Notice anything missing? That’s right, I cleaned my laptop away. Here’s the thing: my laptop is always open. Whether I need to use it or not, there it is, glowing at me, taunting me to tweet, Google+, or more likely, endlessly research minutiae until I go blind. Because of this problem, I’m going to make the best effort to keep my laptop in my desk until I absolutely need it. I read and take notes primarily on paper (transcription into Scrivener comes later), so this shouldn’t be too difficult. What was difficult was trying to concentrate with my laptop in front of me — a staring contest I’m destined to lose.
Posts tagged with ‘research notes’
A few months back I started a blog about getting the dissertation done called Fuck Yeah Dissertation!. Rather than leaving it to mummify on the inter-webs, I’m going to repost some entries here from time to time.
Adding to my reviews of best apps ever, I present to you Scrivener, a robust note-taking and drafting application that is a crucial step of my dissertation process. It’s currently Mac-only, but they are beta-testing a Windows version.
Above is a screen grab of my Scrivener window, including some of my favorite features that deserve attention.
Collections. This is like your Finder in OS10 or Windows Explorer. It allows you to navigate your folders and documents while also giving you a visual sense of your project. The “Binder” is your main collection of documents, and then you can create custom “sub-collections” of select documents (like chapters, topics, etc.). The “Collections” pane doesn’t make copies of your documents, so when you create a sub-collection with selected docs, you’re editing the originals, not copies.
Compile. My favorite feature. Let’s say you have 5 documents selected in your “Collections,” Scrivener will assemble all of the documents sequentially in the editing pane. You can then edit all documents together as one, change the document order, or delete entire sections. Finally, when you click “Compile,” Scrivener allows you to export all selected documents into one file with a choice of numerous formats including .rtf, .txt, .pdf, .html, .doc, et al.
In text linking. I’ve known about this feature for a while, but my Table of Contents is the first time I’ve implemented this feature. Basically, you can link any of your text to any other file in your Binder, like creating your own wiki. I can also see this feature coming in handy for creating a literature review, mind-mapping, image referencing, etc.
Footnotes and Comments. One of my complaints about other note-taking programs like DevonThink or Evernote is the lack of sub-annotations. Scrivener allows you to make footnotes and comments, that you can then export into various formats. Liz from Confectious offers a pretty simple hack to import your Zotero references into Scriver rich-text files.
Word/Character Count Target. I like to work in continuous page blocks (no visible page breaks), but the problem with that is you can lose track of your progress. The Count Target feature allows you to set a word count goal per document and it gives you a nice visual to communicate your progress.
Extra stuff. A great full-screen editor (although I really love Writeroom for distraction free writing); The “Quickref” feature allows you to open a document in a small, floating window above your current document; “Snapshot” let’s you to save a version of your document and use it to compare to future versions.
Overall, Scrivener is a powerful tool for dissertation writers, but I can see it used for any writing project. Scrivener is not free, but they do offer a student discount and provide a 30-day free trial. (And this is a “real” free trial, not the CS5 crap trial that counts days when you don’t use the program.)
There’s plenty of discussion out there about reference management. The industry heavyweights include Endnote, Mendeley, Papers, and Zotero (here’s a handy comparison chart on Wikipedia for those interested). Back in 2005, when I started my doctoral program, I used Endnote. The program had recently enabled its library database search feature, but it was slow as molasses and crashy. I abandoned Endnote in favor of a word doc with a list of my references which I formatted one at a time. Tedium, at its best.
Then Zotero quietly arrived in Fall 2006 and I was smitten. The developers, academic researchers themselves, integrated the experience of research with the practice of collecting references. The developers understood that a large portion of academic research is performed on the internet and so they designed Zotero to import sources and capture web pages directly from the browser. Sites including university libraries, academic databases, and Amazon could be imported using Zotero. You can then export a collection or entire Library to a bibliography in your preferred format. Needless to say, I became a Zotero evangelist — I sang its praises to anyone who would listen (sorry husband).
It’s now 2011, I’ve used Zotero for 5 years now, and my references are a hot mess. There are duplicates, references that lack sufficient tags or have too many, pdfs all over the place, and I’ve simply forgotten why I have most of these references in the first place. But this isn’t Zotero’s fault, it’s mine. I forgot the cardinal rule of digital technology: technology is a tool, not intelligence.
Since I mistakenly thought Zotero was my own sentient reference assistant, “conducting research” became browsing the internet and importing everything that was remotely relevant to my project. When I was “done,” I had a stack of pdfs and library books that would go mostly unread and a messy list of sources full of random tags and incomplete information. Then, in the time between “researching” and acquiring the sources I forgot why these sources were important to begin with. I didn’t have a very good workflow and I thought Zotero was somehow doing it for me.
