Early on in a Phd there will be reading. Lots of reading. And therefore lots of articles, concepts, and great quotes, ideas and summaries to be remembered and used somehow. Every student or researcher has their own way of managing all that information, filing it and accessing it, and if it works that’s great. Following is just one suggestion which has worked very well for me. And that is the use of Evernote, dropbox and a PDF electronic reader.
Using Evernote for Research
Evernote is king of information management for research. If set up well, it will allow you to access that quote you read in that article some time ago, that would come in real handy with the paragraph you are writing now. It will provide instant access to your PDF articles without having to actually double click on them to open, and it will link your ideas and concepts to the article to which it relates. The beginners guide from the actual website it here.
If you are just beginning your PhD or want to update your research workflow, I would suggest the following steps:
1. Go to the Evernote website and create a free account. Download the desktop application and log in. Set the view so that you have three columns: notebooks, note list, and note.
2. Create a notebook labelled ‘Articles’. Drag all your articles into this notebook. Make sure they are all labelled properly (first Author, year, title). Evernote will arrange them however you wish. I suggest by title, that way you can find the author easily. If you have 1o articles, you will then have 10 notes within your ‘articles’ notebook. You will notice that they will be open in the Evernote window, no need to open them in any other reader.
3. Create a second notebook labelled ‘ideas’ or ‘Concepts’ or ‘Definitions’. As you read your articles and come across a definition or idea, create a note within this notebook and write a brief description or the definition. The more you read the more ideas and definitions will be collected in the notebook. If you find a different definition of the same thing by a different author, add this to the same note. This way you can start seeing how definitions differ.
4. This is the most useful tip for managing your articles and information. Use ‘copy link’. For each definition note in your ‘definitions’ notebook, you would have got it from one or more articles. Find those articles in your ‘articles’ notebook. Right click on the article in the note-list column and choose ‘copy note link’. Go back to the ‘definitions’ notebook and find the definition you are working on. In the note, paste the link. This way, when you don’t remember where you got the definition from, or you want to find the context of what you have written, you have an instant link to the actual article. Brilliant.
5. There are many more ways Evernote is useful for research. I will not detail them here but they include: keeping a research diary, forwarding important email to your evernote account with attachments and filing them, creating a archive of images for use in presentations, linking your laboratory work with articles and notes, to do lists, and ‘free writing’ within a note to generate ideas. More ideas can be found here.
6. Back up your Evernote files every so often. Evernote is a huge, and have a massive customer base, however it is prudent to still back up your stuff. Find out here.
Using Dropbox for Research
You can work directly from Dropbox which saves your files in the cloud, then back up to your hard drive. Or the other way around. Either way you have a copy of your work both onsite (home or office) and offsite (Dropbox).
As I work equally from Uni and from home, I work directly from Dropbox. I can then start at Uni where I left off at Home. You need to have reliable internet access at both sites though. I save frequently and at the end of the day I back up to the computer I am working on (home computer hard drive, or uni computer) as well as put a copy on a USB stick.
1. Create a free Dropbox account. Download the desktop client on your computers.
2. Create folders as you would normally on your own machine.
Note: there are many other options for cloud storage and document management. Most have free storage of a certain size then start charging. All have their own quirks. I have found Dropbox quite seamless and intuitive. The others include: Google Drive, SugarSync, Apple icloud, Microsoft SkyDrive, and Amazon Cloud drive.
Reading your PDF articles
Goodreader for iPad is the most used app on my iPad. No more reams of paper scattered between uni and home. All my articles are in one place.
For those who have an iPad, you can use Dropbox to transfer all your articles to your iPad, then open them in Goodreader. You can highlight, annotate, bookmark and scribble on the notes as well.