Another academic workflow visualization
“A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it.”
“Dune” by Frank Herbert
I have written a posting about my academic workflow, but I guess the visualization looked a little complicated. I have tried to do another visualization and this the current version. Note that I have replaced Mendeley with Papers, given that Papers has a few features I like (and a few I really, really hate — posting coming) and that I a bit … concerned about the recent acquisition of Mendeley by Elsevier. One good reason to remain flexible regarding one’s workflow, keep the information mobile (i.e., you can export it and import it somewhere else) and keep one’s eyes open.
But anyway, here is the workflow visualization:
Short Description of the Workflow
There is a lot of research going on, in my discipline and in its sub-disciplines. I use RSS Feeds to monitor interesting journals and blogs. I also use Firefox to search for literature. Occasionally, I get interesting articles via Mail. I am selective here and save only material about topics I am interested in (which still leads to a lot of material).
All articles end up as OCR’d PDF in a DEVONthink database (called “Sources“) and every file is named in a default scheme (authorname_(authorname_…)year). That’s the bare minimum I do with the articles I get — I can do this quick and easy. DEVONthink informs me if I already have the file.
From these articles I select a few I want/need to read. I transfer the files to GoodReader on my iPad (via iTunes), read, highlight and annotate the file.
I use the “E-Mail File + Summary” function of GoodReader to export the highlighted text and annotations via Mail. On the Mac I use TextWrangler to format the notes a little.
The annotated PDF’s end up in a separate DEVONthink database (“Read Sources“), just to have them available for the future.
The notes end up in Circus Ponies Notebooks — the whole information is stored in a Read [X].nb (“Read A.nb”, “Read B.nb”, … depending on the first letter of the first author’s name) for safekeeping. More important are the Topic Notebooks where the information ends up for further use. Circus Ponies Notebook pages are outliners and each cell is tagged with the source information, making it easy to play with the information (use them as LEGO(R) bricks) yet always know where the information comes from.
I also use Papers for literature I have actually have read. This gives me a separate storage (in case anything happens with DEVONthink), allows me to sync all read articles with my iPhone and iPad (you never know when in a discussion with a colleague you want to show them something in an article), and to be able to easily cite the literature (Papers has a few nice features, more on this in another posting).
The actual writing is with Scrivener (brilliant writing program, although the typewriter scrolling sucks if you do not disable it in both views!), which works well in combination with Circus Ponies Notebook (both have their individual strengths and complement each other).
As usual, organizing creativity is an individual process. This is how I work (at the moment) and it will certainly be subject to revision. It’s easy to replace part of the workflow with other components or ways, e.g., storing the literature in folders instead of DEVONthink, using Sente instead of Papers, etc. What I really like about this workflow is that it really flows. I can look around, grab literature like a squirrel (well, a digital squirrel), and then filter what I read and have (later) only the literature I actually have read in my literature manager. And of course, reading on an iPad is a blast, not only because you can make notes easily if you do it right.