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Notes from a digital notebook: Part 1, Evernote and fieldnotes

Randall F. Clemens

The intrepid anthropologist enters the field. He carries his essential tools, a pen and notebook. Over the next months, he gains entrée and acts as a participant observer. Here and there, he steals a moment or two to record the local culture in his notebook. At the end of the day, he sits in a private location to review and interpret the day’s notes. Consider the picture of a lone anthropologist on the cover of James Clifford’s classic edited book Writing Culture.

Such an image has guided anthropologists and sociologists for the past century. However, technological innovation has challenged traditional notions of data collection and provided numerous alternatives to the staid pen and notebook. And, the changes have occurred rapidly. Only two years ago, Zoë and I authored a chapter about fieldnotes. We could not write the same chapter today without a larger discussion of technology.

What are the tools of a progressive qualitative researcher? 

Last year, I discussed the use of technology in the field. During observations, I frequently have used my iPhone to take notes; participants have often thought I was texting. Stef talked about how she has used a tablet and stylus for fieldnotes; as a side note, I recommend the Bamboo stylus

Today, I want to mention Evernote, a digital note-taking tool. The application is not computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDAS)—however, NVIVO does allow users to import notebooks from Evernote. Rather, Evernote serves as a digital notebook. Jot a note. Take a picture. Sketch a diagram. Record an interview. Clip a website. Evernote allows a researcher to record and access data using multiple devices, e.g. phone, tablet, and computer. If I write a note using my phone, it is immediately available on my tablet and computer.

I use Evernote to record and organize my notes. Like many research-focused technologies, the app offers a new take on an old concept. And, for individuals who are not quite ready to make the digital leap, the company offers a smart notebook that allows for the digital transfer of physical notes.

To interested readers, I recommend you download and try the free program.

Tune in for my next post when I discuss how I use Evernote during the writing process.