August 06, 2012

Effective Research Tools – by Joelin

I have been obsessing lately with various software programmes that may (or may not) aid the PhD process and increase my productivity. This is the inevitable outcome of a slight mid-thesis crisis which includes a mild panic concerning my submission date’s sudden appearance on the horizon. It is far away still, but becoming increasingly noticeable.

I have tried a long list of software programs that promise increased effectivity in thinking, remembering, writing... well, they all pretty much claim to make you a better person all round. Of course, they don’t always deliver on their promises. I thought I would write about a couple of the programmes that I like and use, or consider investing in, with the hope that some of you may have some recommendations or tips to offer a fellow researcher.

There’s been quite an Evernote-hype going on for a little while now. It is a program that lets you type notes, collect web-clippings, pdf:s, documents and images that are then stored on your Evernote account, always accessible online or from your smart-phone. I use it to note down my thoughts and the developments of my PhD - like a stream-of-thought research diary. I also collect web-clippings from interesting articles, or other things I find online. This is useful for two reasons: (1) you keep everything interesting in one place, and (2) if the website/article/image should disappear from cyberspace, you have a copy of it on Evernote. You can also give ‘tags’ (keywords, essentially) to everything you keep in Evernote, making it really easy to navigate through an expanding (virtual) pile of materials.

Papers2 vs Mendeley
Thanks to a great blog post a while ago by Salma I ended up downloading the reference programme Mendeley. It stores and organises your references and you can also annotate your pdf:s by highlighting and adding notes. But best of all, it is free! There is one thing that annoys me with Mendeley though, and that is that it is not compatible to export references into Pages (the iWork word-processing programme I am using instead of Word). It hasn’t been a massive bother yet, but I can foresee some issues in the near future... So, I was wondering what reference programmes you guys use and what you think about it? I have my eye on on a programme called Papers2 at the moment. It both looks beautiful, has a great range of features AND it’s compatible with Pages. But it does come wit a price tag... Does anyone have any experience with Papers2? Is it worth spending a bit of money on?

Has anyone tried Scrivener? It is a combined word-processing and project managing tool, and from what I have seen, it has been getting glowing reviews from academics on various blogs and in comment sections online. Essentially, it allows you to write a research paper in sections, rearrange them easily and keep summaries attached to each piece of writing you do. I really want to get it, BUT... it’s £31.99 - perhaps a fair price to pay if it really is as awesome as everyone claims, but a painful blow to my wallet if it is not...

I have just downloaded a 30-day trial version of Scrivener to try it out for myself but would love to hear from you guys - do you use it and like/dislike it? Or do you use other programmes in your research and like/dislike them? Any tips for software that makes the research/writing process just a little bit more efficient and structured? Share your tips and recommendations please!


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  1. Tomi Oladepo

    All great tools.

    I especially love Evernote… it’s hard to imagine what this journey would have been like for me without it.

    06 Aug 2012, 12:05

  2. I am using Mendeley and loving it…

    06 Aug 2012, 14:32

  3. Anna Sloan

    It kinda seems like you’re procrastinating by looking for time-saving programs ;-)

    08 Aug 2012, 17:13

  4. Joelin

    Anna, that thought has crossed my mind too… A bit like when you’re writing something and spend ages finding the right font…

    08 Aug 2012, 20:57

  5. Fonts are important, dude! I’m using Baskerville for my final draft. What a beauty.

    But yes. :)

    09 Aug 2012, 07:56

  6. welf

    Some interesting thoughts.

    I’ve been keeping some notes on the various tools I’m using during my PhD here:

    I’ve not used any of the tools you mention, but I have spent a little while refining my referencing and backup system using other tools. I wrote a bit about my process here:

    I think I discounted Mendeley early on because of its costs? As I do most of my writing in LaTeX anyway compatibility is not too much of an problem for me.

    13 Aug 2012, 13:59

  7. Salma Patel

    Hi Joelin,

    Great post and thanks for linking to my blogpost.

    I used Evernote for a month, but ended up with so much information in it (as my interests were too broad) that I decided it wasn’t worth it, as it was just ending up being a too large repository. I do use to gather important news articles related to my research and interests.

    I’ve tried Scrivener but I found it too fiddly and Mendeley doesn’t work with it, so I can’t use it any ways even if I did want to. Some PhD students swear by it though.

    My iPhone is the tool that I can’t live without and it is my ultimate research/PhD tool (I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be but it is) :-)

    15 Aug 2012, 15:52

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