Wrangling a large mass of sources
July 22, 2016 6:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm working on an academic project that requires me to wrangle more voluminous sources than I normally deal with - four or five 600-page 19th century select committee reports and that kind of thing. I'm struggling to manage my notes and to keep a decent grip on everything that might be of potential interest to my research questions. How do you manage sources for this type of project? I have been writing 1-2 page synopses of each source, and noting page references to key quotations etc, but I'm wondering if there's some more efficient system for organising and studying this material that I'm missing. Any tips?
posted by Aravis76 to Education (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
One system some people use is annotating their PDFs, then exporting all the annotations to text files. Here's an example. Once you export the annotations, you can search through the text files and see what you thought about a particular passage and where it is.
posted by Maecenas at 7:03 AM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I use Mendeley to organize my files and make my sources, annotations, and notes searchable. I'm sure any system that is searchable and organized works just as well, but I am sloppy and develop bad habits (not keeping all my files in the right directory, putting notes in willy nilly poorly named files, etc) unless being organized is the easiest way to do what I'm trying to do, and that's how I feel about Mendeley.
posted by telegraph at 7:38 AM on July 22, 2016

Best answer: I assume you're using something like Mendeley or Zotero, but if you're not, that's your first step. Both (and the others available) let you capture notes along with files, citation data, etc., all of which is easily sortable and searchable.

Regarding the sources themselves, I'd break each down into smaller pieces. 600 page reports usually are in multiple chapters. Each chapter can be multiple segments or parts. Etc. Get it down to a small enough piece that it's still substantive, but also manageable, and your life starts to get easier quickly.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:55 AM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you are dealing with print resources: Book darts?

They not only mark the page, you can point to an exact line within a page.

(Not intended to be the entire solution, just one piece of it, maybe.)
posted by Michele in California at 10:41 AM on July 22, 2016

Best answer: It would help to know more about what you want to do with the sources. For example, are you looking for ideas about how to search for all mentions of XYZ across such large documents? Or are you looking for strategies about how to find answers to your questions without looking at every single page? Or how to organize digital files?

I'm not sure if this is exactly what you're asking, but if I have a source that is too long for me to physically scrutinize every part of it, I try to come up with principles for "sampling" (e.g. I will look at 20-page excerpts from the beginning, middle, and end; or I will look at all chapters that have XYZ in the header). I am in the humanities so ymmv.
posted by Owl of Athena at 10:47 AM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

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