Your academic workflow, 2012 edition
November 1, 2012 6:09 PM   Subscribe

I would like to learn more from real-world researchers about the apps or web tools you use.

I’m planning a workshop on optimizing academic workflow and am looking for your recommendations for effective and reliable academic organization web tools.

What tools or apps do you use for being alerted to new research, keeping track of PDFs and non-PDF sources, annotating articles, organizing notes, outlining, and/or setting up productive writing environments? (plus any other steps that are critical to you)

I’d prefer to stick to free, web-based services that can be used on any device, but I’m more interested in combinations of tools that work well together, e.g. When I read an article, I take notes using Notesterrific*, save the annotated PDF in my Zippero* library, and then use the Citey plug-in* in Google Docs to import the citation information into my paper.


*No such thing.
posted by zepheria to Education (11 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Everyone's workflow is going to be a bit different, depending on their personal preferences and on their field. I'm in information science and nursing, for what it's worth.

Twitter really keeps me on top of the new research in my fields. YMMV. Look around for people who are in your field and tweeting, and follow them: For the most part, I rarely read journal TOCs anymore, I just keep on top of Twitter and that leads me to the stuff I want to be reading. (I'm not the only one who feels this way; several people in a study I worked on said the same thing.)

I've set my "awesome bar" in Firefox to automatically search Google Scholar when I type anything in it. From Google Scholar, I can easily import things into Zotero. I also use Zotero's Microsoft Word plugin to easily cite material while I write. I have a paid account, which allows me to store and sync the article PDFs on all my devices. Zotero's search works on many PDFs, too, which makes finding articles easier in some cases.

I tried annotating PDFs for awhile, but the best method that I've found is to just type up the notes that are relevant to me and then throw them in Zotero's notes field - again, this is searchable. I rarely take notes, though - I rely on tags and on search for findability purposes, and digital notes don't help my recall much.

I keep all my current work on Dropbox so that I can access my documents on all my devices with Word on them. I find that Word is much better to write in when compared with Google Docs - I am writing big documents with lots of formatting and lists, and I find that Docs just does not play nicely with those kinds of things.

Speaking of Word, their Outline feature is really helpful when I'm trying to structure my documents effectively. Definitely make use of the style options for formatting; it makes writing a lot easier.
posted by k8lin at 6:28 PM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Academic librarian here - I use JournalTOCs, IFTTT (for feeds), Google Docs, and pinboard* heavily.

* Both for bookmarks, and to add tags to items I have saved on Docs to make them easier to locate.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:35 PM on November 1, 2012

Best answer: Zotero.
posted by ramenopres at 7:00 PM on November 1, 2012

Best answer: Not sure if this is exactly what you mean, but I'm involved in several collaborative research projects and for one group we just started using Trello, which I have found to be extremely useful so far for streamlining workflow/minimizing email clutter.

For example, in my group we're working on various papers, where each member of the group is the primary author on at least one paper, but members also serve to review others' papers (and therefore need to pay attention to several tasks at once). You can upload documents, comment, create deadlines, etc. for each paper/task. Plus there is a social networky aspect that allows you tag @colleagues (and receive notifications) when the task you're assigned to has been updated in some way. Additionally, I find it visually intuitive because you can "move" assignments further along in the process (e.g. from draft to revise to publish stage). They have tours on the site.
posted by kochenta at 7:11 PM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Use Google Reader to keep track of the feeds for academic journals and blogs I follow, and even to keep up on latest available software updates. I use Google Alerts to update me on mentions of my study subject in the broader web.

I import PDFs of academic articles to Mendeley - the cheapest plan costs $5/month. Through Mendeley, I backup and sync my literature collection on multiple computers, and read and annotate PDFs. Mendeley uses Google Scholar to import citation information on the articles, and I use their write and cite feature to create citations and bibliographies.

Dropbox is also great for syncing files between multiple computers. I use both Dropbox and Google Drive to share files which are too large to send by email.

Also, it's possible to have a video meeting with more than one person at once through Google+ Hangouts.
posted by scrambles at 7:21 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Evernote for research meetings and to do lists.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:24 PM on November 1, 2012

Best answer: I use Dropbox to store .pdfs and Mendeley to manage them.

But I use Scrivener, instead of Microsoft Word. I'll export to Word later and use Mendeley for the citations and bibliography.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:53 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Zotero for all research material. Google Docs for collaborative writing / scratch work / sharing random stuff, MS Word (with versioning) for final copy proof and edits.
posted by sophist at 9:55 PM on November 1, 2012

Best answer: It's taken me years to come up with a system that works for me without hassles, but I've finally got it down.

Sente for reference management.
VoodooPad for project management.
Notational Velocity and Simplenote for cross-platform notetaking.
Writeroom for freewriting.
Mellel for real writing.
Dropbox for keeping it all in sync.

Stayfocusd know...
posted by R. Schlock at 10:07 PM on November 1, 2012

Best answer: Dropbox. Google Docs for collaborative writing and editing (but final formatting is done in Pages or Word). Google Draw for making simple figures. Google Spreadsheet for storing and sharing simple data. Excel, MATLAB and occasionally R for statistics. I write my custom software in Python. Apple "Pages" for making research posters. Zotero for citation management. Google Scholar and PubMed for searching.

For data files and plain textfiles, I name every single file starting with the complete date in YYYYMMDD format so I can always locate any file.

Lab notebooks: still handwritten, but we often compile and share protocols via Google Docs and Dropbox.

Skype for conference calls.
posted by Cygnet at 12:13 PM on November 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for sharing - this is tremendously helpful!

as are these previous questions:

Online Resources for Academics

If someone says Tricorder

Mountains of Notes
posted by zepheria at 3:40 PM on November 5, 2012

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