By Drew Thomas |

Do you have a hard time remembering where you read something? Do you find yourself frustratingly searching through handwritten notes, looking for an example or page number? I do. There is an easy solution to this problem. Stop reading your notes. Let your computer read them for you. Evernote, the popular note taking app, will read your handwriting, making your notes fully searchable.

I love technology. My research wouldn’t be the same without my laptop, tablet and smartphone. But while I’m fine reading a journal article on a tablet, I still like reading an old-fashioned, printed book. I usually take handwritten notes when I read a book. I also take handwritten notes when listening to seminars or attending conferences. Evernote can search those notes, saving you valuable time.

(If you’re not familiar with Evernote, you should be. Download it at

Here is an example. I study the Protestant Reformation. If I search for the term “Luther,” Evernote highlights the location in my handwritten notes where I wrote that term:


As you can see, I don’t have the greatest handwriting yet Evernote reads it just fine. Follow the steps below and start searching your notes.

1. Scan your notes. This is much easier if you take notes on loose leaf paper or a notebook where you can easily separate each page. To save time, use your library’s scanner. You can scan multiple pages at once using the paper feeder, unlike a flatbed scanner. Have the scanner e-mail you the files or save them to a USB flash drive.

a. IMPORTANT: If you have Evernote Premium, Evernote will read PDF documents. However, if you’re like me and use the free version, you need to save your notes as a .JPG or .PNG file. In the free version, Evernote reads text in .JPG or .PNG files, not PDFs. That means each page will be a separate file. So change your scanner details accordingly.

2. Import your notes into Evernote. Once on your computer, open the folder containing your notes. Select them all and drag them into a new note in Evernote. The images will automatically be added to your new note. Create a new note for each book, presentation, etc., and drag the corresponding images to that note.

a. On some computers, when you drag your .JPG images into Evernote, Evernote reverses the order. So if you drag image-1.jpg, image-2.jpg, and image-3.jpg into Evernote, it orders them 3, 2, 1. I have no idea why. To correct this I simply scan my pages in reverse order so I don’t have to rearrange them in Evernote, saving me more time.


Drag your files into a new note

3. Tag your notes. If you like to categorise your notes, tag them with the appropriate labels.


Add tags at the top

4. Save. You’re DONE! Wait a bit for Evernote to work its magic (Premium users get priority) and then you have fully searchable notes!

Organising your photos: If you rearrange your notes into different notebooks after importing your handwritten images into Evernote, they are no longer searchable on some computers.  This has been a problem on the desktop version of Evernote, not mobile versions. However, this problem is easily fixed. When viewing the note that is not searchable, hold the CTRL button and click on the Help menu. This reveals some hidden options. Then select the “Fix Current Note” option. This will index the note in its current location, making it fully searchable.


Drew Thomas is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews studying the Protestant Reformation and the History of the Book. Follow him on Twitter @DrewBThomas and Instagram @drewbt.


(All images: Drew Thomas)