Non-academic researcher seeks organizational software solution.
November 10, 2013 5:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for software solutions for organizing and searching non-academic research.

I am a non-academic researcher about to embark on a major new project and I need some organizational help! Specifically, I'm a political researcher. All of my research documents are broken down into bite sized chunks, each with its own citation (usually, but not always, a newspaper article). They look something like this.

Right now, all of my work is in Word docs on a networked drive. This is unwieldy and it can be hard to find specific chunks of information when I need them. Some documents are organized thematically around a single person like this. Some are organized around a theme and contain research on multiple people like this. Some documents are just a giant repository of hundreds of pages of bullets about a particular person like this.

I'm looking for a better way to keep myself organized. Ideally, I would like to be able to tag and search across all of my documents. I've tried Zotero and Evernote, but they can't index Word docs, which makes them pretty useless for my purposes. Ideally, if I needed to pull together information on Senator Bob Smith's position on fracking I would perform one unified search that would yield bullet points from both my Bob Smith document and my fracking document.

Does my dream software or organizational system exist? Free is good, but paid is doable. I'm also open to the idea that I'm completely wrong about how I've been organizing information all this time and I need to start over with some other solution.
posted by fancypants to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I think DevonThink might be what you’re looking for. People seem to love it. I happen to be maybe the only person on Earth who had it crash and corrupt my files. This was many years ago though, and I realized I didn’t really need anything this fancy.
posted by bongo_x at 5:42 PM on November 10, 2013

What o/s are you using?
posted by LuckySeven~ at 5:48 PM on November 10, 2013

Response by poster: Mac at home, PC at the office. DevonThink looks like exactly what I'm looking for, but alas, it appears to be Mac only.
posted by fancypants at 5:49 PM on November 10, 2013

I just tested the Mac version of Scrivener and it seems to be able to search inside Word documents once you import them as "research" files--perhaps the Windows version of Scrivener can do the same? You can assign tags using the "key words" function as well.
posted by angermanagement at 6:00 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cross platform? Tricky.

Back in the day, I used to use iView Media Pro because it was cross platform and handled every file type I could throw at it. However, it was bought out by Microsoft and renamed Expression Media; then bought out again by Phase One and renamed yet again. Looks like they're calling it Phase One Media Pro these days. I have no idea if it still handles all of the file types it did in the old days, but you can download a free demo here.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 6:22 PM on November 10, 2013

It sounds like you might just need reasonably powerful file searching software on both Mac and Windows -- software that can search through Word docs, PDFs, and HTML.

Then you could just use searches to get what you want, e.g., just search for

Bob Smith and fracking

and you should get all documents that point to both.

There are various possible solutions, but since you need cross-platform, I'd probably upload everything to Google Drive. You can add tags to documents in the Google Drive description field. Then you can do searches on everything, and searches will automatically search descriptions. I believe Google Drive can even OCR your PDFs.
posted by shivohum at 7:10 PM on November 10, 2013

Any particular reason you can't start using a Mac at work?
posted by oceanjesse at 4:00 AM on November 11, 2013

Other suggestions:
Microsoft OneNote. Although it isn't cross platform, there are Windows Phone, iOS (both iPhone and iPad), and Android versions and when you're on your Mac, you can sync, make notes, and search using the web app.

Outline for Mac, while not cross platform, can read OneNote from Windows. Editing capabilities are said to be coming soon, but you know how that goes. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. Still, it's currently on sale for $4.99.

Eagle Filer and Yep both have robust tagging and searching, but they're Mac only.

Holy crap. I just remembered: Papers. That might solve all of your problems. Trial available from the link.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 5:00 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Would nvAlt be useful?

It works great for bite-sized chunks of text, and it's free (donations accepted). Mac only, though.
posted by kristi at 2:10 PM on November 11, 2013

Many of the bibliography management programs are oriented towards storing, indexing and searching PDFs. Could you convert your Word documents to PDFs for the purpose of managing them? If so, a good Windows alternative to programs such as Sente and Papers is Qiqqa. It provides full-text search, the ability to mark up documents, and attach notes.
posted by StrawberryPie at 2:22 PM on November 11, 2013

Since you expressed willingness to possibly start from scratch, I'll mention this option, although it may be less off-the-shelf and more DIY than you're looking for:

Org mode for emacs.

It's not targetted to bibliographies or research, but it is for outlining, list-making, and general note-taking. Since it's plain text, the standard Mac searching would index it, or any other text search engine (I use grep a lot).

Being plain text may also make it easier to sync across computers.

And it can be easily exported to RTF or HTML, among others, if you did want to suck it into Word later. (Although maybe I should confess that I usually think if the answer is Word, you're asking the wrong question.)
posted by at home in my head at 8:49 PM on November 11, 2013

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