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Robert Newton
Robert Newton

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How do you take notes?

I am wondering how everyone takes notes? This can be while you're testing or doing some courses or you're just putting down a to-do. Do you have a specific notes taking application you use? Are you more of a pen and paper person (like me), do you use vim or emacs with org-mode?

I am interested in what everyone uses in case there is something better than what I am currently doing.


Top comments (68)

erikthered profile image
Erik Nelson

I use Boostnote synced with Google Drive for most code related notes or markdown documents.

Recently I got my first fountain pen (a Pilot Metropolitan) so I've been doing a lot more paper notes in a Moleskine notebook. I will probably upgrade to a better notebook when this one's done, such as a Rhodia, Clairefontaine or Leuchtturm.

The big sell for fountain pens is that it makes writing a lot more fun!

salhernandez profile image
Salvador Hernandez

I currently use a fountain pen with a Leuchtturm notebook. The best part is that the notebook has an table of contents!

nancyd profile image
Nancy Deschenes

Me too, me too!

I also find that the fountain pen makes my handwriting look better. The nib must not be too narrow, tho.

johntellsall profile image
John Mitchell

I use pen and paper -- research has shown this helps the brain understand, correlate, and retain information. (Even if my err your notes are unreadable ;) ) I'm a fan of non-textual techniques like Mind Mapping (2D bullet points) and using fonts and arrows and boxes and things. Again, this helps with understanding. Read Sunni Brown's "Doodle Revolution" for tons of ideas!

For little stuff I use Google Keep. On my morning commute I listen to podcasts and often they have great ideas I want to research later. For that, Keep is perfect: always there, distributed, and simple and fun to use.


nikoheikkila profile image
Niko Heikkilä

I usually write stuff with my editor of choice (currently VS Code) in Markdown format. All the notes are saved in Dropbox. Later on, and if needed to distribute, I convert them to PDF/DOCX/HTML/whatever format with pandoc using custom templates. These converted versions are usually stored in some another service as well (eg. company cloud) for consuming and archiving.

I just can't get my mind into specialised note-taking apps when you can write in plain-text and convert to virtually any format to any service. Apps like Evernote have for ages been obsolete for me. However, I can understand there is a certain work involved writing your own conversion scripts and templates before you can take notes in plain-text.

s1hofmann profile image
Simon Hofmann

For really short notes I'm still using Google Keep, for larger notes like drafts of blog posts I'm using BoostNote.

It's file based and I'm syncing my notes folder via ownCloud, so I'm able to work on multiple machines.
There's also a mobile version, but I haven't used it yet.

briansotodo profile image

BoostNote looks cool. I am checking it out right now...

vasilvestre profile image
Valentin Silvestre

Same with Google Keep. There's some feature missing but it work on all my devices and is accessible from everywhere easily.

ewoks profile image
Beeblebrox • Edited

What would be advantage over free Evernote? Is just about markdown support (that Evernote is lacking) or something else?

goyder profile image

I'm working through a large number of Coursera courses at the moment, and trying to compile good working notes from them. While I've played with Onenote, Evernote, and BoostNote, I struggled to get good integration between my notes and my code.

I'm finding the best solution is simply to use Jupyter Notebooks (inside a Docker environment) and push to Github. This way my notes and code examples are tightly integrated, and I can hop between my Linuxbox and Macbook with a minimum of fuss and drama.

The main challenge I have is that I'm not aware of any good tools for searching my notes in Jupyter notebooks. If anyone's aware of any tools, I'd love to hear it!

ewoks profile image

Are your notes from Courses public or you store them in a private GitHub?

goyder profile image

All public. You can find them here and here. :)

sephcoster profile image
Seph Coster

Field Notes notebook and a Staedtler Triplus Fineliner, in my pocket at all times.

Remarkably, I find that the Field Notes slogan is true: "I'm not writing it down to remember it later. I'm writing it down to remember it now." I rarely consult my notes after I write them, and memory written as tactile sticks a lot more than typed notes.

Occasionally I'll use the stock "notes" app but that's really temp storage for the most part, then anything I do with those notes becomes the thing to which I refer back.

jovica profile image

For short notes which I need only locally and for short time I use Vim.

For tech notes I want locally and remotely I use BoostNote.

For all other notes, bookmarks, projects, brain dumps, etc I use Dynalist, which is something like Workflowly, but much better.

mariocd10 profile image
Mario DeLaPaz

Dynalist looks interesting! going to check it out today!

squiter profile image
Brunno dos Santos • Edited

Emacs with org-mode was a life changer for me! It's hard to start when you are not familiar with Emacs, but it's awesome when you get it! I already used Evernote, Notational and other apps, but no other app gives me the customization level that org-mode have.

cjbrooks12 profile image
Casey Brooks

Most of my notes are ephemeral, so I will just open the closest thing I can find and start writing. Sometimes that happens to be Sublime, other times I'll just open a comment block in the middle of my code (IntelliJ). I'll keep these notes just long enough for me to do what I needed to for them or move them elsewhere.

