Posts on Writing & Notes Apps

Here are a few posts I’ve written on the four writing and notes apps I use: Apple Notes, GoodNotes, Word, and Ulysses.

I’m pretty happy with this workflow, and each apps seems to be getting better and better. The iOS 11 previews promise a substantial update to Apple notes; GoodNotes has told me about a pretty significant upcoming feature; and Ulysses is king of the hill. Word? It gets a lot of updates, but meh. I hope the iOS app becomes more full features in the future, but it’s fine.

My Two Notetaking Apps

I’d probably long ago have gone seven kinds of crazy, one for each day of the week, if I didn’t simplify my life in every area where I do have some control. – > Odd Thomas

When I worked as an English tutor, I would regulary read that book with students who were struggling with reading comprehension. I fell in love with the story, and this quote always stuck with me. Like Odd, I think fewer is better; minimal is the goal. For notetaking, there are only two apps I use.

I’m making a distinction between notetaking and writing apps. These are just for notetaking.

GoodNotes

I’ve written about GoodNotes here (re: teaching) and here (re: notetaking). I use GoodNotes to take Greek and Hebrew reading notes, I use it to occasionally to jot down notes in a meeting, and lately I have been using it to take sermon notes in church. I use it for several other things, but these are the primary ways I use it for notetaking.

Apple Notes

For everything else, I use Apple’s Notes App. I moved from Evernote to Apple Notes a couple years ago and haven’t looked back. Just about every note I add goes into the default Notes folder. When using Evernote, I had a lot of individual folders, but I’ve come to think this is a waste of time. My notes are sorted by last updated, which means whatever I’m looking for is usually at the top of the list. If it isn’t, I can search for it. All my notes are stored in iCloud, and the iCloud sync has worked wonderfully for me.

It is also super easy to share a note with someone. You click a big plus sign and select how you want to share a link. That’s it. One way we use shared notes is to keep up with Beau’s steps every day. I share a note called called “Beau’s Steps” with my wife, and whoever puts him to bed can add his step count at the end of the day.

I like to use the Notes app to compile a list of links. To do so, I hit the share button in Safari and create a note with a link to whatever website I’m on. And you don’t have to create a new note each time. After clicking the share button and selecting the Notes icon, you can select the note to which you would like to add your link. This makes it easy to collect links for gift ideas or research topics or themed blog posts or anything else. It took me less than a minute to put together this list.

Competition

As I said, I shot the big green elephant.

The big, bad Bear, however, is trying to break into my notetaking workflow. I’ve fought him off for the time being, but I do really wish Apple’s Notes App had markdown support. I considered switching to Bear for mardown, but I could not find a way to export all my notes with images from the Notes App and import them into Bear.

Ideally, I could use Ulysses for both notetaking and most long-form writing. The one hiccup: Ulysses doesn’t support inline images. You don’t see your pictures until you export from Ulysses to PDF or docx or one of their many other export formats.

For now, notetaking happens in Apple’s Notes app and GoodNotes. Hopefully, we will see some improvements to the Notes app (markdown!) at WWDC next week.

Reading & Digital Notetaking

I’ve read with paper and pen, but these days if I am taking notes while reading, I use GoodNotes and a 9.7” iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. I don’t know how many times I’ve been working with someone and wanted to check my notes but didn’t have the right little notebook with me. That’s no longer a problem.

Text

There are three elements to this way of reading: print text, lexicon, and iPad. If I’m reading Greek or Hebrew, I prefer to read from a print text — NA28, BHS, Loeb, or a reader’s text. I don’t mind reading on my iPad, I just prefer a print text for this type of literature.

Lexicon

It’s a different story for the lexicon: about half the time I use a digital lexicon on my iPad and other times I prefer a concise, print lexicon. The lexicon varies depending on the medium.

If I’m using a print lexicon, then it is either Clines’ Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, Danker’s Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Liddell and Scott’s Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, or for the Septuagint, either LEH or Muraoka’s.

If I’m working off my iPad, then it’s either HALOT and Clines’ CDCH, BDAG, or LSJ in Accordance. It’s never really just one, and that’s the big benefit of a digital lexicon — you can easily switch between HALOT, BDB, CDCH, and DCH.

GoodNotes

GoodNotes is the distinctive feature. GoodNotes allows me to reap all the benefits of taking notes by hand, while simultaneously storing my notes in a digital platform I can access anywhere. The cherry on top is that GoodNotes automatically recognizes the text of your notes — even cursive — and you can search them. Unfortunately, it does not recognize Greek or Hebrew, but what app really does a halfway decent job with that apart from ABBYY FineReader. It would be unreasonable to expect GoodNotes to turn handwritten Greek or Hebrew into digital text, but one can dream.

You can pinch zoom on the GoodNotes paper and write, but I recently started using the zoom window, which allows me to have a larger writing line, while also letting me see more of the page.

