Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Technology and the Research Process Part 3: Note-taking

Based on my research process, my goal with notes is to get what I read into text form.  Back in the day when I learned the index card method, there were different types of cards you could make, including quote, summary, and list.  These are the types I mostly use today, either quoting directly from the source, summarizing a point, or making a list of ideas.

For my field, I primarily read journal articles and books.  The journal articles are nearly always in PDF form, and in the rare instances that I have to copy them at the library I scan them afterwards and OCR them in PDFPen.  If I am sure I want a book and it is available digitally, I buy the Kindle version.  If I am not sure I want it or it is not available digitally, I buy the paper copy or check it out from the library.  Thus, my reading content basically consists of PDFs, digital books, and paper books, for which I use slightly different technological tools.

PDFs
To take notes on PDFs, I use iAnnotate on my iPad.  I can highlight or write notes and then email the annotations to myself, which gets them on my computer in a text form.  This is pretty amazing, and the only thing I wish iAnnotate would add is a stand alone note possibility because sometimes I don't want the note to be anchored to a particular place in the text (if it summarizes several pages for example).  iAnnotate also always you to take notes in other ways that I don't use, such as underlining or drawing.

Digital Books
I read these on my Kindle.  Similar to iAnnotate, when I write a note or highlight, it saves it in a text file which I can transfer to my computer.  I also wish that it would allow stand alone notes.  It is worth noting that you can convert PDFs to annotate on the Kindle, but the PDFs I read often have charts or figures that do not turn out well.

Books
This is the annoying one because I have to actually type up all of my quotes by hand.  I type them straight into TextEdit, which is the basic text editor on Macs.  If I'm out and about and don't want to take my computer, I type them into PlainText or Simplenote on my iPad, both of which sync with my computer.

Obviously, one does not need a Kindle or an iPad to take notes on PDFs or digital books.  If you open a PDF on your computer, you can copy the text into a text file (although it doesn't always look nice).  Skim is a PDF reader for the make that allows you to export your annotations as text, and I'm sure there are ones for other platforms as well that I am not aware of.  To annotate digital books on your computer, there are applications like Adobe Digital Editions and Mobipocket, although I am not sure to what extent these let you export your annotations.

Once I have the text on my computer, I save it as a text file on my computer in a folder called Notes.  The purpose of this is to have all of my notes in text format to export/copy to new programs in the future, as technology changes, and I'm sure I will not be using the programs I use now all of my life.

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