This post is by Carson Suggs, a junior at the University of Arizona, Pheonix who plans to graduate in December 2013. You can follow him on Twitter @crsnsggs

There are numerous articles about the greatness of Notational Velocity (or nvALT, a fork of Notational Velocity) and Simplenote, but I haven’t seen anything that made these applications relevant for students. I started using Notational Velocity in 2009, but I recently turned to nvALT because of the additional features. Of all the third-party apps I use, Simplenote has had the most consistent presence on my iOS devices since 2009. Clearly these applications made a big impact on the work I do and how I do it, but as someone who’s transferring to university in the spring, I’m paying even closer attention to how I can use these applications to their fullest potential.

The big benefits of using nvALT and Simplenote are quick syncing and searching. As soon as you create a note in nvALT on the desktop, it syncs with Simplenote (provided you’ve entered your account info in nvALT’s preferences menu). Create a note in Simplenote on your iPhone or iPad, it appears in nvALT.  These two applications are simple to use, but they are powerful. Keep in mind that Simplenote/nvALT only store text, so if you’re interested in storing pictures or PDFs, you might want to look at Evernote instead. If you’re fine with going text-only, keep reading.
The power of these applications is the simplicity of use. To create a note in nvALT, all you do is type in the search box and hit enter, and boom – you have a new note.


As a student, you probably have tons of stuff to do, inside and outside of school. Simplenote/nvALT is great for to-do lists. Again, with nvALT, it’s super easy to create a new note, so making a quick to-do list requires almost no thought at all.
You can also create outlines for your schedule. For example, when I took Fundamentals of Human Communication in the summer of 2010, I wrote out everything I had to do for any given week: all the readings, assignments due, etc. It helped me stay on top of my work and avoid being overwhelmed.

You can outline essays and other written works in a similar manner.

nvALT is great for storing small bits of information like a quick to-do item, a phone number or email address you don’t want to forget, or an idea you have for a blog post. Since it’s plain text, you obviously won’t get the formatting of Word or Pages, or even Google Docs, but it can be an excellent starting-off point for dumping links for research and storing quotations you want to include in your longer works. But let’s say you fall in love with nvALT and Simplenote and you end up storing hundreds, maybe thousands of notes. How do you get what you want at that point?

One way to make searching easier is to identify the content of the note in the note’s title, or to add a tag of some kind. For quotes I want to keep handy, I include a tag in the body of the note: “@quote”. When I want to search for a specific quote, all I have to do is write “@quote” in nvALT’s search box, and my results will narrow down to those notes which include the tag. (Credit to Caleb McDaniel for introducing me to this idea.) You could also start every note with “QUOTE -”, “LINK -”, “IDEA -”, or whatever else the body of the note might contain, but I found that tagging allows for more accurate results. Another way of distinguishing notes is by using Merlin Mann’s ‘q’ trick. Basically, by placing a ‘q’ or a series of ‘q’s in the title of your most-referenced or most-important notes, you can quickly narrow your search results down to just those notes.

nvALT and Simplenote may not have hundreds of features, but for me, that’s a plus. I deal with text a lot, and like I mentioned before, there are other great applications that do more than text, but if that’s not a concern for you as a student, nvALT and Simplenote are terrific solutions.