Work Flow: How I Organize My Research and Writing

On Friday September 27, from 10:30am to 1:30pm, I will teach an interactive course at Grub Street called “How to Organize Your Writing, Ideas, and Research.” This seminar will show writers how they can use Evernote, Zotero, and DEVONthink to better manage their ideas and research. Preparing for this seminar has caused me to think about how I use Evernote, Zotero, and DEVONthink to organize my research and writing.


My Work Flow


Zotero is a free, easy-to-use tool that helps researchers collect, organize, cite, and share their research.

In 2006, I started using Zotero as a bibliographic and citation tool, and as an organizational database for my dissertation research. I liked the fact that Zotero was free and that it was less tedious than the notecard system my advisor had introduced me to. I also liked that Zotero made my research portable via my laptop and searchable with tags and keywords.

Zotero served me well for my dissertation. It helped me organize my data, collect bibliographic information from the web, format my footnotes into the Chicago Manual of Style, and generate a bibliography.

However by 2011, I found that I wanted a more powerful program. Zotero became slow and ‘clunky’ to use as my database surpassed 16,000 entries.



In 2010, I began using Evernote in conjunction with Zotero.

I use Evernote as my digital filing cabinet. In fact, I got rid of 5 physical filing cabinets by scanning my records and filing them into Evernote. Evernote is where I keep all of my journal articles, manuscript photocopies, teaching materials, notes from various projects, seminar and conference notes, and my research notebook. I also use Evernote to organize my household records.

The Evernote app for my smartphone allows me to take my filing cabinet with me wherever I go. The ability to carry my filing cabinet with me has been immensely useful. Not only can I look up an article on-the-go, but I can also immediately record any ideas I have or research leads I find into Evernote.

I believe Evernote is the “Goldilocks” of organizational tools. Users can electronically store their research materials and find what they need with a click of a tag or a keyword search. Evernote’s new enhanced OCR search can even locate some handwritten documents.

Despite its great capabilities, I have not been able to wrap my head around the idea of using Evernote as my research database. Part of the reason for that is that I need a database that allows me to manipulate my notes to appear chronologically or by topic.

After reading rave reviews about DEVONthink on the web and in the AHA’s Perspectives early last year, I started to play with DEVONthink Pro.


DEVONthinkDEVONthink Pro

DEVONthink manages information. The program archives e-mails, PDFs, scanned documents, MS Word documents, PowerPoint slides, iWork files, and websites.

I started using DEVONthink in February 2013. I find that it excels as a large database. I use Smart Folders to manipulate my notes so I can view them any way I need to.

DEVONthink’s artificial intelligence feature helps me write. When I look up a note or document transcription, the A.I. feature recommends other records with like content that I have stored in the database. (Recently, Evernote added a “Related Notes” feature at the bottom of its notes that performs a similar function).

Also, DEVONthink is fast. DEVONthink searches faster than Evernote because it is based on my hard drive. Although I could use DEVONthink as a digital filing cabinet, I don’t because it lacks the portability of Evernote.


Summary of Work Flow

Presently, I employ all three programs to organize my research and writing. I use Zotero for bibliographies and citations, Evernote as my filing cabinet, and DEVONthink as my research database. My method may seem cumbersome, but my brain likes knowing that my research is separate from everything else. Moreover, by the time Evernote came out with its “Related Notes” feature and OCR search capabilities, I had already paid for and started to use DEVONthink.


What Do You Think?

What does your work flow look like? What software do you use to organize your research and writing?