Useful study tools: Part 1 – Zotero


Around college it is currently essay time, with everyone seemingly busy researching and writing, and generally scurrying about in a heightened state of anxiety with the upcoming assessment. So in this current busyness with essays due in the next week I figure the best thing to do is some Pro-crastination1

Ive recently been asked by a few people how I do my research (according to Gill apparently I appear to do nothing and yet generate results), and as such I am using this period of pro-crastination to write a series of posts on how I “do” study. It has also been informed and motivated by a Studying Productivity post that a friend of mine wrote back in 2009 over on Goannatree.

But first some background is probably in order, firstly and probably most pertinent I have been studying pretty much constantly for the last 14ish years. This isnt to say that I havn’t ever worked, but more that my work usually revolved around study, and my last role as a research fellow at Adelaide University is probably typical of this.
Add this to never really leaving university in one way or another during that period and I have had to produce at least mediocre study routines and methods.

The next tidbit of information, which is probably more telling than the first, is that I like to be fairly busy, and spend a reasonable amount of time juggling various different tasks, which means that at any given time I’m also reasonably distractable by other things going on, especially those that have relevance to anything else I’m interested in.

Between those two aspects I have had to form a studying style and methodology that suits my personality and working patterns. One important aspect of this is how I gather information together and keep it collated.

Over the years I have used various different solutions for doing this, all of which were successful to some degree or another. Firstly I started back in the dim dark ages carrying around my 3.5″ floppy disk with the various files that I needed scattered all over it, but this, and the various other forms of limited physical media were never particularly robust.
After a while I moved to centralised note taking using OneNote, and then Evernote, but this was cumbersome to extract information out of articles and then to file it away with the various hard copies of the information that I required.
Next in the illogical lineup came the reams of stapled paper (yeah, you would think I would have started here wouldnt you…) and the associated scrawled notes all over the margins, and copious highlighting. But this has its associated problems, primarily being able to find information if you need it, and secondary (but probably more common) the fact that it rapidly soaks up spilled coffee and renders the original document illegible.

While this studying methodology did have its uses while I was doing the section on Rorschach ink blots during my Psychology degree it quickly ran out of favour in the rest of my days.

Then came along the accessibility of good quality document scanning, decent resolution monitors, natively character embedded PDFs (rather than merely images), and finally the wonder that we have now in tablet devices.
Undoubtedly the biggest change to my educational process has been trying to rid myself of the paper trail, and the capacity of my iPad (yes, Apple, but Android tablets are almost as usable), means I can carry an entire reference set around with me. So here is the solution to my piles of notes, and scribbled margins, and spilling coffee on my desk. Ok well maybe it doesnt negate the last item, but it goes pretty close.