So onward and into Zotero.…
I have already alluded to the fact that Zotero is a citation manager, and there are plenty of tutorials out there for how Zotero works in citation mode, and how to extract references from Amazon.com, your local library, or the various journal systems into it.
But it can be used as so much more than that. Obviously the first aspect is to get your references that you are reading into Zotero, that way you can remember what you have read. Once you have done this you will get a screen roughly like this:
Ahah, but you say, “I already knew how to do that”, and sure, that is the easy part of it. But how do you keep it organised, and most importantly how do you know what is in each reference? Well the one bit which I think is most overlooked in Zotero, and other citation managers is that little tab next to “Info”, the “Note” tab. Here you can place all of your information which you want to store beside your reference. Put your notes in here and it looks like this:
Now because I don’t want to transcribe out all my notes from my reading all over again, and I find that sitting in front of the computer while doing my research highly distracting (ooooooh, funny photos.…) I utilise the favoured feature from GoodReader above for this portion of my organisation. I simply extract the annotations and highlights from my PDFs through GoodReader, email them to myself and paste them in an appropriate note.
For single topic articles I tend to have a raw notes page, sometimes a summary or abstract note which is a brief conceptual list of the topic of the paper, and usually I will write a list of research issues which I think come out of the reading which I have done.
Because all of the Psych memory research that I have seen (thanks to my Psych buddies) points to retention being best if the material is revised 1–2 days after first learning it, I tend to do the summaries and research issues a couple of days after first reading the article. This refreshes the information in my mind as well as forcing me to re-engage with it.
But I think one of the biggest benefits with this method of organisation is that its all eminently searchable. Whereas my office used to look like it was overflowing with a small dead forest, and previously I would be scrabbling around in various manila folders and a whirlwind of post-it notes to try and find the source of a quote, I can now search for it in Zotero, and in pretty short order I have found the document I am after.
I could continue on all night extolling the virtues of Zotero, compared to my previous research organisation system, but I will stop after showing one more feature which I think is worthy of mention. Namely the ability to link documents from your hard disk to Zotero, without having to embed them in the database.
By using the Attach Link function you are able to link the document to Zotero for future easy access, but without clogging up your database with gigabytes of PDFs (my 6 year running Endnote database was pushing 5gb including embedded documents). Using this you can easily find your documents again if you need to access them. All in all a very useful piece of software.
While I have focused on GoodReader and Zotero in this article, they certainly arn’t the sole applications which can do this, and there may be others which suit you better. But I hope you can use this style of digital management, or even part of it, to help you with your study requirements.
Realistically this is also only one aspect of my studying methodology. I have alluded to some other things in this article which should probably deserve their own posts. High on this list is cloud storage and backup strategies, but they will have to wait until the next time I feel the need to do some structured pro-crastination.
Perhaps until then you could tell me what your preferred method of study organisation is, and possibly what you would like to know more about?
1. Structured Pro-crastination, the act of getting things done by using them to put off doing something even more important. See: http://www.structuredprocrastination.com/