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.

Location Numbers in Research?

vocabulary-phrases-books-v-kindle-342x202

Following a blog post last week on using Kindle in teaching, I asked: “do you think location numbers (rather than page numbers) are an adequate form of citation?” I received many responses…

[View the story "Location Numbers in Research?" on Storify]

 

 

Have you entered to win 12 months of Evernote Premium?  Share your thoughts on paper and digital research workflows here to win.

Using Twitter for Curated Academic Content

twitter fail image

Twitter Fail Image (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The job of the humanities academic has always been to absorb large amounts of content, evaluate it, synthesize it, and portray the results in a way that will be relevant and engaging to an audience (whether that audience be students, peers, or the wider society).  In the information age, we have a vast array of new tools to not only help us sort through this content, but also to shape it and share it.

I am a big fan of the ‘whole-person’ style of tweeting, with a mixture of general chatter (e.g. “it’s Thai for dinner!”) and valuable curated content (e.g. “great article at http://…”).  A mixture of about 30% chatter and 70% content is seen as a golden standard by those in the brand and digital media world, and seems to suit academic tweeting down to a T.  This blend of chatter and content situates the academic lifestyle in a very real and very human context, while also providing some helpful information to colleagues.  Remember, sharing is caring!

But continually finding that 70% of curated content can be an onerous task, especially now, when desks are piled with unmarked essays and grant application deadlines are looming.  To make sure that my Twitter feed is filled with links that the academic community may find interesting, I use a couple of helpful apps to make the process as easy for me as possible.  I spend an hour every Sunday getting high-quality Twitter content ready for the coming week, which leaves me the rest of the week to tweet about the interesting new recipe I’ve made for dinner or the dance routines on Strictly.

My Twitter workflow for curated content is based on David Allen’s infamous GTD method, as is the flowchart that outlines it.  It goes like this.  Throughout the week I scan through the content that comes through to my RSS reader (I happen to use NewsRack).  The content is a mixture of my main interests: academia, of course, but also fashion, design, media, culture, theatre, and architecture.  If I can read the post in less than 2 minutes (that magical cutoff point for GTDers) then I have a read, and tweet it if I think it is worthwhile.  But if it will take longer than 2 minutes, I send it straight to Pocket, a read-it-later app which links directly with NewsRack.

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When Will Kindles Be Ready for the University Classroom?

English: Amazon Kindle DX Graphite displaying ...

Amazon Kindle DX Graphite displaying Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have said before that my research is still largely paper-based and that I use my Kindle exclusively for pleasure reading.  This isn’t entirely true: I do use a combo of Mendeley and Evernote on my iPad for journal articles.  However, the fact remains that my primary texts are just about always of the paper and cloth variety.    As a new academic year rolls around, I can’t help but wonder how much longer that will be the case, and how long it will be before I am teaching to a classroom full of Kindle-holders.  When will an instruction such as “turn to page 34″ consist of more button-tapping than page-turning?

A great number of the novels that I regularly teach are now out of copyright–including James Joyce, who has been out of copyright for a full 9 months –and are available widely and freely in a number of eReader formats.  Having an entire semester’s reading list on one device would undoubtedly have a great many benefits: an unanticipated seminar tangent could be taken even further if all the students were able to quickly turn to the book that we were discussing; annotations and marginalia could be shared between all the members of the class, creating a real community of learning.  And it seems, leaving my love of paper and print culture aside, that a classroom full of Kindles linked to Twitter could, perhaps, create a positive impact on my learning and teaching.

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7 Things This Academic Learned from the World of Brand and Design

Design library, reorganized by topic

Design library (Photo credit: juhansonin)

I spent a postgraduate gap year working for the brand and design agency Ingenious Rapport, first in business development and then shortly after as Creative Account Manager.  In addition to working with some extraordinary colleagues (indeed, some leaders in the field), I had the opportunity to work on thrilling accounts, including a major UK bank, government agency, and several popular restaurants.  The experience was as eye-opening as it was edifying.   From thinking about how to use super high-speed personalized printing to promote books and cars, to tracking down someone who could make me a giant illuminated sign in 48 hours, my days were filled with extraordinary (and often extraordinarily fun) commissions.  I also learned a bit about print and digital design, social media, and the business world in general through the process, all of which has contributed to my approach to teaching, research, and academic practice.

  1. Design does matter. It was fascinating to see the design process take place.  A key part of my job was to meet with clients and figure out what it was they needed and how they wanted their brand to be communicated through print and/or digital media.  I then translated that into a brief for the designers, who would take it from there.  Serving as the intermediary between the designers and the client, I was often right at the centre of debates between design and practicality, between function and form, and I took one important thing away from this:  people choose to spend their time with the objects that intrigue them most.  This doesn’t just apply to advertising and websites, but to everything around us.  And, because of this, I have maintained my interest in design and typography into my academic life.  Is it something to become obsessive about?  Perhaps not.  But using BlairMdITC rather than Times New Roman for a syllabus is a simple detail that can make a difference to how your ideas are viewed, understood, and remembered. Continue reading

Folksonomy

Katalog biblioteczny w Łodzi

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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