For more permanent notes, I really like Quiver. Its a nice balance between simplicity and ease of use, and I love that I can switch back-and-forth between blocks of code, markdown, and a richtext editor as many times as I need in a single note. I commonly write quick notes with the richtext editor, use markdown for authoring blog posts or other long-form writing, and both usually involve code snippets.

pedestalnix profile image
Pedestal Nix

If I'm reading a book, either paper or ebook, I take notes on paper. I have a hardcover A5 spiral bound notebook for all those notes taken as I read, as well as notes on movies as I watch or any other in-the-moment notes. If there's some text that I want to excerpt, then if it's a paper book I make a little note with the page number so I can go back later, and for ebooks I take a screenshot of the page. Screenshots are automatically synced to my PC, so I can extract the text at my leisure. I also maintain a reading journal in which I reflect on what I'm reading, at a little further distance--after finishing a chapter or completing a book, or after I've had a few days to consider things.

For long-term storage, I have built from scratch a custom database/wiki which is personalized for my workflow. I put into that entries for everything I read to which I attach the (cleaned up) notes or excerpts. It also handles my todo list, diary, and any other kind of data I need to capture. If there's something I need that it doesn't do, I code it up, so I have a single resource with all the information I want to store.

This works very well for me, but that's only because I've sunk a few hundred hours over the past few years into it. I learned a lot about web development doing it (and parlayed that experience into professional web dev work), but it was only really worth it because making detailed notes on materials I read or watch so that I can summarize and analyze them is a major part of my learning process, and I use it daily. I expect to spend thousands of hours using it, in the coming years, so it works out, but if you don't have such extreme needs as I do, then I don't suggest reinventing the wheel.

People have suggested a lot of web-based solutions. I prefer to do things locally when it's practical, myself, so let me suggest a few alternatives. Before I resolved to write my own solution, I made use of a number of tools:

  • Emacs org-mode is extremely nice, if you like Emacs, and it's worth checking out even if you don't normally use Emacs.
  • WikidPad is also excellent if you want something outside of Emacs and more wiki-like. I used it for a couple of years and my only real complaint was that note-taking is really all it is good for. Its metadata capabilities are good enough to help organize notes, but fall short if you need to record structured data or do more complicated things with it. It can also be a bit slow if you have hundreds or thousands of links on a single page.
  • TiddlyWiki is also very handy, though its popularity seems to have decreased over the years. I used a few of these at university to organize my research for term papers and such. It's a reasonable alternative to WikidPad, if you prefer this kind of interface.
paulasantamaria profile image
Paula Santamaría

I've been using OneNote on my iPad to take notes at university. But after three years of note-taking the app started running slow... Maybe I should delete some notebooks, but I'm tempted to try Evernote now.
Of course I use the iPad mainly in the theoretical courses, I need pen and paper for math and any other practical courses.

tedhagos profile image
Ted Hagos
vbd profile image
Volker B. Duetsch

Vim, notes in markdown format, Dropbox for syncing and to publish it as local website with material theme

visualizertrue profile image
Aaron Barnett • Edited

I use Microsoft OneNote and (until recently) a Huion drawing tablet. People definitely have their opinions about MS Office but OneNote has been a great way to keep everything organized, backed up, and paper free. I recently received an iPad Pro as a gift and have now been using the OneNote app with the Apple Pencil to keep up with notes for class. I always hand write my notes so this has been an awesome way to be even more organized and still be able to feel like I'm using a real pen (I just personally never learn or remember well when I type out my notes).

vinayhegde1990 profile image
Vinay Hegde

I've developed a habit of writing stuff that I wish to learn in my own words with reference URLs (blog posts, official documentation, how-to guides, etc..) that I often gather via mobile or desktop and sync in Google Keep and/or , the latter is a great app requiring an individual post in itself.

The ones saved via mobile make their way to PC but If I've access to a desktop already, here's how I create & maintain my documentation:

  1. First, I use reStructuredText to write my notes in .rst files (segregated topic-wise) in a Git repository.

  2. Then, Sphinx (a one-time setup) comes in to build all my documentation into static content (HTML, CSS, JS etc) using a single command.

  3. Afterwards, I push my changes and a Git web-hook (again, just a one-time setup) deploys it to ReadTheDocs onto a publicly accessible URL (you can choose this)

  4. Done! While the learning curve is a bit steep but once you get the hang of it, all you'd need to create documentation is a Text Editor and Git commits.

If you need an example, you can browse the one made by LetsEncrypt or the one I made here. Renders flawlessly on mobile without the additional overhead of any app (as it's just a URL) as well :)

PS: BoostNote appears to be amazing but according to this, the Android/iOS apps seem to be temporarily closed.

ewoks profile image

Good point about BoostNote, lacking of mobile (Android) client while they update code base is deal breaker for me :(

vinayhegde1990 profile image
Vinay Hegde

I agree! Having a Android client is as important as a Desktop one or a Web-app. This was the reason I moved onto Google Keep from ColorNote

However, both of them fall thoroughly short in rich-text formatting thus making me find an alternative described in my original comment.