Handwriting workflows

Hi all,
As PDF scanners for mobile devices have gotten better, and as more and more research shows the advantages of handwriting, I find myself returning to rethink my academic workflow and the role of handwriting my notes. I’m a heavy Devonthink user, but have always been a little frustrated that there is not the handwriting recognition that apps like Evernote and OneNote provide. After a quick search on the forums here, I get the sense that there are not plans on doing so in the future. I’m curious to hear if others have developed workflows for handwritten notes and Devonthink. Are there any other applications or software solutions that are helping in this process?

If you have a graphics tablet, you can use OS X’s built in Ink handwriting recognition. See System Preferences > Ink after the tablet is installed and available.

My answer is iOS focused. Anything I do there with handwriting ends up back in DEVONthink on the desktop one way or another.

Are you thinking of capturing handwritten notes made on another medium (paper), or handwriting notes in an iOS app, or handwriting recognition of either of the first two?

I keep extensive handwritten notes in paper notebooks. For a while I used a Livescribe to get those into PDFs, but their product line went off in a direction that I was not interested in. Now, I just keep the paper notebooks. Lots of them. I occasional use Scanner Pro to capture pages. (Scanner Pro is the best iOS scanner I’ve found, after testing most of them.) But I rarely do that.

On iOS – I’m currently using ZoomNotes mainly (wonderful but weird), or Note Taker HD occasionally (less wonderful and more weird). A typical use case is to open a PDF from DEVONthink to Go into ZoomNotes, and mark it up during meetings. I’m using an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil – cannot be beat for annotation and note taking. ZoomNotes is available on OS X, but don’t bother, IMO.

I’ve played with lots of handwriting recognition apps on iOS and never found one that both felt comfortable (it’s not an easy method of taking notes) and could recognize handwriting with more than 95% accuracy. I make notes in a very graphical way, with drawings, arrows, lines, and embellishments going all of the page – handwriting recognization makes a useless hash of that kind of page.

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I’m replying to this, using my iPad Pro, and my Apple Pencil. Rather, I’m writing this reply, using my Apple pencil, and a FREE writing keyboard app called MyScript Stylus, which came via a recommendation over at an iPad note taking thread on Macrumors.com. I’ve been using it the past several days, and I am beyond impressed.

Granted, it has a few bugs that occasionally crop up when you leave it mid-sentence, to (for example) jump into another app - but I’m getting used to those, and am now simply finishing what I start, before jumping away. But that really is a small gripe - this app is quite simply amazing, and I would recommend it to anyone who is serious about writing on the iPad!

The key is that a.) it’s writing-to-text engine is SERIOUSLY good (even with my left-handed spider-scrawl!), and b.) it’s a “keyboard”, which means (after setting it up in the iPad settings) that it is “active”, wherever you might ordinarily type. So, in Notability, or Safari, or Notes, or in Tapatalk, or Outlook, or Spark - or wherever - you simply hit the “globe” button, and cycle through your installed keyboards, until you select the MyScript Stylus keyboard is selected - and then the magic happens:

The keyboard is “replaced” with a blank, text input area, where you can simply start writing with the Pencil / Stylus, and see how it’s instantly converted to text. A further bonus, is multiple language-dictionary support, which means I can type replies inside Outlook / Spark in my 1st language - but if needs be - switch to “writing”, to quickly respond in my 2nd language (which is only supported on the iPad as a “system” language, not as a “keyboard” language)!

I’m not at all affiliated to the app, which I mention because I realise I might be sounding like a bit of an evangelist! But since its free, my recommendation also won’t be costing anyone anything! As mentioned, it does have a few bugs/ quirks, but also includes very nice editing options for erasing/joining/inserting spaces, that are invoked using the Pencil.

The above has certainly brought my personal use of the Pencil into much sharper focus (and since this will work with all stylii), figured I would mention it here, to “pay something forward”! Hope this will add something to the above discussion.

