Research Workflow for Academics: The Best of Digital and Analogue Working Together

research workflow

 

In his presentation at the ‘Humanities Computing: Formal Methods, Experimental Practice’ symposium at King’s College London in 2000, John Unsworth described the seven ‘scholarly primitives’, that is, the ‘basic functions common to scholarly activity across disciplines, over time, and independent of theoretical orientation':

  • Discovering
  • Annotating
  • Comparing
  • Referring
  • Sampling
  • Illustrating
  • Representing

A similar taxonomy was described by Ernest Boyer in Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate.  Boyer’s model of scholarship refers to four interrelated areas of practice: ‘the scholarship of discovery; the scholarship of integration; the scholarship of application; and the scholarship of teaching.’  While the nature of scholarly work hasn’t changed much since Unsworth’s and Boyer’s observations, the way in which we go about it and the goals that we hope to meet by completing it certainly have.

The workflow that I use for my academic research draws upon Boyer’s model of scholarship and Unsworth’s scholarly primitives, and aims to both isolate the individual components of scholarly work while recognising the inherent relationship and necessary overlap between these components.  In order to meet these aims, I needed a workflow that fulfilled several requirements:

  1. Assign tasks to the platform best designed for that task.  Evernote is excellent for taking notes, for example, but doesn’t stand up well to PDF management.
  2. Integrate analogue components at suitable points. I love notebooks and pens so this is largely a personal preference, but considerable research shows longhand writing aids in memory and comprehension.
  3. Create a frictionless system that allows for collaboration. When working with collaborators or research assistants, the workflow can be opened up at strategic points, while still offering privacy.
  4. Exist in the cloud. My academic writing takes place in my office, at home, and on the road; it happens on computers, iPads, and iPhones. I need to be able to reach everything securely in the cloud and across multiple platforms.
  5. Look visually appealing, and capture content in a visually appealing way. This isn’t just about aesthetics.  Visual appeal is a significant aspect of the success of digital spaces.

As it turns out, these five objectives are often at odds with one another.  Creating a frictionless system (#3) is easiest if only one programme is used, but then there will likely be tasks that are not suited to that programme (#1) (this is often the issue when all aspects of research and writing live exclusively in Scrivener or Evernote).  If the workflow exists securely in the cloud (#4), then it seems counterintuitive to involve analogue components (#2).

The workflow that I use takes the best of digital and analogue research and puts it into an adaptable, frictionless, and appealing system.  I begin by uploading articles to Papers and cleaning up metadata.  As I read the article in Papers, I highlight important passages, but keep my written notes and commentary separately in longhand form in my notebook.  With a clever shortcut in Papers (⌃⇧C), I can copy the full citation, all highlighted text, and associated page numbers of these highlights.  This is then pasted into a new Evernote note along with the link to the article in Papers (Edit > Copy As > Papers Link).  In both Papers and Evernote I rely on the same tagging conventions.

The outputs of this workflow are important: 1) PDFs continue to livein  Papers where they can be organised, tagged, and read in the most efficient way, 2) notes live in Evernote where they add to a growing commonplace book of research, and 3) commentary and ideas for future research live in a notebook where I can reflect upon them at a later point.  Of course, any workflow should stay flexible–already I am considering moving from Word to Scrivener for drafting, and from Papers to Mendeley for PDF management–but no matter how this workflow continues to evolve, it will always accept the distinctiveness of each component of scholarly work while acknowledging the necessary overlapping between these components.

4 Tags That Make Sense of It All: Best Practice for Tagging Academic Notes

tags

2013 is already looking like a busy year for me, not least because of an exciting move from the University of London to City University of Hong Kong.  That means new courses, new students, new administrative systems, and a lot of new projects.  Since I have set some time aside this week to take stock and review my plans for the coming year, I wanted to share one of the things that keeps my note-taking organized and ultimately helps to support my work as an academic: a clear, consistent tagging system that I use everywhere I can.

The academic life is a chaotic mixture of teaching, research, service, knowledge transfer, partnerships, publicity, and planning, so it has been important for me to find a way to seamlessly blend these strands.  To this end, every piece of information that I put into Evernote or Things immediately gets these types of tags (I use the hashtag to denote a type of tag–these don’t actually form part of the tag itself):

Context > #Output > #Topic > #X-Ref

Because I use this same tagging system in both my task manager and my note taking software, it is incredibly easy to cross-reference details or to find the information that I need.  Before I explain how these tags function within Evernote and Things, here’s a quick summary of each:

Continue reading

Win One Year of Evernote Premium

evernote-ambassador-photo-green-lg

I have been using Evernote since the early days of my PhD (see how I get Kindle notes into Evernote for my teaching), so I was thrilled when they invited me to be their Higher Education Ambassador. Starting today I will get to do lots of cool stuff with them–a bit of traveling, a bit of writing, a bit of speaking.  Awesome!

So, to mark the occasion, I have some great Evernote stuff to give away.  Here’s how you can get it:

To enter, respond to the following question in the comments at the bottom of this post: ‘How do you organize your teaching, research, and writing?  Paper, digital, post-its? File folders, shoe boxes, digital tablets?’  Everyone has their own system–what is yours?

This isn’t just for academics, but for anyone who writes, thinks, doodles, ponders, pilfers, or philosophizes.  And there are some great prizes to be won…

Entries close at 11:59pm GMT on 12 December 2012 and winners will be chosen randomly from all entries on 13 December 2012.  Make sure that you include your e-mail address when you comment so I can contact you.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.
The Esquire Theme.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,550 other followers