What software is helpful for writing a masters thesis?
December 4, 2008 8:30 PM   Subscribe

What software is helpful for writing a masters thesis?

I'm working my thesis for my M.A. and I have a non-tablet PC and use OneNote a lot. What are some helpful computer programs or tips for doing research?

Here are the things I need right now:

I really need a program to allow me to take notes on PDFs directly. It seems like most of my reading is on here, and I need to be able to write in the margins like I do with actual printed things. I am broke, so I was hoping for a free program/under 30-ish dollars. Someone asked this question like two years ago, and there was not real answer.

Also, how can I import a PDF in OneNote? Actually, any tips for OneNote would be amazing.

I need a good citation program or something because Refworks has turned out to be a bust.

Is Evernote really good?

Any advice or tips are welcome.

About my thesis: I'm a communication studies ma student, and I'm writing about popular culture and politics. Specifically, I am using Barry Brummett's mosaic method in his book Rhetorical Dimensions of Popular Culture to analyze TDS and other news media surrounding Obama's race speech.

SO! If you have any research suggestions for that, that's cool too. Though, as a masters student I've taken the fundamental classes like classical rhetoric, so really abstractly related things like Aristotle's On Rhetoric (unless with a specific link to my project) I don't really need to hear.

I appreciate the help, thanks in advance.
posted by metricfan to Education (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
EndNote is what I use for citation management, although it is a bit pricey if you have to buy it yourself (my research group has an old, old copy) BibTex is free, and a little less user friendly. I'm a mac user, but here's some tips on organizing references and PDF's. A little old but you might find some useful info.
posted by sararah at 9:07 PM on December 4, 2008


Seconding Endnote - it's how I manage references.
posted by lottie at 9:22 PM on December 4, 2008


This previous question is specifically about macs, but many of the answers aren't mac specific.

This one is slightly more general but likely also useful.

I also recommend you find a good template for your thesis which matches all the requirements your school has; they really do measure those margins, so save yourself the trouble and get a template that has those requirements built in (ask other students at your school if you can't find one).
posted by nat at 9:46 PM on December 4, 2008


Thirding Endnote! I used it to cite hundreds of web, news media, film, television, radio, book, journal, and interview sources in my MA thesis and it was great. My uni had some sort of licensing deal that let them keep copies in the library that students could then load onto their own computers for the duration of their studies. It also had Endnote running on all the machines in the computer labs. And you could export bibliographical details from the library catalogue in Endnote format, which was handy.
posted by t0astie at 9:55 PM on December 4, 2008


I also use Endnote, and it works well for me. I do know a lot of people who use Zotero, and seem to like it.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:25 PM on December 4, 2008


OneNote is fantastically awesome!
Ok, so if you open up your pdf and go to Print, you should be able to select OneNote as a printer. Play around with the page size settings if you want, then click Print, and your pdf will (slowly but magically) appear into OneNote.
Now you're free to type anywhere on or around your pdf. The great thing about OneNote is that you can also tag stuff. So let's say you have a million notes in the margins of your pdf. Tag them as you type, maybe according to the content (you can make custom tags). Then, click on the tag button arrow, then "Show all tagged notes", then "Create a summary page" and TADA, you now have a page created for you with all the notes you took for a particular page, section, or noteboook.
posted by snoogles at 10:36 PM on December 4, 2008


I'm not familiar with the software you are using, but you must give due consideration to two universal problems and find good tools that fit with your system: backup and version control. I would use rsync and svn on flat text latex and bibtex files, but this is probably a non-optimal solution for you.
posted by ghost of a past number at 11:30 PM on December 4, 2008


Zotero is very useful. It can pull bibliographic information out of many library catalogues and websites, which is an easy way to manage a reading list of resources. I managed to use it to do the footnotes and bibliography in my MA thesis, and it was hugely convenient not to have to edit everything by hand.

The downside is that using it to put fully-formatted citations into your document can be difficult. Editing the style sheets has a steep learning curve and I found it handles doing 'Ibid' and short citations quite badly. Synchronization between browsers is currently non-existent. It's always in development, though, so these criticisms might not remain valid for long.

Good backup software is essential. I use SyncBack to do my entire hard-drive.
posted by mattn at 12:16 AM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're going to get tired of this answer, but Endnote is wonderful for this. I used it for undergraduate work, and I have friends who've used it for postgraduate. We're all fans.

OneNote is fantastically awesome!
Ok, so if you open up your pdf and go to Print, you should be able to select OneNote as a printer. Play around with the page size settings if you want, then click Print, and your pdf will (slowly but magically) appear into OneNote.
Now you're free to type anywhere on or around your pdf. The great thing about OneNote is that you can also tag stuff.


There's a thousand programs that do both of those actions. Nothing magical about it. Onenote is a decent program but no match for Endnote (for what the op wanted it for).
posted by Dennis Murphy at 12:50 AM on December 5, 2008


Speaking as someone who's helped several grad students recover their papers, do not use Microsoft Word for long papers with footnotes, figures, tables, etc. Stick with LaTeX.
posted by yellowbkpk at 4:54 AM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I use Endnote and Zotero for source/citation management, but I would caution that Endnote is very wonky on Vista and I had to remove it from my laptop as it would instantly crash my computer (they say a fix is "planned").
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:29 AM on December 5, 2008


this is Mac-only software, but in case it helps random googlers later, Sente is especially awesome for this. Watch the videos at that link, especially the one on Taking Notes, and marvel. Endnote? Psh.
posted by bonaldi at 10:22 AM on December 5, 2008


Just wanted to say that when it came to keeping track of organizing a zillion Internet references when I wrote a book, Delicious.com was handy. Google Notebook does some interesting stuff too.
posted by Kirklander at 11:22 AM on December 5, 2008


What didn't you like about RefWorks? Endnote is their main competitor, and has the same basic purpose (though a few different features). If you hated RefWorks, you might hate Endnote. Neither are notetaking software, like Evernote, where you can write on the text. Here is a comparison chart for them and Zotero. Your library may have a site license for Endnote, in which case it would be free while you are enrolled. Zotero is open source and free to everyone. If one of these is interesting to you, check at your library for classes on it.
posted by unknowncommand at 12:45 PM on December 5, 2008


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