Good notes, documentation, and reports are all keys to successful work as a forensic
analyst. In addition, it is also important to be able to quickly locate relevant details in those bodies of work. All three can be accomplished with pen and paper, a word processing application, a digital notes application, an application specifically for case notes, or any combination of the above.
Not being able to read my own handwriting pretty much ruled out pen and paper for me, hence my search for a better tool for my forensic note taking and documentation needs.
Originally the search for a good application for case notes quickly led to many online forum posts with individuals singing the praises of QCCIS CaseNotes. The original excitement that was felt over the features provided by CaseNotes, with what appeared to be an easy to use format, was stomped out relatively quickly when it was discovered that QCCIS did not appear to be producing or updating the application any longer.
Other forum posts and articles pointed towards a paper notebook, a Microsoft Word document, Evernote notebooks, and Microsoft OneNote notebooks as ways of keeping up with case notes, documentation, research / validation, and other information related to the forensic analysis process.
Pen and paper were not going to work for multiple reasons. First off, I know how I work, and the busier and more involved I get the less attention gets paid to my handwriting and at the end of the day it would all be for naught because I wouldn’t be able to read the notes anyway. Not to mention the possibility of the notes getting damaged or lost, having to store multiple notebooks, not having the ability to have my notes with me at all times, and the difficulty of finding information at later dates. These reasons pointed to the fact that the notebook would have to be kept in some electronic format.
I was not a fan of the Microsoft Word option either. Although Word covered the need for electronic storage that was easily searchable within a single document, it did not allow for freeform note taking and a rather large Word document might get unwieldy. Splitting the file into multiple Word documents meant that I lost the ability to easily search for information across all my notes.
Evernote appeared to be a good solution that was liked by many other individuals but was not the best fit for myself. I have attempted to use EverNote several times and the application and I have never really clicked. Don’t get me wrong, Evernote has some great features such as being able to send an email to a unique address and have it automatically added to your notes, application on all device platforms, etc. However, I was not a fan of the cloud based storage and as stated earlier, Evernote was not a platform I was in love with.
I finally decided to stay within the Microsoft family and go with OneNote. I currently use OneNote for a multitude of personal and work related notebooks but it did not originally occur to me to use it for this process. OneNote ended up being a great solution to cover all the tasks I was looking to accomplish.
- Electronic storage
- Ease of search
- Ease of organization and not unwieldy
- Accepts notes of various formats (typed, handwritten, voice, photo, etc.)
- Easy integration with other Microsoft products
- Offers online and offline access and storage as well as syncing
- Password protection of notes
Although for security purposes I am not a proponent of keeping official case notes in the cloud, the service does work great for keeping research and validation notes, documentation etc. so that is easily accessible from multiple locations.
Now that I had the application for my forensic notes, the next step was to format an organization plan and a template for those notes.
Part Two will outline how I decided to organize my OneNote notebook and sections as well as how I have used it so far to keep up with my notes.