Technology Practice Tips: Writing Apps (Transcript)

This is a transcript of a podcast discussing Writing Apps, and tips and challenges when using note-taking applications.

Speaker Key:   PB Phil Brown, DW David Whelan

PB:  Hi, it’s Phil Brown, and I’m here with David Whelan. Today we are going to talk about note-taking applications for tablets and iPads, and things like that.

DW:  Lawyers like to write. We are a profession that focuses on documents, and we are all accustomed to writing on yellow pads or legal pads. So how do you take that note-taking information and move it to electronic devices? Fortunately, there are some really interesting opportunities to capture the information that you have been writing down and stashing away in paper files, and putting them into an electronic format that is going to be much easier to reuse in the future.

PB:  Right. So at the outset, I want to say that we are not endorsing any particular product. We are going to name some of the well-known ones at the beginning, but it is really just to give lawyers and paralegals an idea that there are a bunch of different ones out there and you should examine what’s available and find out what’s right for you.

DW:  Right, because it really can fit exactly how you want to use technology or how you want to capture information. We can start off with the research notebooks, which are tools where you capture images and text and then you synchronise them and organise them online. For example, Evernote, which you have probably heard of, or Microsoft’s OneNote. Both are very light apps that work either through a web browser on your computer, tablet, or phone, and allow you to record notes very quickly, synchronise them and put them into a larger framework like a notebook.

PB:  Right. As an example, Evernote, which I use quite a bit, can make a note on my phone or computer. It is stored on the Internet or synchronised on the Internet, and then I can access it from any of my devices.

DW:  One of the challenges when you start taking electronic notes is, are you a typist? Most devices now have an onboard keyboard if it is not a laptop where you can actually type on the screen. Would you rather still do handwriting? I am a handwriting person. My fingers are too big for most of the onscreen keys, so you can still do that. Most devices will have an option for you to handwrite on the screen. I use a Samsung tablet. And it actually allows me to write with a little stylus that comes with the tablet, or I can write with my fingertip. So whichever I prefer, and then whichever note-taking tool you use, things like Evernote or OneNote, you can save the image of your writing, just like you would save a scan of your handwriting if you scanned in a piece of paper that you’d written on.

PB:  Right. And some of them will just take the image of your writing. Some of the apps will actually convert that writing to text.

DW:  Yes, and it is really kind of creepy to see it happen. I don’t claim to have better writing than a typical doctor’s scrawl, but it does a really good job of figuring out what I’ve written. And having that converted immediately to text means that I don’t have to go back and try to dig through information. If I’m sharing the information with somebody else, it’s easy for them to quickly read what I’ve got and then to cut and paste it, if necessary, into another document.

PB:  Right. And then the next step up, I suppose, if I could put it that way, are apps that you can actually record sound and make notes at the same time. And then later on, tap on those notes that you’ve made, and it will take you back to the recorded audio that was playing or that was being recorded at the time.

DW:  Right. This is a great alternative to doing dictation and then having someone else type it up. You can actually convert it into text on the spot.

PB:  And now, some of those apps are Notability, which I know is available for iPads and iPhones, and I’m not sure what other devices it might be available for.

DW:  And even apps like Evernote or the Samsung S Note will allow you to do a recording, but they won’t do the transcription. They will save the recording as a note though so that you have it as part of your note-taking environment.

PB:  Right. And I’m just going to mention another one. There’s also NoteBook, which might be a little more expensive, from a company called Circus Ponies. They have that ability as well, where you can record audio and annotate that audio while you’re recording it and then later on go back and click on the note you had made, and it will play the section of audio that you were listening to.

DW:  You can also have the old-school paper experience. There’s a Papyrus app, which I believe is on iOS but is certainly on Android. It looks and feels just like a piece of paper, and you just keep writing on it. And unlike a lot of the notebook tools, where you have to create a new page or you have the feeling of dealing with a notebook, Papyrus just goes on and on and on like a very long scroll. So there are really lots of options for making the note-taking experience be exactly the way you’re comfortable doing it in the paper world.

PB:  Sure. And we haven’t touched on a lot of the other features that they have. You can create file folders that are different colours for each kind of note. You can change the look of the paper that you’re creating. It can be buff or white, or it can be legal-sized or a regular page format; lined, unlined, grids. The options on all these apps are almost unlimited.

DW:  Two of the options that you might consider looking for when choosing a note app is the ability to synchronize it, and so things like Evernote or OneNote, Google’s Keep are all note-taking tools that have a synchronized option where they will store copies somewhere else. Not only can you synchronize it to another computer, you create a backup of what your notes are. So if your device or your phone is damaged, you still have a copy. The other option you might consider is the ability to export, so that if, for example, I’ve been writing in my note tool and I want to share that with someone right away, and if I don’t have the ability to export it or send it as an email, I can actually save it as a PDF and send that PDF to someone who can then use it.

PB:  Right. And as well as exporting, a number of them have an import function. I know that Evernote does. You can import PDFs and things and note them up.

DW:  Yes. It’s a great option.

PB:  So we’ve just touched on a few of them. There are probably hundreds of them out there, depending on whatever platform you’re using. We just want people to know that you are not necessarily limited to a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. That’s our look at writing apps for various devices. Thanks, David.

DW:  Thanks Phil.