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Thanks for chiming in on this, . I would check this out… if I could afford an iPad Pro. Hahaha! :mrgreen:

I can barely afford it myself! But don’t let that stop you - it works on all iPads (even iPhones) AFAIK - and you don’t need a Pencil, any stylus (or finger) will do!

[Apologies if that was a hint to your employer, that I have just interfered with!] :wink:

+1 for MyScript Stylus. It is remarkably accurate, and predictive text is operative for the stylus keyboard, so you can select alternative readings if it didn’t transcribe the written text quite right.

What struck me also was that one-handed data entry seems more ‘comfortable’ than two-handed typing. Good for meetings too.

Good to know. Thanks!

Hi all,
Thanks so much for your replies. I too dream of an ipad pro! I haven’t had a go at using the pen, but most of my attempts at writing with a stylus or with my fingers on an ipad always encourage me back to pen and paper (although I will have a go with the app mentions above!) As such, I suppose I was referring to solutions from handwritten paper notes. I think the best way at the moment may be simply to scan them using scanbot (my ios scanner of choice) and enter comments/metadata in the file. I was just curious if others had any other solutions…and hopeful that there might be some magic solution out there that I hadn’t come across :smiley:

Some years ago I bought a ModBook, a MacBook that had been modified with a pen-responsive screen. There was a handwriting recognition app that did a good job of recognizing my left-handed cursive scrawls, and the ModBook also allowed me to sketch graphic images. The company that produced the ModBook wasn’t successful, though. It was revived later, but with probably the same fate, as the converted Macs were quite expensive. Still have the ModBook, but it can’t run recent versions of OS X or DEVONthink Pro Office.

I’ve missed the ability to easily enter handwritten notes and sketches. Looks like that’s back, but in the iOS environment. I’m glad to hear of a handwriting recognition app for iOS that works well, and doesn’t necessarily require the iPad Pro with stylus – although that probably reinforces my inclination to pop for an iPad Pro with stylus.

I had buyer’s regret all the way home from the Apple Store when I bought the iPad Pro with keyboard and pencil. The instant I started using it I realized this is what a tablet is supposed to be. It is an excellent – no, superior – tool for work, a pleasant (though heavy) place to read and annotate articles, and a great video display. I’m leaving my MacBook at home more often now. The investment is worth it.

On the other hand, I hear from people who use the Boogie Board, an inexpensive ($30 US) electronic note pad that syncs with laptops and tablets with iPad. The estimable Dr Andus has recommended it frequently in his blog and elsewhere.

Korm, I’ve used an iPad Air with a Bluetooth Apple keyboard. I also bought/tried several “pens”, some with Bluetooth advanced features and some without. I was never satisfied with any of the configurations. Two weeks ago I got the iPad Pro (Jr.) with Apple Pencil and the matching Apple keyboard. I must say, this is heaven! That pencil works flawlessly and the keyboard is very handy when needed. And did I say how great that pencil works!!

A colleague just showed me his 9.7 iPad Pro with the pencil. I’m pretty sure I’ll be upgrading from the Air 2 to this. I do a lot of writing (on paper) and a lot of marking up PDFs (grading papers, annotating books, commenting on the work of colleagues, etc.) and that pencil immediately won me over.

I wasn’t originally planning to upgrade, as I am quite pleased with my Air 2, but I’ve never been completely satisfied with the stylus situation (my favorite has been Adonit, but even it is a little troublesome, and the battery is a pain in the neck). As for iOS, it is a major annoyance, because it always seems to lack something I need when I am working on it. OSX is a dream to use in contrast. It’s this pencil thing, though, that attracts me, and however frustrating iOS can be, this really is (as someone said above) what a tablet ought to be like. I’ve used a BT keyboard up until now, but I’ll be getting the keyboard cover for convenience.

