Sunday, August 04, 2013

Searchin’ For Research, Part 3: Reading, Notes and Note Apps

Now that I’ve chosen a topic, the next logical step would be to start gathering resources and reading; a lot of reading.  I really enjoy reading, so this shouldn’t be that big of a deal, right? What I am very quickly discovering (or rather re-discovering) is that reading for fun or general knowledge versus reading for research are very different. Reading a novel, or even a non-fiction book for fun or to gain knowledge of a topic involves sitting down and reading; that’s it. Reading for a research project, however, is a bit more arduous as I keep having to remember to stop and take notes on what I’m reading so that I can not only remember it, but also so I can properly cite that source later. It doesn’t help that, as much as I enjoy reading, I’m very slow at it -- I’ve never developed the skill of being able to read without sub-vocalizing the text in my head. If I try to scan for content, I either skip important facts, or I end up re-reading the same line several times anyway. Having to stop to notate what I’m reading (thank the gods for post-it notes) makes the task of reading take that much longer.

Speaking of notes, I remember back in highschool that the prescribed method was to create note cards, one for each source (duly numbered, of course) and then to use more note cards to take notes or write down quotes from said sources. Now, however, we live in a digital age with computers, smartphones and lots and lots of “apps for that”. This is a very useful thing, because now, if I quote or note a source, when I begin writing the actual paper, I can copy and paste instead of having to retype it all over again. The problem arises with this method of how to organize all of these notes.

When I began this self-imposed task of writing a research paper about the history of role-playing games and the effects they have had on modern society, I starting off using OneNote to make notes and keep track of my sources. It made sense at the time because creating a text-box for each note sort of mimicked using an index card. After awhile, though, these text-box note cards began to get somewhat jumbled and not terribly organized. It is at this point I recalled my former college roommate mentioning on Facebook an application/web service he had been using called Zotero. I love this service! I wish it had existed when I was still in college. I personally prefer the standalone desktop application, but it also has a web based version. It also, very handily, has plug-ins for both MS Office and LibreOffice, et.,al., so creating footnotes within a document are a breeze.

Zotero also makes keeping sources and notes in one place very easy as well as creating the correct formatting for a footnote and bibliography. Instead of having to have a document with my sources in both a bibliography format and a footnote format for future copying and pasting, not to mention the entries in OneNote with my notes and quotes, I can keep everything in Zotero with any notes attached directly to the entry for the source. When citing a source, all I have to do is use the plug-in in LibreOffice and select the appropriate source and enter the page number (if any) and it automagically inserts the footnote for me in the correct format for the style I have selected (in my case, I have selected Turabian style, but Zotero offers 6,463 different citation styles that can be downloaded and installed including Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, APA, etc.).

I had initially set a goal of completing this project for the end of September, but with all of the sources I have found and continue to find, I am shifting that goal to the end of the calendar year to give myself plenty of time to gather my research. One this is for certain; if I were still in school and had to adhere to a hard deadline, I’d be pretty screwed since I am horribly out of practice at doing this type of in depth research project. Still, I’m enjoying the challenge.

~ JC

Related Posts:
Searchin’ For Research” (July 7, 2013)
Searchin’ For Research, Part 2: Getting Started” (July 21, 2013)
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