To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you,
and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations —
such is a pleasure beyond compare.
The third DEVONthink posting is about literature management with DEVONthink. While DEVONthink doesn’t offer you a client with which to browse scientific databases, it offers some extremely nice functions to deal with your literature, to find literature and read it.
Having an overview of the field by regularly visiting journal websites
Personally, I have some journals I check regularly for interesting articles. I keep a folder with rich text files containing all journal names, one in each file, complete with the URL to the website and the login information if necessary. It also contains a line describing when I had last check the journal and how far back I have read it (e.g., 1/2000). Each journal is tagged with its priority (medium, high, very high). Smart groups show me the journals of a given priority.
Checking out the journal websites is like reading blogs — you scan the titles of the articles and when you come across an interesting title, you open it in another tab and continue browsing until the end of that issue. Then you check the ones you have opened and save them if they are truly interesting.
While many journal websites offer RSS feeds (and DEVONthink can deal with them), I do this manually when I have time.
Non-Journal Input: WebClippings
Not all literature comes in academic articles (which are mostly PDFs). Sometimes you stumble upon a news report on a webpage. DEVONthink offers a quick way to save it via bookmarklet clippings. You can download them on the DEVONthink page and install them in Firefox or Safari as bookmarks and when you click on the bookmark the current page is save as PDF (it happens in the background — very convenient, but check it, sometimes there are mistakes in the PDF). You can also save a selection of text in your database inbox. Given that the URL is saved as well, this is very convenient to quickly add something to your database that might come in handy later.
I store WebClippings in a different folder (group) than the journal articles. But I tag them accordingly. A smart group shows me the journal articles of a given topic (e.g., mobile devices), another the web clippings about this topic. I use the same strategy for images and for videos.
There are three golden rules in storing literature:
First, decide on a clearly defined way to name the files and stick to it. It will happen that you read the same article twice and not notice it until you find a marked copy somewhere else. Clearly naming each file allows you to find duplicates more easily. Personally, I use the authorNames_year style, e.g., an article by Field and Hole 2003 would be saved as field_hole_2003. If it’s more than 6 authors, it’s the first author name only (and year). If an author published multiple papers in the same year, I assign an a, b, c, … to the author name. While this is not necessary for DEVONthink because it can deal with files with the same name, you need some way to differentiate the articles, especially when you use an additional text file to jot down your thoughts about the article. While it’s best to immediately save the article in that format, however, in DEVONthink you can rename the files easily and when I’m “in the flow” and downloading hundreds of articles (going through the back issues of “Behavior Research Methods”, I love that journal), I wait with renaming until later.
The second rule is that you need to have the source. It doesn’t mean that you have to enter it immediately in the correct citation format (e.g., APA), but you need to know where an article came from. Otherwise you cannot use it later and it will make you insane trying to reconstruct where you got a certain article. Luckily, many journals have the information on the first page of each article (e.g., journal name, year, issue, etc.). But make sure that you have this information. Personally, I do not write the correct citation format anywhere until I need it — i store too much literature and use to little for it to make sense. But I always make sure that I could write the correct citation when I need it.
The third rule is that you need a way to find the interesting literature again. This becomes an issue when you go past the 100 articles area (usually very quickly). Personally, I use tags, especially tags for specific projects I am working on and tags that denote what I have already done with the article (see below).
I’m going to write a dedicated post on the art of reading an article some time soon, so here only a few pointers.
- Make sure why you want to read the article. What questions do you have? What do you want to know? Otherwise you are likely to end up highlighting anything and everything.
- DEVONthink allows you to read PDFs in a nice fashion on the Mac in a fullscreen mode and use highlighting (mark the text, then press cmd + shift + L). Personally, I use the dashboard widget to make notes while reading and it lays over the fullscreen mode.
- Alternatively, I read it with a rich text file besides it to quickly write down interesting bits.
- Once you have read the article, jot down the important bits in a text file named the same way as the article. This way you can more easily remember what was important about it.
Tag the articles
It’s useful to tag articles (or files in general, whether it’s an image, web clipping, video, or audio file) — see above. Tagging is mentioned after reading the article, because you cannot accurately tag an article if you haven’t read it. It is very helpful to create a tag list so that you remember which tags you want to give.
Tags for projects (e.g., diss_empirical_part, article_ct_1) are also helpful. With smart groups you can easily see which articles are relevant for a paper you want to write.
I also give tags like “read” and “processed”, indicating that I have read an article and that I have assigned keywords to it.
Given that DEVONthink doesn’t handle tags very efficiently (it displays it only as a long list) I have created a rich text file with the tags I want to use. Displaying it next to the DEVONthink window allows me to quickly remember the necessary tags.
If you use a text/rich text file to store your notes about the article then select both files, the text file and the PDF and then assign the tags for both at the same time. This only works when both files have the same tags, although there is a script for it if they deviate.
To be continued …
These were only some pointers about Literature Management — I wanted to write down some things now instead of in a few weeks (given that work will get stressful (or rather: more stressful) again soon).