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(Archived) From EN "Specialist" to "Generalist"

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I've been using EN almost daily since late 2005 (EN 2?), at both work and home. Only recently, however, have I begun using EN in a way that I believe takes full advantage of its capabilities. I've accomplished this by transforming myself from a "specialist" to a "generalist," terms I've chosen that are very rough equivalents to the "filers" and "pilers" I've seen some use in this forum. By specialist, I'm referring to EN users who rely heavily on many hundreds (or more) of very narrowly-defined and perhaps deeply-nested tags to organizing their notes. They may also use many notebooks for this purpose. Generalists, on the other hand, use fewer and more general tags (that lend themselves to easy cross-referencing), and carefully designed note titles, along with EN's powerful search features to find what they need.

Even with many thousands of notes, I find the generalist approach yields much faster and more accurate results than trying to locate a single, deeply nested tag among many hundreds. I now have many fewer tags, most of which are "single purpose" and intuitive. For example, I no longer have an "auto insurance" tag; rather, I have an "auto" tag which for searches I can combine with other general tags (e.g., "insurance," "repair," "receipt," "research," "magazine," "wishlist"). And I have an "insurance" tag that I can combine for searches with tags like "auto," "home," or "medical."

I also no longer nest tags; instead, I leave all my tags alphabetized, and use a level of specificity appropriate for each note. For example, I have tags for "entertainment," "music," and "jazz." If the note relates to jazz, I tag it "jazz," but not also "music" and "entertainment." If the note relates more generally to music, then I tag it "music." These tags I might cross reference with tags such as "venue," "recording," or "book." For a note with a link to "things to do in NJ," I may use the most general tag, "entertainment." I limit every tag to a single word or "compound word" (i.e., "ToDo") to reduce the need for quotation marks in my searches.

Note titles play a much more important role for me than they did during my specialist days; they help me to focus the results of my tag-based searches. In fashioning note titles I try to use terms consistently. And I may also throw some keywords into a title in lieu of creating additional tags. I admit that I very rarely search note contents, which I find often snares too much unrelated information.

When I first tried my new generalist approach, I was afraid I'd miss important notes for which I didn't specifically search because I'd forgotten I had them. But I find that I'm much more likely to come across these forgotten gems using the generalist method.

When EN 3.5 was released, I was appalled that the new version didn't contain the tag searching feature present in EN 3.1 and earlier versions that smart searched through my 500+ tags as I typed any part of a tag's string. How was I going to locate all my tags short of memorizing their names? But now as a generalist I have many fewer tags, and their names are much more intuitive. So I will no longer be subjecting the good folks at Evernote to regular rants about this abandoned tag search feature. I finally moved up from EN 3.1 to 4.2, and I'm a happy EN camper.

I welcome your comments.

J. Schnur

Rockaway, NJ

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Thanks for sharing all of that. I personally prefer the "Generalist" approach that you describe, but I think that this distinction may almost be based on core personality types, so I want to make sure we can offer tools for both types of users.

Thanks also for sticking with Evernote for so long!

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  • Level 5

My success with Evernote is to be :

  • 1.) a specialist with tags and titles (precise and to the point) and
    2.) a generalist with notebooks (limited to very few with broad ranges)
    and most importantly
    3.) an expert with search terminology

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I'm not into the labels, so I won't classify myself. But I do think a lot of people don't realize how powerful EN is & try to make it conform with their existing thoughts on how something should work. (Quite often, it's compared to OneNote or Dropbox with EN being portrayed on the losing side.)

Note titles play a much more important role for me than they did during my specialist days; they help me to focus the results of my tag-based searches. In fashioning note titles I try to use terms consistently. And I may also throw some keywords into a title in lieu of creating additional tags.

That's pretty much my approach. Plus, by utilizing accurate/descriptive titles, you can use the "intitle" search to refine a search from simply finding notes with the word "firebird" to only showing the notes with the word "firebird" in the title.

I tend to use tags when a word/phrase is ambiguous. IE, I have an app called NeatReceipts. The name has since been changed to Neatworks. Initially, I'd include "Neatreceipts" & "Neat Receipts" in my notes so they would all show up, no matter how I wrote the name & no matter how I searched. Then when it became Neatworks, there was "neatworks" & "neat works." I got tired of making sure all four variations were included in each note & finally created a tag to assign to all notes pertaining to this piece of software. :)

OTOH, all notes pertaining to ACDSee Photo manager don't need a tag b/c I always refer to it as ACDSee & that is a unique enough name that I'll probably never get any false positives.

Also, my notebook that was initially titled "Miscellaneous" has been changed to "Everything Else" & is one of my fastest growing notebooks. With the right titles, keywords & tags, I can dump notes into that notebook & still find them quickly.

It sounds like you've hit your stride with Evernote. Congratulations!

It's Friday evening & Mr. Fries arrived home & is wanting to be fed. So I only perused your post. But I do plan on revisiting in the next day or two & reading it more in depth.

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  • Level 5*

That was a pretty nice description, and interesting about your conversion. We live, we learn (if we're lucky). I think I'm pretty firmly in the generalist camp -- I've yet to break 100 tags; granted, I am not as prolific a note collector as say, BurgersNFries. I have to admit that I suppress a shudder when I see jbenson's tag-a-palooza stylings ( :wink: ) but I think it's a testament to Evernote's implementation that both approaches and more can be accommodated.


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  • Level 5*

I would definitely be a generalist, minimal tags and notebooks with a reliance on search and the refining that can be done within it. Two level tag nesting. Very few parents used primarily to separate work and home tagging, with some shared. Do like the concept of temporary tags and notebooks allowing time to see the pattern before "official" tagging, and then delete the temps. But as has been said before, we all have our own ways. :)

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  • 3 months later...

Amen! Too many tags and they become useless as I cannot easily navigate through them. Few tags and then search if I cannot find what I want thru tags. I learned this lesson the hard way when using delicious. In the end I had so many tags they became also useless to me.

Love Evernote at the moment, it is really helping me to organise myself.

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