— How do you organize your research and writing?

Tell us more about your own research and writing process. What tools or approaches have you found to be successful for organizing your historical thinking and writing? Use the commenting feature to share ideas and experiences with others.

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“How do you organize your research and writing?” Writing History: How Historians Research, Write, and Publish in the Digital Age, October 6, 2010, http://writinghistory.wp.trincoll.edu/2010/10/06/organize/.

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4 Replies to “— How do you organize your research and writing?”

  1. I’m really into digital documents from archives instead of photocopies. I’ve found the OCR function in Adobe Acrobat invaluable to quickly scanning documents for useful information– including via Spotlight (the global search for Macintosh computers).

    I use a flatbed scanner because archives prohibit feed scanners, and because I find the jpeg images that come from cameras (which are much faster) too large and unwieldy. I scan as black and white tifs because the compression is best for tifs instead of jpegs in Acrobat. I use canoscan lide scanners mainly because they are very light and portable for transporting to archives or even taking to oral history interviews.

    Once I have an OCR’d document in Acrobat, I can highlight text as I would on a photocopied page. I can also embed metadata about where the document came from (collection, archive, box, folder, etc).

    The work in advance is a bit of a hassle in a way, but it really pays off at the writing stage, when you can move between many documents quickly and easily in a digital workspace.

  2. I use NOTA BENE. It has a search program called Orbis which can search thousands of documents, notes, etc. as well as entries in database called Ibidem. It can work with another program called Archiva which will automatically access and search the online catalogues of most major research libraries in the world; if given a topic it will gather all the titles in the catalogue(s) and then enter them into Ibidem in proper format automatically. If you need one of the entries for a footnote or bibliography, IBDM supplies the proper citation in whatever mode you may be using (Turabian, MLS etc.). I have only used a small part of what the program can do; I also have several modules that allow one to switch in mid-sentence to Greek, Hebrew and several other languages, properly formatted, etc. You can also set up an entire book by chapters, and NB will number the pages for you and index the whole manuscript if a press asks you to do that. No, I don’t work for NB, and it may not be for everyone, but I have found it very useful. The NB people are close to finishing a 64-bit version that will work with WINDOWS 7 in a 64-bit environment. Using software in writing has changed completely how I write; I am able to do what Ansley Erickson described quite well: to write, then think, write some more, see where it is going, pull up note cards, do searches to organize a set of notes under a topic about which you must comment but are not sure you can back up your statements until you see all of the evidence.
    That is about all I know; I hope everyone taking part in this discussion has great success with whatever software and organizational schemes they have devised.
    James McSwain
    Tuskegee University

  3. Last year I took a course on NVivo software for coding qualitative data. I am engaged in oral history and many of my interviews take place online. I am thinking of using NVivo in my coming work to code my data and reorganise it thematically, rather than having to physically reorder sections of transcripts and testimonies.

    I am undecided on this as I feel that it could lead me to sacrifice some of deeper insights, interpretations and understanding induced from being more involved in sorting and interpreting the sources.

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