My Evernote Handwritten Note Workflow

My Evernote Handwritten Note Workflow

Handwritten NoteAnyone who has been on the phone with me will know two things about me. First, I talk to myself a lot, and second, I take a lot of notes.[1]

I have played around with taking notes on my iPad, but more often than not I am re-using the back of paper from around the house.

This might surprise some of you and I can hear it now – “What? Mr. Paperless takes paper notes?”

Guilty as charged, but to me the key is not our use of paper but what we do with it afterwards. As Malcolm Gladwell writes:

The solution to our paper problem, they write, is not to use less paper but to keep less paper.

I generally use Evernote to store my notes, and until recently I scanned my notes to PDF, stored them in Evernote, and got rid of the paper.

I did this for years until I wrote this newsletter issue about Evernote and handwritten notes. To quote myself:

One of the big keys is, for handwritten notes, to scan the documents as JPGs instead of PDF. For whatever reason, their handwriting recognition only works on images.

Now, my handwriting is absolutely abysmal[2], but Evernote has proven remarkably adept at indexing it, so I have switched my workflow to scanning my handwritten Evernote-bound notes to JPG instead of PDF. Here is how I do it.

Scanning To JPG

I use a ScanSnap S1300i, but this will work with any scanner that will scan to JPG.

On the ScanSnap Manager Application tab, I choose Scan To Evernote (Note).

ScanSnap Application Tab

ScanSnap Application Tab

On the File option tab, I set it to scan to JPG.

ScanSnap File option tab

ScanSnap File option tab

Prepare And Scan To Evernote

This will sound strange, but when I am scanning handwritten notes, I scan them in reverse order.

You will see why in a moment, but if I am scanning a three page document, I stack the paper so that page 3 is on top and page 1 is on the bottom.

Once the paper is stacked in reverse order, I pop it in the scanner and go.

Process and Merge Pages In Evernote

Some of you may have seen this coming a few steps ago, but if you are scanning to JPG, it will create one file for each page. If you are scanning to Evernote, it will create one note for each page, as you can see below.

Evernote Scanned Pages

Evernote Scanned Pages

Some people may work around this by scanning to a folder on the computer and then dragging the JPGs to a new note, but I prefer to keep things as frictionless as possible and do it all in Evernote.

Fortunately, newer versions of the Mac and Windows clients give you the ability to merge notes together. Highlight the pages of your document, and on the right side you will see a Merge button.

Evernote Merge Button

Evernote Merge Button

Once you click it, your notes will all be merged to one note, and your pages will show up one after another in the new note.

The merging will be in the order that the notes show up in Evernote. Since I normally keep my notebooks sorted in Descending Date order, I needed to scan my documents in reverse order so that Page 1 would be at the top. This way when I merged, everything is all nicely in order.

Evernote Merged Notes

Evernote Merged Notes

One thing that I know will annoy some of you: when you merge notes together, it shows the title between each page like in the above screenshot. You can either leave it like this, or if it bugs you, just highlight the text and delete it.

This Evernote handwritten note workflow has been working really well for me. If you have another way that you process handwritten notes, I’d love to hear it.

(Photo by photosteve101)


  1. Both of these are collateral damage from my years of doing software support.  ↩

  2. Once a teacher threw my homework on the floor and said “I’m not reading this”. Not that I’m scarred or anything.  ↩

About the Author

Brooks Duncan helps individuals and small businesses go paperless. He's been an accountant, a software developer, a manager in a very large corporation, and has run DocumentSnap since 2008. You can find Brooks on Twitter at @documentsnap or @brooksduncan. Thanks for stopping by.

Leave a Reply 22 comments

Brandon - June 24, 2015 Reply

Hi Brooks,
Just reading through this and noted it was from 2012
A few Questions based on additional functionality since then.

Is anything different now with the built in scanning options in evernote using the camera (Post its,Documents,colour documents,Photo) or does it treat documents as pdf and if you are scanning hand written you need to select photo.

Also with “scannable” I ‘m guessing you have to switch to manual as it will see the paper and treat it as a document

Lee Dorfman - March 18, 2013 Reply

Brooks,
Daniel Gold just wrote his last post by hand into his Moleskine notebook, and then added it to Evernote, where it was emailed to iDictate – mynotes@idictate.com– where we transcribed it using live typists.

A copy of his post is at http://idictate.blogspot.com/2013/03/reinventing-
This works with any handwritten document.

