If you are anything like me, researching a topic can take much more time than actually writing about it. If you don’t have some kind of system when you are doing your research, you can spend entirely too much time sifting through articles and data, which can really take a bite out your overall productivity.
There are more tools available to you to accomplish this kind of efficiency than you could ever make the time to look through and evaluate, so it’s a good thing I’m here to help you move in the right direction, and it’s also a good thing I’m not charging you by the hour to do it – I could really rack up a padded time sheet if I went back and added it up.
Instead, I’m going to give you my top 5 tools for online researching for the low, low price of free. My only requirement is that if you are still using Internet Explorer as your browser, you have to download Chrome or Firefox – right now, go ahead, I’m waiting. Got it? Okay, now delete IE from your computer and swear that you will never again do anything so ridiculous. Then move forward with the article, knowing that most of these tools are Chrome extensions or at least have Chrome extensions in addition to the full apps.
Evernote is one of the most powerful tools available for note taking and organization. If you are not using it, start now. Many people who don’t quite get it at first, mainly because the layout and functionality are designed to be incredibly flexible so that you can tailor it to your own needs.
To get an idea of what you can do with Evernote, start with this article. It’s absolutely true that the more you use it, the more useful it becomes, and ideally you use it for everything – that’s when it reaches maximum usefulness.
When you are reading an article and want to save it for later, Clearly presents an extremely clean version of the article, wiping away anything on the page that is distracting (ads, sidebars, etc) and leaving a print-ready, easy to read article.
It even lets you choose different themes for how you save it, highlight portions, and more. Then with one click it sends the altered version to Evernote. Clearly brilliant, pun intended. The only downside is that since it’s a browser extension, it isn’t available (yet) on a tablet or smartphone (the simply incredible Note II). So when I’m mobile, I use…
Readability is a cross between apps like Pocket (formerly Read it Later) and Clearly. It saves the article in an easy-to-read format that can be accessed from the web or in a mobile app. There’s not a whole lot more to say about it after I’ve described Clearly, but you may ask “what about the whole Evernote thing?” I’m glad you asked, because the next piece helps to pull together any disparate programs you may be using.
4. IFTTT (IF This Then That)
Whether you use Evernote or some other, lesser application, IFTTT is a tool you should be aware of. It does what the name implies, which is to create actions based on other actions. There are thousands of “recipes” that others have already created, or you can make your own.
As an example, let’s say I save some stuff in Readability on my awesome Note II smartphone. There is a recipe on IFTTT that will save any archived items to Evernote for me automatically, so once I’ve pulled the piece up on Readability and decided I want to save it, I just click “archive” and voila, it’s in my Evernote. The recipes are almost endless, and you will surely find some that will make life easier with whatever tools you choose to use.
Probably the most unknown of the bunch is another browser extension called Diigo (also available on the ipad, iphone and android). It also has the ability to “save for later” when you find something you need to access later, but that’s not what I use it for.
For me the brilliance in this app is the on-page annotations and screenshot features. Open a site, highlight any word, phrase, or section, and a little Diigo option pops up. You can highlight with different colors, create a sticky note to make your own notes right on the page, or take a screenshot of whatever part of the page you want.
To get a better idea of this, imagine that you take a screenshot of a web page with an article, then save it on your computer, open it with an image editing program, and make notes on it (highlighting, annotations, arrows, whatever). Diigo does all of this while you are on the web page, and saves it. Anytime that you go back to that page (from the same browser of course) all of your highlights and notes will still be there, right where you left them. You can make these public if you want for other Diigo users, but I just use it privately for my own research.
Do you have any suggestions that are better than these? I’m always open to suggestions. Well, not always. Sometimes I’m really hard-headed. I’ll listen to you, though. Maybe.