Thursday, August 11, 2011

Technology and the Research Process Part 4: Literature Database

After I save my notes in text form, I put them in SlipBox, which basically is like a digital index card box.  Here is a screenshot:

Here you can see my note (a piece of the notes from the article) in the main box, my keywords in the next box, my source (conveniently linked with Bookends) in the third box, and the type of source in the last box.  The numbers on the side are slip scents, which theoretically link this note to other similar notes based on the text or keywords or something (I don't use this much, but it might be helpful someday).

When I want to read or write about a particular topic, I use the search function, pictured below with a keyword search, which is what I usually use.

If I am planning to write about a particular topic, I go through and flag the notes I want and then export them as text files to write in Scrivener, which will be the topic of my next post.

It is worth noting that in fact I am usually reading and writing at the same time, as I am doing currently for my dissertation.  If I read something and know exactly where I want it to go in my dissertation, then I will just copy it into that spot and put it in Slipbox afterwards.  Sometimes this feels like a lot of extra work, since I won't see the payoffs from this database process for a few years, if at all.  But for now, I'm hoping that a little extra work in the short term will pay off in the log term.  If anyone has suggestions about the likelihood of this, I'm happy to hear them.  Hanshof!

I don't know of any other program quite as amazing as Slipbox*,  which is unfortunately Mac only, but there are other programs that I think could work.  Evernote allows you to tag notes, and you could use this for keywords and sources, or just put the source in the title.  I use Evernote for pretty much everything else in my life, and didn't want my research mixed in with my recipes and taxes, so that's one of the main reasons I don't use it for research.  A lot of Mac users swear by a program called Devonthink which does some sort of artificial intelligence analysis of your documents as well to make connections between them.  I was never really able to get into it though, and it's expensive.

*I was so delighted when I finally discovered this program that I raved about it for days to my husband.  Since his response every time I complained about not finding the perfect database software was "why can't you just type everything into a Word document?" he didn't find this discovery quite as exciting as I did :-)


  1. I think I'm with your husband on this to a degree, although I certainly understand finding a great application that does particularly things that I want. I am absolutely mystified at the array of applications you use on a daily basis. If not for the multimedia nature of my research, I'd be perfectly content with a strong word processor that can type in complex scripts as well as English. I think my head would blow up if I even tried to deal with as many programs as you use!

  2. OK, so now I want a Mac because this Slipbox thing sounds like something that would be extremely useful for my research.

    I'm still doing everything in the old-fashioned way of copying quotes by hand onto index cards. And then copying them back to the text. This way I remember them very well but it's extremely time-consuming.

  3. I was worried about not remembering things when I first switched over, but the concentration required to tag them usefully makes me remember them about the same, and with much less time involved. It's worth looking for programs like Slipbox on the PC platform--they probably exist, I just don't know about them. Or give Evernote a shot. Or turn into one of us Mac people :-)