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Outlining and Notetaking Tools

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When researching your cookbook you will come across lots of information you need to process. These outlining and note taking tools will help you keep it all organized.

We will look at specific online tool options for the two different outlining and note taking approaches. The first group is an outlining tool or "outliner". These programs work directly with text, a master topic has sub-topics, each with its own sub-sub-topics. The second group is a mind mapping tool or "mind mapper" which uses a visual diagram containing a concept in the center with branches and sub-branches extending off in numerous directions instead of just words.

On his website, Sid Savara briefly compares 3 common note taking strategies: Outline System, Cornell Note Taking Method and Flow-Based Note Taking. If one seems to resonate with your natural way of doing things, you can look into the technique further. These basic strategies can be implemented with the online programs we recommend.

If you are interested in learning more about the background of mind mapping techniques The Mind Map Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain's Untapped Potential by Tony Buzan is a comprehensive look at the subject. This is the basic theory behind today's online mind mapping tools.

Regardless of which of outlining and note taking tools you select, always opt for the program that aligns best with your personality and work style!

Outlining Tools


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Evernote is a robust web-based note taking and note collecting app perfect for researching books. It offers flexibility and utility for multiple types of personal projects. Evernote makes it effortless to take notes and store info online for access anywhere, on any device. This program handles not only free form notes like a champ, but it lets you upload images and use both tags and separate notebooks to organize your data.

Jotted down some quick notes by hand while you were out? Just scan your handwritten notes into Evernote, and it will use image recognition technology to allow you to search for them within the app.

With the widely encompassing free plan you can send Evernote 60MB of data traffic per month as you make and take notes, but there's no limit on how much you can store. That includes uploading photos, videos, emails, webpages, and documents. A $45-a-year premium version adds even more features, such as the ability to work offline, search inside stored files, and increases the storage capacity to 1GB a month.

Evernote has good online "getting started" tutorials on its website. If you would like a visual tour of the free Evernote version and the web clipper, Keith Everett's informative 10 minute YouTube presentation may be just the thing. David A Cox has a more detailed 45 minute tutorial that covers the premium Evernote tool. Due to the popularity of Evernote, you can find tutorials on just about any aspect of this outliner program on the internet!


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WorkFlowy is a very simple web-based outlining/workflow management tool that falls somewhere between a basic to-do list and a mature word processor. Its interface uses animations in an unpretentious, non-distracting way that makes everything feel more engaging. You can use Workflowy on your smartphone or tablet. And to help you use its power, documentation is offered as a series of short, no-nonsense videos demonstrating every aspect of the product. Their free plan only allows one list which is limited to 500 monthly documents, but that is probably enough to get started. Pro users who pay $49 per year get unlimited lists and a few extra goodies.


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This very simple outlining tool is aptly named Simplenote. It's a great program for taking an endless amount of short notes and easily retrieving them later. Written changes are saved immediately, syncing is fast and the version history is accessible. Simplenote allows you to share and collaborate on notes with others by tagging your note with an email address. It's a good program for quickly getting ideas down but not robust enough for more structured writing.


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Checkvist is a responsive web tool for creating online outlines, hierarchical task lists, and collecting and structuring all kinds of information. It is a fast, mature, polished outliner with innovative keyboard shortcuts. Most outliners use Ctrl-key combinations, Checkvist uses Vim-like keystroke sequences. Markdown, code highlighting, import and export (OPML, text) make Checkvist an ideal hub for working on complex computer projects. Checkvist's free version offers more than enough functionality for most users. If you need full HTTPS support, file attachment, repeating tasks, and task assignment options for collaborating with others, the paid version costs $3 per month.


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OmniOutliner is a Mac-only outlining program. It is a flexible start-to-finish writing tool for creating, collecting, and organizing information. It is made to take great notes and turn them into a cohesive structured outline. OmniOutliner has many of the same features you get in the other outlining applications. OmniOutliner only has a 14 day free trial, and then you have to sign up for the standard plan at $49.99; seems a little pricey in light of the other less expensive options. Upgrading to the $99.99 Pro edition adds advanced features such as column visibility, reference links, Word export, and advanced style controls.

Mind Mapping Tools


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SpiderScribe is a sharp looking Flash-based online mind mapping and brainstorming tool. Unlike a typical mind mapper app, this one gives you the ability to embed a variety of links, notes, files, and other content into your mind map. In addition, it lets you brainstorm collaboratively with others by simultaneously editing shared multimedia mind maps. SpiderScribe is free for individuals who don't need more than three private maps and 3 MB files & images space; public maps are unlimited. This plan is for a single user but does include full sharing capabilities. For professionals, SpiderScribe offers a $5/month plan with unlimited private and public maps and 2 GB files & images space. They also offer business and education plans.


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Trello is simple on the surface, but the flexible Kanban / notecard based mind mapping program can help you visually group and organize your thoughts and subjects. As a management tool it allows you to see everything about your project just by glancing at the board, and it updates in real-time. Trello is free to use but you can purchase apps for your mobile devices, the web and Windows 8 to add extra capabilities.


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FreeMind is a free open source mind mapping tool that is programmed in Java and thus cross-platform compatible. It has a hierarchical structure but the information is presented in a visual format instead of a simple list. FreeMind is keyboard friendly--it's possible to create your entire outline without your hands leaving the keyboard. This software offers retractable and expandable branches and hyper-linking between different branches to make it easier to organize and connect ideas.


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MindMeister is a web-based visually oriented mind mapping program. It is a robust tool with powerful collaboration features and a slick historical view of previous mind map versions. By using cloud storage, it distributes real-time changes to all users on all devices. MindMeister's controls work a little differently than most, so creating that first mind map may take a little work but after that it's an easy-to-use tool. MindMeister doesn't let you link each thought with more than one parent, nor does not let you specify the relationship or type of link. For some users, this can be a frustrating aspect. MindMeister offers a free basic plan that includes 3 mind maps for a single user with full-sharing ability. Additional features with the $4.99/month personal subscription include the ability to add images and photos and export maps.

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