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How To Make Paper Notes Searchable For Free

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My post on the technology in OneNote (s msft) that makes ink notes on the Tablet searchable has touched a vein with many. I’ve heard from quite a few who are in two camps — the ones who swear by this technology and the ones who didn’t know it existed. While the Tablet PC/ OneNote combo is powerful for those who take a lot of handwritten notes, there are those who don’t need quite so much firepower for note taking. There is a simple way using Evernote and a mobile phone to turn any notes handwritten on paper into fully searchable information.

Evernote is the note application that works on just about every platform. This includes Windows and Macs, and most smartphone platforms. Notes can be imported into Evernote a number of ways, and all notes are stored in the Evernote cloud. There is a free version of the service for light users, and a Premium version for those needing more online storage.

Notes in the user’s online notebooks are accessible from any device that can run the Evernote program. They can consist of text notes, images, web links and the like. One of the strengths of the Evernote technology is how it scans any image a user uploads into the notebook, to determine if there is any text that should be indexed for searching. Upload a picture of a stop sign, and after a brief period of background scanning on the server you can run a search for the term “stop” and Evernote will find that image across all of the user’s notebooks.

This works for handwriting, too, so turning handwritten notes into searchable text is quite simple. Take the notes on paper as usual, and when done you’re ready to bring them into the Evernote cloud. Fire up the Evernote app on the smartphone with a camera, take a photo of the page and send it to your online Evernote notebook.

Once it’s there, the Evernote processors take over and scan the image for any recognized words. It may take a while as Evernote is doing a lot of this in the background, but once the scanning has taken place the entire page is now searchable in the Evernote desktop app.

You can then search for text using Evernote on any device, and all notes that contain the search phrase will be presented, with the search phrase highlighted. Since the search is taking place in the cloud, your ink notes are accessible (and searchable) from any device that runs Evernote. The program presents the photo of the note page, so you can refer to all of the notes that you took along with the object of your search.

This is not a high volume solution, so if you take lots of pages of notes, you’ll need another method. But if you only occasionally take notes, or you want to capture that one important note you scribbled on a napkin, this is a good solution. The impressive thing is it is low cost, or even free.

7 Responses to “How To Make Paper Notes Searchable For Free”

  1. BTW, if I am correct the reading of handwriting is a Tablet PC API/feature rather than specific to OneNote. I have mentioned that Covey Tablet Planner used similar features prior to OneNote. And, if I am correct the reading of notes in general preceded the note aggregation application.

  2. thenikjones

    I am very much an Evernote newbie – just installed it for Windows and starting to use it with my Touch.

    Is there a way to EXPORT notes – if Evernote ever folds, will all my data be lost? I know I can store data offline, but can it be stored outside of Evernote?

    Any advice will be much appreciated.

  3. I’ve used Evernote numerous times and find it very interesting. However, until I can ink on images or other imported documents, Evernote will remain around 1/10th as useful as OneNote. How can they keep ignoring this glaring hole in their product?

  4. GoodThings2Life

    This is clearly more for the “getting started with tablets” crowd, because it just seems like a cumbersome approach when you could just take the notes in OneNote or Evernote right from the start.

  5. Grant Page

    Oh…I need to RTFM more often. Still, not as fun as a new tablet PC…I’ve already talked the wife into it and you are not changing my mind! I love new computer research!

  6. You can also scan pages of notes with a scanner into image files and upload them to Evernote from your desktop/laptop.

    Some scanners even work directly with Evernote and you can scan right from the scanner into Evernote in one step. Evernote’s site has the specifics.