By Dr. Vandy Pacetti-Donelson |
Every so often I am asked by students, especially students who are new to academic research, “How do I organize my research and writing?” This usually begins with a discussion of the research process and finally moves on to a discussion about how the student is organizing “the stuff” of research—that is the papers, notes, articles, the paper trail of research.
For many years, I lived by a binder system for my research. Copies, highlighters, post it notes, and a trusty printer were the tools of my organization. In the past year, however, with the nagging of my college age children, I have moved to a more eco-friendly method of research. My research has moved to the cloud and with this move, I have made the iPad my device of choice for managing my research tasks and paper trail.
The iPad has come into its own as the best choice as a primary device for your college or university work. With carefully selected accessories, it may serve not only as a note-taking, presentation, and study device, but also a serious writing device as well. Even better, with certain accessories, it may serve as a lighter weight alternative to the laptop for the student or academic professional on the go.
There are a number of apps available for the iPad that provide you with better organization and productivity. Here are my favorites:
Things 3 is a personal task management app that is designed to help you to keep track of activities and tasks. This app has a friendly, intuitive design with drag and drop gesturing. It has a wonderful feature in the “To do list”, called This Evening, which allows you to list tasks that you may have for the evening, bringing together your entire day in one place. Assignments, deadlines, and priorities can be cleverly color-coded with reminders set for more effective productivity.
Trello is a project board style/notecard hyper-visual productivity app that really can help you organize your projects. Add tags and due dates, create work streams and share your boards with colleagues. This is especially effective for group project work. Attach documents to cards, create to-do lists, set deadlines, and more. If you are an index card/bulletin board junkie, this app will allow you to take the bulletin board to digital.
While there are many good citation management apps on the market, the mobile version of Zotero allows you to access and edit your Zotero Library. Zotero features a bookmarklet to save items to your Zotero library through your browser. While there are no official Zotero apps for mobile devices, there are some third party solutions with the most popular app being Papership. Manage your research well by keeping track of the research you have read and cite with good citation management.
iAnnotate is the best app to read, mark up and share PDF, DOC, PPT, and image files on the iPad. This app offers you the convenience of writing on the printed page without the printed page. With the iPencil or other stylus, this app allows you to highlight or add comments and mark up, then export those highlights and comments. It also makes this information searchable. Gone are the folders and binders of printed pages. Your annotated documents may be stored in iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or Box and/or shared or sent to others.
I use two notetaking programs, One Note and Notability, but in two very different ways. One Note is used as a place to store static material that I may need to reference in the long term or for making note of theories and work that affect my research and largely, text drawn from various resources. Its familiar Microsoft interface is friendly and the notebook approach for organizing speaks to our familiarity with organizing paper notebooks. If you are new to this application; however, it does have a bit of a learning curve for a newbie.
Notability, on the other hand, with its clean and modern design with infinite scrolling in a note is intuitive for the beginners and perfect for handwritten notes. Making use of the iPencil or some other paired stylus, this app converts handwriting to text very well and has a quicker and easier erasing tool. It has typing features and supports outlines and checklists and a search tool for finding information within your notes. There is an option to record audio with a note and the notes menu is gestured from the left side of the screen giving you more writing space. With multi-document view with a split screen and the ability to import custom paper templates as some of the other options, this app is a wonderful handwriting notetaking application.
Finally, all of my writing is currently stored in two Cloud solutions for organizational purposes as well. I use One Drive to store all of my scholarly writing and Google Drive for personal writing and career documents. Over time my scholarly writing has taken various twists and turns and using the familiar Microsoft interface and folder system of OneDrive has made organizing my documents a snap. When I am on the go and want to work on a document, I am able to do so with the Office 365 platform.
Since I am using Gmail as a personal email account and need a place to save personal documents, Google Drive serves as the home of my personal and career filing cabinet. Bills, tax information, one of my children’s high school assignments, vacation lists, my transcripts, curriculum vitae, etc. all can be found here. I feel more organized keeping these items separate from my scholarly writing.
With the iPad, these apps and digital textbooks and materials, the loaded backpack of the past is gone. My iPad is tucked away in my shoulder bag and ready to come out at any time for my scholarly writing projects.
Dr. Vandy Pacetti-Donelson is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Library/Archivist at the United States Sports Academy in Daphne, Ala.