Digitizing Pencil/Paper Writing

static1.squarespaceIt has proven SO CHALLENGING to find a method that is half as easy and convenient to use for doing any type of science work as pencil & paper!!  From lab notebooks, to working basic problems, to calculations, to basically most documentation and calculation, pencil and paper is just so damn easy and trying to do the same electronically/digitally seems to be an area where technology still is NOT as easy!!

Hence, I think a surprising number of people use a workflow of writing stuff down with pencil and paper and then taking pictures of everything with their smartphones as a common workflow to go from hardcopies to digital.  Honestly, I use this method all the damn time!!  And often times it works just fine.  I only have one piece of advise to help improve this method as a practical workflow…. invest in a smartphone app for ‘scanning’ (its still just taking pictures, but these apps typically allow features that your camera app doesnt,,,, like linking multiple pics/scans/images into a single file, saving in portable document format (pdf), object character recognition (OCR), saving in b&w or grayscale to greatly reduce the file size, cloud sync/storage, etc….).  My favorite scanning apps for android and/or iOS smartphones are:

If you mess around with the settings and editing features of any of these scanning apps, you can typically produce a good final single pdf file.

This is great of anything that is easy to organize into multiple pages to run through your ‘scanning’ app.  However, often I want to add several things that are already in digital format.  For example, I will have some data on a computer, or a table, or a screenshot of something, or a spreadsheet or plot that has been done on a computer or tablet or instrument, etc…  I don’t want to have to print this out and literally cut and paste it onto my hardcopy document.  This seems way way to ‘old school’!!  (but doable)

Instead, what I typically do is use one of the scanning apps mentioned above to make digital copies of anything that was easiest just to write out by hand, then copy the pdf file(s) created by the app on my smartphone (iphone or android) to either a cloud account like Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, OneDrive and/or Resilio or directly to the computer or tablet I am using for the other components I mentioned above (plotting, graphing, computational analysis, spreadsheets, etc).

Now I have a bunch of different files, screenshots, images, etc all on my computer or tablet and I want to combine them into a single file/document.  What program do I use for this?  Well the top ones I use are listed below:


For my workflow, I probably use OneNote, Libre Writer, Dropbox Paper and PDF Expert as the apps I use most for the purposes of combining a bunch of images, photos, screenshots, plots, graphs, calcuations, etc into a single document/file.

Okay, this is the workflow/apps I use to typically from Pencil/Paper with some additional phone pics, screenshots, spreadsheet tables, plots of data, equations and calculations to a digital document/file that I can use, copy, distribute, etc….

But one last thing… besides a scanning app, I also use a screen capture app (this is a TON and a good calculation and equation app.  In science, calculations and equations are often the most important part of what we are doing… But this post is long enough… I’ll make a separate post on my favorite apps for equations, calculations, etc… and just leave you with a few links of what I most commonly use: Equation Maker,  Math,  CyMath,  HostMath, Plot.ly and my favorite for on my phone … PhotoMath  and  MyScript Calc.

Lastly, I sometime just use Mathematic, which can format, calculate, input, publish, print and create everything in pdf format or better yet directly for the web…. It really is an amazing piece of software!!

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