Anyhow, back to the topic at hand. I write on paper a lot because it seems to help me organize my thoughts in a different way, it gives me handwriting practice (you can never write enough Chinese characters), and it is unobtrusive in meetings (pulling out a laptop in my work environment just wouldn’t cut it). I basically use a kind of “bullet journal” method that mixes my old patterns together with some of his new ideas about journaling. I usually scan in the papers on iOS or with a scanner, and then file them away digitally – the originals are shredded. If you use the scanner, you can sometimes get decent OCR results (see my detailed post below for more). Basically, the advice about getting the most out of Evernote’s recognition applies to Adobe’s OCR as well.

But, now that I’m looking at the iPad Pro, I expect I will be writing a lot on it and filing things away directly. I kind of assume the OCR won’t work (when it does, that’s great, but I can’t depend on it), so I do weekly reviews of my notes, and that is when I comment on the files. In searches or “see also” in DTPO (much less effective when I am working with Asian languages), I’ll often see these weekly reviews pop up, I can go there, and then delve into the original handwritten note if necessary. It sounds troublesome, I suppose, but the process of reviewing the notes reinforces the content, so I actually find it quite useful in my research.

I have a slightly lower tech solution. I use the fantastic whitelines link notebooks (http://whitelines.se/link/) from a little swedish company. The pages have special markings on them which designate things like page size.

It has an accompanying free app to photograph the pages, which removes all the background lines and squares the pages (https://itunes.apple.com/se/app/whitelines-link/id552914549?mt=8) The app can also tag the pages and upload them to dropbox

If you want to give it a try, they have sample pages on their website (http://whitelines.se/link/print-papers/) you can print out, and the app is free.

It won’t of course do handwriting recognition but this isn’t really an issue for me. I like to diagram out conversations and relationships with lots of colours which is why I have found solutions like live scribe too restricting.


And don’t forget what you already have for free: with OS X 10.11.x and iOS 9.x the Notes app is a respectable notepad that accepts “sketches” (handwriting), attachments, etc. Especially useful when used in Split View on either an iPad (not limited to iPad Pro) or the desktop. Have a webpage or document on the left side and Notes on the right, copy and paste excerpts from the document to Notes, add handwritten notes, etc. The downside here is that “sketches” are separate elements in a Note – if you want to write directly onto a document, then Notes is less useful.

thanks for the whitelines link. i’m looking forward to giving it a try. i’ve been fine, though, with paper and the scanning apps so far. i wonder if this will really improve anything. i guess there is no way to tell until i try it.

notes is finally a fully functioning app. if i do get a pro (sticker shock settled in after i visited fhe store online), i’ll probably use it for this kind of writing and export as a pdf later.

Thanks for the MyScript tip. It works quite well. I had previously discovered the MyScript Memo app, but did not find a place for it in my workflow. The MyScript keyboard works well and could be a useful tool in the belt.

Any thoughts on the revenue model for this free app? What does MyScript’s developer get out of my use of the app? I clicked on the app’s privacy policy link in the App Store, but was directed to a policy for their website, which contained the usual obfuscatory verbiage.

Apple warns that iOS keyboards may transmit the data entered to the developer. If MyScript intends to monetize that data, I might be very restrained in my use of the app. Any other info I should be aware of here?

I take all my notes on paper, then snap a photo of it in a DayOne journal entry. At some point (either immediately or weeks later) I pull up the image in Preview, and type out the note in the existing journal entry. Then I delete the image if it’s just text… or keep it if it’s some kind of diagram.

I like this approach because DayOne records metadata such as time and location, which gets retained as I edit the original entry.

It’s not fancy but it works :slight_smile:

Hi everyone. I did end up getting a Pro, and I am a convert to the Apple Pencil. Now that we also have DEVONthink To Go 2, my workflow is immensely simplified, and I’ve been really happy with things. Here is a blog post about how I use handwritten notes in DEVONthink. Hopefully, you’ll find it useful.


Welcome to the Pro and Pencil crowd, and thank for your workflow notes. The MyScript people have recently issued “Nebo” for iPad Pro and Pencil. It was free a few days ago but that might change. It’s less functional than GoodNotes. I used ZoomNotes more than GoodNotes – very idiosyncratic but powerful.