So what is “conducting research?” There are a number of great resources out there that offer great advice on how to do research (see below). Some work for me and others don’t, but in the process of reading and practicing, I learned my own method. Here’s a breakdown:
1) What is the research problem? Example: gathering a survey of the Industrial Revolution, specifically, any overlaps between the I.R. and caricature/print culture/conspicuous consumption/slavery. This is the question I should have in mind while performing my research. It’s my anchor and my primary tool for vetting sources.
2) Spend 30 minutes digging for 10 sources. This means browsing the internet and saving my findings in Zotero. Why 30 and 10? Because it’s a boundary. If I don’t find 10 sources in 30 minutes, there are two reasons: I need more time or there likely isn’t a lot of information on the topic (which is noteworthy itself). Plus, if I’m missing something glaring, I’ll find it later or a committee member will point it out to me.
2a) Be sure to note why each source is relevant. Which part(s) of the answer in 1) does the source inform?
2b) Tag each source with a keyword (also called “coding”)
3) Rank the sources in importance, skim, and take notes. How do I know how to rank? I go with my gut. (My “gut” is based simply all previous knowledge and research I have on the topic. Put another way, it’s an educated guess.)
4) Revise tags after skimming. I almost always have to do this because books and articles don’t necessarily give you what’s advertised, so to speak. Maybe the book is redundant but has a killer bibliography on the role of enslaved Africans in the Industrial Revolution, so I’ll tag it (e.g., “bibliography,” “enslaved Africans,” and “Industrial Revolution”) and move on to the next one.
5) Read through sources. Usually I have a chapter or two per book, or entire articles to read. I read closely, but with an eye for my research problem which can lead to skipping parts. This is my favorite step because the reading generates writing and ideas. This is where much of my writing happens.
It took me 5 years to come with this system and it’s not the “best” or universally “correct” way to conduct research. It’s a bespoke method, customized for me and me alone. What’s your bespoke research method? Which reference management programs do you use?
Edit: word choice
This is the first in a series of posts from my dissertation. I set a goal of 1,000 words per day for the month of May and here is a sample from this week. After a day of research, I spend an hour or so writing up my thoughts from the day. This sample includes topics you’re probably not familiar with, but it includes conceptual, disciplinary, and topical questions. It’s helpful to write this way because it allows me to think about specifics and big picture at the same time. What isn’t clear is if this is useful for the long run — I hope time will tell.*
I went to the New York Historical Society today intending to score some archival material on one John Almon. Almon was a political journalist whose career spanned roughly 1758 to 1804. This reporter has archival papers and is considered an historic figure because he was arrested for libel in 1770 when he refused to reveal his source “Junius” who gave him numerous inside scoops and scandal on proceedings in the House of Commons. What isn’t clear is what relation this has with my work. Right now I’m focused on “The Presentation” and the arrest of its engraver and printseller so my trip to the NYHS was a bit pointless.
Despite the dead end with Almon, I did write a bit on the scope of my project. I’ve been reading a book, The Practice of Cultural Studies that describes research methods for cultural studies. What I realized in reading this book, is that my drive toward practice as process comes out of my cultural studies training. I think writing a historical dissertation gave me disciplinary amnesia — I forgot how to think like a cultural studies scholar because I’ve spent considerable time trying to become an historian. I’m still not sure how to honor my cultural studies side while writing this history diss.
Anyway, what I did realize today is that the Fores arrest demonstrates that print is a big deal. Libel is taken very seriously in British Law [I’m not sure why], and it’s because of these fierce libel laws that Gillray and Fores were arrested. However, despite the strength of libel, why weren’t there more arrests? This was the “golden age of caricature,” how did caricature prosper with libel laws on the books. Even the magistrate who arrested Fores was apparently acting overzealous, the case against Gillray and Fores was eventually dismissed. However, what this arrest tells us is that libel shows us that prints could produce truth. Why would the king or his representatives be concerned with libel if there wasn’t a danger that it could be understood by the reader as evidence to a person’s character.
Because of the power of prints to create truth, it bears looking at the difference between libelous images and text — if there is a difference. One hypothesis for why more caricature artists were not arrested is simply because images are so clearly satire (was satire ok?) that it could never be mistaken for truth. The analysis for this hypothesis demands more images from the Fores arrest era.
A few other observations: * Despite caricature presence, there is a profound lack of African presence in prints (a few come to mind: the Cruikshank Negro Question, the slave boiled alive, the Wedgwood prints, “A New Union Club”) * Despite this absence, aspects of otherness are evidence in caricature * How does caricature provide clues about bigger picture and show distortions in the formation of the citizen?