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This chapter is from the book Taking notes

Taking notes

All of the resources in the world won’t do you much good if you don’t make a note of what parts of them are actually useful for you. In the time-honored spirit of learning, taking notes is critical to being able to access and utilize all of the information that you gather. Let’s take a look at some the ways you can organize and save important pieces of information for future use.

Saving to “the cloud”

I’m sure you have heard the term the cloud when it comes to the Web. In this instance I am using the cloud to refer to information stored on web servers (not your computer’s hard drive) and accessed through web browsers and various devices, making it virtually infinitely scalable (Figure 3.1).

Figure 3.1: All of the components of “the cloud.” Courtesy of Boston Interactive at

Saving to the cloud is very powerful as it frees you from being tied to a single machine to access your content, whatever it may be. Any device that can access the Internet can give you access to the information that you have saved and, correspondingly, the ability to alter and add to that information. You can see how powerful that can be for managing and annotating your information.


A blog is a great way to take notes, to save references to further resources, categorize the information and have it all accessible to you no matter where you are, and can be device-independent as well. Because blogs are so easy to set up and have so many features that help you organize your posts, they are a natural option for note-taking and saving information in a reliable location that is not the hard drive of your computer.

Wordpress, Blogger and TypePad are all great, free online blogging platforms.

Bookmarking sites

Bookmarking sites is a great way to access and manage your bookmarks without being tied to your computer. Some even have browser extensions that allow you to save to the bookmarking site at the same time you save to your browser’s bookmarks on your computer.

Many of the sites that manage bookmarking are in fact social bookmarking sites intended to build community and common interests around bookmarked pages. With the rise of microblogging sites that also have a social bookmarking component like Twitter and Facebook, this feature of these sites is dropping in popularity. However, they are still great for what they do best: saving and tagging bookmarks for later use. With many of these sites, you can also set up a feed that will post your saved bookmarks to your other social media accounts.

The top bookmarking sites are and (formerly Ma.gnolia).

Online notebooks

In addition to blogging to save your notes, you could also use an online notebook. Online notebooks work much the way sticky notes and scraps of paper work in the physical world: you can save and organize snippets of information of whatever length for later use. However, with online notebooks, you can save notes in multiple formats: text, screenshots, snippets of web pages and even photos from your cell phone. Once your notes are in the app, you can search for them by keywords, titles, and tags. How cool is that?

Some of the most popular online notebooks with the technorati are Evernote (which has the advantage of having web, desktop and mobile phone apps that can all be synced), Google Notebook, (however, Google has ceased its development of the Notebook code), and Zoho,

You can often connect these tools to other online apps to import the information. For example, Evernote,, can import bookmarked pages from Delicious.

Analog notes—the old-fashioned way

There are countless resources for taking notes, so I don’t think it is necessary to rehash them here. What I do want to talk about is ways of capturing your thoughts so that they are easily accessible and usable for you in the future.

Hand-written notes

There is a vast variety of items to write your ideas in and on. The trick is in finding the one that fits you. While many designers are devotees of Moleskine notebooks, some folks like artist sketchbooks, some like lined notebook paper and others like graph paper. If you are eco-conscious, you could repurpose the blank backs of photocopied paper and use them for notes.

Organizing information is also a question of personal style. Notes usually comprise one or all of these techniques mixed together: outlining, using keywords and shorthand, capturing the main concepts, highlighting and underlining the key ideas. Mind-mapping—a visual and conceptual method of collecting ones thoughts—marries images and words to convey rich meaning and immediate impact (Figure 3.2):

Figure 3.2: A great example of mind-mapping from Austin Kleon at

Another version of taking notes with strong visual impact is to do so with both words and pictures, also called “note-sketching” (Figure 3.3).

Figure 3.3: Mike Rohde of creates clear and inspiring sketch notes.

You don’t have to put a lot of time and effort into your notes to make them beautiful—that’s not the point. The goal is to accurately put down and mentally catalogue the information that you want to absorb in a format that will enable you to easily access it again when you need it.

Text documents

Maybe you would rather have your notes in electronic text form and want to have a copy on your hard drive as well. There is no shame in using a simple text editor, Word, or any other word processing application to save and manage your notes. If you want to be sure you can access them later from the Web, you can save them on Google docs (or any other document saving repository) for later use.

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