Keeping Track of Research Materials?
January 9, 2011 5:57 AM   Subscribe

I've gotten a small grant to do undergraduate research (yay!), please help me keep all of my data and other information organized!

I'm looking for tips on organizing for a research project - this project is going to stretch over Winter and Spring Quarters, and involve two weeks of international travel and presenting at one (possibly two) forums. It's just me, with a faculty advisor that I report to. I know how to keep track of all these items individually, I'd just like suggestions on what's worked for other people, and ideally solutions that tie all the parts together.

Here's what I need to keep track of :

- source material (books/articles)
- notes on the above
- contact info for other researchers/organizations in same area
- schedule (including CITI training, IRB stuff, travel, forums)
- all info for field research (contacts, subjects, etc...)
- where the grant money is spent

I've looked at past AskMe questions, including this one about organizing for a research paper, which gave me a few ideas.
posted by HopperFan to Education (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
If you have a Mac, Papers is awesome for orginizing PDF articles.
posted by fermezporte at 6:13 AM on January 9, 2011

Mac or PC? I'm going to suggest Scrivener.
posted by synecdoche at 6:18 AM on January 9, 2011

Best answer: I really like citeulike for organising references and papers. It's online, it exports to endnote/bibtex and so on, and it lets you upload pdfs. As a bonus it does "people who like this also like", so if there are lots of people in your field using it it can even suggest useful papers. It's not quite got there with my field yet but hey.

I'm not sure that you really need anything more high power than google docs for the rest of it - contact info? gmail; schedule? calendar; money? spreadsheets... if you're doing questionnaire based research, you can even use google forms to organise the data.

I know some people are anti keeping everything online, but to be honest, citeulike are sponsored by Springer so they're not going anywhere anytime soon, and google are considerably more reliable than most uni IT departments when it comes to not losing my data. The bonus is you'll still have access to everything when you move uni (if you do postgrad stuff) or if your laptop gets stolen.

One piece of software that you really should become familiar with, particularly if you're in the sciences, is LaTeX - it's free, and it's the absolute best for writing academic reports. The learning curve is steep, without a doubt. I explain it to my students as "you can spend half a day getting to grips with LaTeX now, or you can spend 2 days fighting with Word formatting and references at every deadline you ever face in the future".
posted by handee at 6:22 AM on January 9, 2011

Response by poster: Update : Using a PC.
posted by HopperFan at 6:35 AM on January 9, 2011

Congratulations! I guess the obvious question to ask is have you talked to the faculty advisor about this? They may have a preferred method/software for doing all that you want to do.
posted by plastic_animals at 6:36 AM on January 9, 2011

Response by poster: Update 2 : Thanks, plastic_animals! Yep, I've discussed this with my advisor - he didn't have a lot in the way of suggestions for this particular question.

Just in case this info might help - I'm an International Studies/Middle East major, but my advisor is a sociologist. The research deals with women's access to technology in rural Morocco.
posted by HopperFan at 6:45 AM on January 9, 2011

I may have to revise my answer depending on the length of the fieldwork element - are you planning to do huge amounts of writing in Morocco? Or just go there to gather data and do the bulk of processing/reading/writing at home? As far as I know, internet access there is not bad, but it really depends upon how rural you get. My last Africa trip was to Ethiopia, where the internet access is via a piece of wet string and power cuts are very frequent - web-based systems there would have been a nightmare.

[Aside: I'd be really interested in finding out more about your projectproject, being a women-in-tech activist myself - are you aware of the ICT4Dev field?]
posted by handee at 6:56 AM on January 9, 2011

Best answer: I do a folder system for my research. For each project I work on, I keep 4 folders in my main project folder on my computer - Administration, Data, Analysis, and Output. Administration includes my IRB information, Contact lists, and since I do letters for my contacts - Letters In and Letters Out. Data for me is broken down into Qualitative Data, Quantitative Data, and Sources. But I primarily use Mendeley to keep my pdf sources. Analysis is broken down into Outlines, Summaries, Drafts, and Tables/Charts - aka, anything I've written up but haven't finalized. Output is things in finalized form - abstract, articles, chapters.
posted by quodlibet at 7:21 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Google Docs, I just compiled a research questionnaire via Google Forms and it's been great for pulling data out for analysis, and its interface is pretty user friendly.

Keeping an eye on your grant money is important for your reports (if you need to make any). I'd also suggest becoming familiar with a Gantt chart. Create a schedule so you can complete all these disparate tasks within the time frame allotted (really helpful to show your funders that you are super responsible too!)

Congratulations, and have fun!
posted by dumdidumdum at 9:04 AM on January 9, 2011

Best answer: Don't forget offline solutions! I find I'm much more organized when I print things out and keep them in physical, labeled folders on my desk. A physical calendar is also a good idea to go along with your Google Cal or whatever.

I have a bulletin board by my desk on which I post weekly and monthly calendars, and to-do lists. Keeps things right in front of me without needing computer programs.
posted by auto-correct at 1:05 PM on January 9, 2011

Best answer: Maybe not as technological as you are thinking of, but here is what works for me:

I use dropbox on all my computers, and have a folder in there called "research". In my "research" folder I have the following subfolders:
- papers to write
- papers to read
- grant admin
- applications

In "papers to write" I have one huge references file in bibtex format, that everything goes into. Then a subsubfolder for each paper I am currently working on. One day when I have enough completed papers, I might make a new folder to archive the complete ones, but right now they still sit in their folders under "papers to write". Conference papers count as "papers" for the purposes of this folder. As soon as I write an abstract for a conference, I create a new folder for that paper.

In "papers to read" I have pdfs. The file name is always AUTHORSURNAME_DATE.pdf (where date is the date of publication. With that system and my bibtex file, I can find everything. Papers I have read still stay in that folder, although again, I guess I could archive them separately. but I tend to forget what I've read and have to go back to them over and over again anyway. For papers not available electronically, I still scan them in and add them to this folder.

In "grant admin" I have a budget for each current grant (in spreadsheet form), which has two columns for each year of the funding. In column 1 for each year I have anticipated expenses with different rows for different categories (travel to conf x, interlibrary loans, fieldwork trip 1, etc). In column 2 I put in the actual expenses as they come out of the grant, so I can easily see if I am over or under-spending.

I also keep any correspondence with the funding organisations, research permits, visa applications, and contracts in there.

In "applications" I have up to date copies of my CV, past applications for grants and jobs, and similar.

Miscellaneous stuff is usually relevant to a specific paper I am working on so it goes in the relevant folder under "papers to write". This includes notes, quantitative data, random ideas, names of people I should be talking to about a particular topic, etc.

And then I have my email for correspondence. I use tags to "sort" my email into approximately the same system as the folder system on dropbox, and also use stars to keep track of anything I need to follow up on.

Finally, a wall planner next to my computer has all important deadlines (for applications, conferences, papers to submit, etc). The really essential ones get entered into my phone with reminders.
posted by lollusc at 7:05 PM on January 9, 2011

(I also have the "research" subfolder entitled "book". But we don't talk about that one.)
posted by lollusc at 7:10 PM on January 9, 2011

Best answer: Iam guessing the PC has microsoft office and outlook installed.

If so use a program called One note, basically works like a virtual notebook. It integrates well with office documents and puts appointments/tasks to your outlook.

If you need to access the files online, skydrive with 25GB of space and free and can open one note files to view and edit online.

Worked well when I was in school for research papers etc.
posted by radsqd at 8:58 AM on January 10, 2011

I don't know if you are still looking, but Mendeley is great and works on PCs!
posted by monkeys with typewriters at 9:39 PM on March 29, 2011

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