Taking Notes: A comparison of different methods

As someone with a lot to do (my way of saying “I’m forgetful”), I have always ended up taking notes. I have huge ring binders full of paper, countless half filled notepads and my scrawled ideas cover several whiteboards arround my desk at work.

But I’m a techie- paper and whiteboards just don’t cut it. I want my notes backed up, easily transportable and on multiple devices. Here is a quick list some of the best tools and applications I’ve used to replace scrawling on dead trees.

Microsoft OneNote

OneNote is a part of MS Office 2007 Home & Student edition and I used it for all my notes through the last 9 months of my degree.

The real advantage of it is the ability to format items of text and images pretty fluidly and easily.

The real disadvantage is that of most Microsoft products- it locks you in to a propriety format which only OneNote can decode. This also means that every device you want your notes on needs to have OneNote installed; less than ideal for someone who relies solely on a laptop, desktop or smartphone at various times of the day.

OneNote would definitely benefit from being used on a device with a touchscreen where you can just sketch diagrams into your notes with a stylus; this is supported but I didn’t have a tablet to use at the time so I can’t say how good it is.


Evernote is a great online tool for throwing pictures, audio and text. I’ve used it briefly to photograph and make a note on my iPhone when I’ve spotted something interesting whilst out and about. When I get home (and have already forgotten about interesting thing X), Evernote syncs with my PC and reminds me.


I tried TiddlyWiki about a year ago and it has quickly become my main way of taking notes. It takes the form of a single HTML file which contains all the goodies needed to run a basic but effective wiki.

The huge advantages come from being able to link pages together and link to web sites. Images can be included in the notes too but aren’t incorporated into the single HTML file so I tend to avoid it.

The opensource nature of the project has also lead to a vibrant plugin community springing up, meaning most things TiddlyWiki lacks can be bolted on. A personal favourite plugin adds check boxes, making To Do lists tickable and simple to write.

Being constructed in HTML & JavaScript also means anyone with some technical skills can open it up and add things they want and makes TiddlyWiki really hard to critacise as a personal note wiki. I’m still using this on a daily basis to take notes and journal progress at work, well worth trying out.

Staying (mostly) analogue

There is always the option of staying with paper notes and photographing white boards. I know some people who love this approach and I’m currently trying it out by carrying arround a cheap notebook where ever I travel. It’s useful for being small and quick to record things in but things get fragmented across pages too quickly.

Next: Courrier/iPad

Microsoft’s Courier project appears to be OneNote personified in hardware with some seriously cool extras. It is at least worth 5 minutes reading up on Engadget’s coverage here.

I’m certain that the iPad will also evolve more feature-rich note/wiki tools; the only thing that stops me getting too excited is the thought that these tools will probably be locked into the Apple ecosystem and I just can’t stomach the relatively vast costs of a MacBook and iPad. Here’s hoping for some better *nix solutions!


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