As far as what type of notes I write down, this is my rule: If I look it up for any reason, I write it down. Usually it’s vocab notes, sometimes notes from a grammar, and occasionally something more reflective.

There are times when I use Accordance and GoodNotes in split screen. Because of the auto-advance feature of the zoom window, I can write continuously even though I have a relatively small space, half of a horizontal 9.7″ screen. You can see an example and more explanation of this feature at the bottom of this page, but check this out, too.

I can also copy and paste right along side my hand writing, and if I don’t like the way something looks, I can erase and rewrite it or cut and paste it somewhere else — yes, even the handwriting.

Wrapping up

I read at odd times throughout the day. Maybe it’s in the thirty minutes I have just before the students come streaming in, or maybe it’s while they are taking a quiz. Coffee shop, office, whatever — no matter when and where, I have my notes with me. Being able to share my notes with others is pretty sweet, as well.

GoodNotes and the Apple Pencil work so well together that taking reading notes sometimes feels like art. I can’t imagine a better digital notetaking environment.

A couple more pics:

Zoom & GoodNotes for Online Teaching

This is a season of lasts. The last Greek 3 class has come and gone, today is the last day of exams, this afternoon will be my last private Greek lesson with two particularly amazing students, and yesterday was the last online lesson with a student I have been teaching Classical Greek.

Two apps have helped make this a successful year of online teaching — GoodNotes and Zoom. Zoom is simply the best online classroom environment I can imagine, and GoodNotes is my favorite digital writing platform.

Zoom

Neither you nor the student nor the student’s family have to be tech savvy. It is as simple as sharing a link and following the instructions. If you meet with a student at a set time every week, Zoom allows you to schedule individual online meeting rooms. If, however, you meet at different times every week, you can just use the personal room you are given when you sign up.

My favorite feature of Zoom is how easily I can use it with my iPad Pro as a digital whiteboard. I normally run the meeting through the Zoom app on my MacBook. When I need a whiteboard, I click a share screen button, choose share iPad screen, and then connect my iPad to the MacBook via AirPlay. It has worked seamlessly throughout the entire school year.

At times I have been without my laptop, and I simply ran my meetings via the Zoom iPad app. This worked smoothly, as well.

GoodNotes

GoodNotes is the digital hub that connects me, the student, and any writing or assessments that are transferred between us. For whiteboard purposes I created a notebook called Greek Scribbles. This is where all our in-class, random notes go. I also have a notebook to keep up with assessments. The assessment workflow goes like this:

  • Quizzes and tests are sent to me as PDFs.
  • I drop them into our GoodNotes assessment notebook.
  • I grade the assessments with an Apple Pencil in GoodNotes.
  • GoodNotes automatically backs up the notebooks as PDFs to Google Drive (or Dropbox or others).
  • I share the assessments notebook PDF via a Google Drive link.

Now the student and the student’s family always have digital access to all of their assessments as soon as I finish grading them.

This is the method I have used all year for three weekly online lessons, and I recommend these apps without hesitation. More on GoodNotes later, but for now, back to wrapping up what is left of this year’s lasts.

More/Better Writing

Brian Renshaw’s post on writer’s block reminded me of a quip I heard from one of my favorite college professors:

Perfectionism leads to procrastination.

In enneagram speak, I’m a 1/9 so I can relate. I’ve been wanting for months to write a post about how I use GoodNotes while reading Greek and Hebrew, but the thought of all that it would take to write that post “perfectly” means I’ve written nothing on it.

A couple related posted direct my way: Seth Godin’s Talker’s block and SUSDAT.

Last Day of the Summer Hebrew Reading Group

This was the last week of our Hebrew reading group. The purpose of the group was simply to encourage students to read Hebrew during their break. The goal was to come each week having read three chapters in Genesis, to bring a question or two, and to be ready to translate when called on.
On average 5-6 students came, and in my opinion this was a win. The smaller size of the group created an atmosphere where everyone felt comfortable asking questions and making comments. It would have been fun to have 20 come each week, but for the most part we met in July and we were reading Hebrew. If few seminarians actually learn to read and enjoy Greek, then a minuscule percentage do the same with Hebrew.

Each week I took screenshots of the text in Accordance’s iOS app, and I compiled a notebook of the images in GoodNotes. I cast the screen of my iPad to a TV on the wall using AirPlay. When a question arose, everyone was able to look up and see me annotate the images to illustrate the explanation I or another student offered. All this took place in GoodNotes.

image

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I was able to sit at the tables with students and facilitate, but when the time came to teach, instructions could be given in a way that all could easily see. This method of facilitating, I think, was another factor that contributed to the comfortable atmosphere and the open discussion we were able to have, despite the wide variety of Hebrew reading experience in the room each week.

I hope the library continues to allow us to do these Greek and Hebrew reading groups each summer. It was my pleasure, and the students seemed to be encouraged, as well.