Almost everything I do at work involves taking information from disparate sources, and going through various thought processes to generate finished written pieces, whether they be reports, course outlines, research articles (or even blog entries). Recently, I've been looking for software that can help me with this process. The needs are essentially twofold: storing and collecting the raw material (notes, ideas, emails, information from articles and the web, etc), and developing a structure in which to fit this information. At first I thought that the Google Desktop Scratch Pad might be a good place to start. I've become used to always having a spot on the right side of my desktop to note down random bits of information. Unfortunately, the Scratch Pad is just too limited for what I need. I'm now testing out two products that aim to address these needs. OneNote is a Microsoft product (but I'm trying not to let that prejudice me) originally developed for Tablet PCs as a kind of virtual notepad. It works with both keyboard and pen input, and you can drop pretty much anything onto a page and rearrange and organize these notes any way you want. It has a broad range of uses, and I'm really starting to like it. To get an idea of what OneNote is all about, check out Chris Pratley's OneNote Blog and his entry on how he uses it.
For brainstorming and developing outlines, MindJet's MindManager is absolutely brilliant. It has a simple but powerful user interface that makes it a snap to create relationships between ideas. It uses the mind map approach, and I'm finding it really useful for creating the structure for my next research article. Like OneNote, you can attach various snippets of information or link whole documents to the structure that you develop.
I'll continue testing these programs as I write reports, take notes in meetings, and do my thesis research. Hopefully, I'll be able to give a more in-depth review of their strengths and weaknesses after using them more.