, so unless you're making specific reference to one piece of research (which should be rare), just use tags to jog your memory.

Step 5: Write your essay

Need evidence to back up your points? Search your tags, find relevant evidence, insert authors and date. Tada.

If you're smarter than I am, you might use Evernote to create your reference list as you go along, to save you trawling through your notes for hours at the end.

I find putting an essay together this way easier than any other way I've tried - structure and arguments form themselves in my head as I'm adding papers. And if it's any enticement to give this way a go - all but one of my essays in my nursing degree have been firsts. Good luck!


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