April 29

Two Digital Tools That Can Help When Researching Your Novel

(This is NOT a sponsored post.)

Whenever I speak about research to write fiction, most people are stunned. They cannot believe that you need to research to write a novel. Unlike non-fiction, research is not the basis of the entire book in fiction but there are a lot of nitty-gritty details that you need to look up even if you are writing about places and things you know.

Photo by Matthew LeJune on Unsplash

My Research Experience

My debut novel, Birds of Prey, had me digging up postmortem reports, police investigation reports, medical examination reports, victim accounts and other nightmarish content that affected me deeply. The second book, that is going to be released soon, is a book for children. The book started off on a whim, gained traction and then sped away full length. This book tested my research skills unlike anything ever before.

Research Mistakes & Outdated Tools

Apart from the encyclopedia and several popular biographies, the children’s book demanded research that made me read a dozen other thick subject-oriented books. Since I wasn’t used to this kind of research, I made many mistakes. Let me list them here:

  1. My research lay in various places; I used notebooks and papers to create notes from the books I read but I did not mention which note/quote was from which book/author.
  2. I wrote on whatever I could find, and this made me lose certain information. When I needed to recall the information, I remembered that I had read it but couldn’t remember where I wrote it.
  3. Whenever I found something related to my subject, I clicked images on my phone camera, but I did not save those pictures in any specific folder. It was a nightmare to find them when I searched for them later.
  4. I did not note down the website URLs of all the blogs and websites that I visited. So, it was a hard job to search and find them again.

The above mistakes made me revisit most of the research that I had already done. I wasted a lot of time and effort by repeating the same thing again. Now, when I’m working on a sequel for the book, I decided I wouldn’t repeat my mistakes again.

Digital Tools

I am a pen-and-paper girl. I hate typing on the computer. Even this article has been dictated using the Dragon Software. So, when well-meaning friends suggested that there are many digital apps that can make this process easier, I didn’t want to turn towards that. Finally, after months of flapping about, I took the plunge.

The Best and Cheapest Digital Tool

The best digital tool that must be on everyone’s phone, laptop and tablet is the Evernote app. No, I haven’t been sponsored by them to say this. For those of you who haven’t heard about Evernote, it is an app designed for note taking, organizing tasks and lists, and archiving. It helps to declutter your life and all your notes are with you and in sync across all your devices. You can also download the notes to your device so that it is available even when you are not connected to the internet.

The scannable tool, that is present in Evernote, also helps you scan bills, receipts, documents, business cards, etc. as PDF Documents for easy access. If you decide to choose this app, go in for the paid version because that allows you to search across your notes if you need to search for something. The free version does not support all features.

Cost: INR 1500/ year

Kokuyo Notebook + CamiApp

I’m enamored by Instagram and that’s where I came to know about the Whitelines Notebook. Though it is available on Amazon India, the book is extremely expensive. The cheaper Indian counterpart to this notebook is the Kokuyo Notebook. You can download the CamiApp on your phone and if you click a picture of your Kokuyo notebook notes using the app, the app will scan and convert your notes into a PDF. It will also send your notes directly to a folder on Evernote/Google Drive/ One Drive or even all.


iPad Pro + Apple Pencil

The most expensive, and the most effective note-taking tool, in the world is the iPad Pro coupled with an Apple pencil. I am an Android person. I find the interface easy to understand and it is easy on my pocket too. So, it took me a long time to accept that the iPad can make my life easier. Finally, I took the plunge recently and realized that there is no going back for me.

My Note-taking Process on the iPad

The Apple Pencil and the iPad Pro work together just like how a normal notebook and pen would do. The only difference is that your notes are available digitally and can be accessed on the cloud. You can insert photos, voice notes, draw images, etc. in-between your handwritten notes. You can also decide to stop writing and start typing at any point.

There are various note-taking apps on the iPad. I use

  • Goodnotes, (aesthetically pleasing)
  • Noteability (voice recording option) and
  • Nebo (Perfect OCR technology, but works only with Apple Pencil).

Goodnotes and Nebo support OCR (i.e. Optical Character Recognition). I can write a sentence on the iPad using the Apple Pencil, double-click it and it converts to text. The first time this happened, it felt like magic. I’ve always struggled typing my handwritten drafts into the computer. My efforts have significantly reduced now.

While all the above apps are wonderful, I turn to Goodnotes when it comes to research. I find the app much more pleasing to the eye, has the feel of a notebook but also has the option to include images and photos.

I have created a small video below to give you a feel for both the apps. I use Nebo when I write articles and first drafts. I use GoodNotes for research. There are many other note-taking apps available too like OneNote, Noteability, etc. It is just that I found these first and grew comfortable with them.

So, how do you do your research? How do you keep track and maintain all your data? Please do share your experiences in the comments below.

(The Ipad featured here is the Ipad Pro 10.5 and the stylus is the Apple Pencil.)


Research, writing tips

About the author

Welcome! I write for adults and children. More importantly, I love to write for writers. This is where I share everything I know about this mysterious process of writing.

Archana Sarat

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