As a disclaimer, I am the ceo of iDictate.

Joe - December 19, 2012 Reply

Started using Evernote today – I believe I've solved your "reversal" issue which should save you from needing to physically reverse the pages.

– I'm using the latest version of Evernote as of today 12/19/12 which is v5.x, FYI.
– When merging the pages -> click the notes (while holding down Control on Windows) in the order that you want them to be top-to-bottom, then click merge.
– Do not try to Control+Shift the entire list or it will do it the way that you've presented and list the notes out of order, you must click the notes 1 by 1 selecting them in the order you would like them to merge!

If only we could get the dev team to allow us to remove the headers that are created this would be even smoother!

Hope this helps- Geaux Tigers!
Joe

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - December 19, 2012 Reply

    Nice thanks Joe! I'll have to try this!

    Owen - April 5, 2014 Reply

    A more efficient way of dealing with the reversal method is to rearrange which ever notebook you’ve imported the files such that the newest files are at the bottom (aka just click the created heading once).

    This effectively reverses the order of your entire inbox. Then when you select your handwritten notes and hit merge, they will be merged in a reverse order.

    This obviates the need to reverse the handwritten notes before hand!

@riverwoodwriter - August 30, 2012 Reply

I'm very excited about this. I write a lot of handwritten notes and I save them because I want to write a book about the lost art of handwritten notes. I scan some and file some, but none are saved on Evernote, which I use for so many other things. I'm going to have a heck of a time gathering them all together when I get ready to write the book.

Moving to your system will help a lot. Thank you!

Anil - August 25, 2012 Reply

I believe you can save PDF as (Save As..) JPG. At least that's a feature in Adobe Acrobat. YMMV.

Kevin - August 23, 2012 Reply

Quick question for you – I, like you, initially was scanning all my handwritten notes to PDF. As of reading this, I changed that to JPG because of the OCR of handwriting. Now what can I do with the 100's of PDFs of handwritten notes? Think there is anyway to go back and convert the PDFs to JPG in some sort of script fashion to take advantage of this?

    kachilda - August 23, 2012 Reply

    print out the pdf's and rescan them as jpg'S

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - August 24, 2012 Reply

    Hmm, well taking a PDF and kicking out a bunch of images should be pretty easy. There's even an Automator action to do that.

    Since Evernote's AppleScript support is pretty good, I'd think that something like this could be bolted together. It might be worth checking with the king of Evernote AppleScripts, Justin over at http://veritrope.com/. You might be able to get/hire him to whip something up for you?

Brooks Duncan
Brooks Duncan - August 22, 2012 Reply

OK everyone, this is now up in video format: http://www.documentsnap.com/video-evernote-handwr

@degconsulting - August 22, 2012 Reply

Great post, Brooks! There's always an occasion for scrap pieces of paper and sticky notes! Sending it to Evernote is great with my ScanSnap. My workflow involves scanning single page docs as JPEG and then multi-page docs as PDF. To John's point, I like to be able to search against my handwriting. To Corey's point – I love the Livescribe pen. Amazing tool and find it great for meetings!

Corey Pudhorodsky - August 21, 2012 Reply

Using a LiveScribe pen is another great way to save handwritten notes to Evernote. The send to evernote feature makes it really easy and you can also save a copy that has embedded audio as a separate file or embedded in a pdf.

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - August 21, 2012 Reply

    Good call Corey. Believe it or not I have never tried a LiveScribe, but I know many many people love it.

SophieK - August 21, 2012 Reply

Brooks this is fantastic! Thank you for this! I agree you should make a short YouTube video on it :)

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - August 21, 2012 Reply

    Thanks Sophie, how can I say no? :)<p style=”color: #A0A0A8;”>

johnwin - August 21, 2012 Reply

Just a note to let you know that OCR does work in .pdf documents, though I think this is a pro feature.

Once a note has been OCRed (is that a real word?) it stays OCRed even if you let your subscription lapse.

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - August 21, 2012 Reply

    Hi John,You are right that OCR works in PDF documents. That works really well. What *doesn't* work is OCR for handwriting. That only works for JPG files at the moment, regardless of your subscription level.Thanks for commenting! <p style=”color: #A0A0A8;”>

Osaminc - August 21, 2012 Reply

Could you possibly make a short youtube video on this?

    Brooks Duncan
    Brooks Duncan - August 21, 2012 Reply

    Sure! I'll see what I can do this week.<p style=”color: #A0A0A8;”>

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