Research, Technology

Thinking about Digital Workflow

I came across an interesting blog post last night by Michael Hattem, a History PhD student at Yale, addressing his digital workflow that he uses in his research and writing. Hattem explains that Papers2 and Scrivener are his go-to tools, and he provides a nice, clear explanation of his use of both tools. He also includes some really clear screenshots of the programs that give a sense of how he sets them up and what one can include in each of the programs’ different parts.

I’ve also read another compelling review of Papers2 by Josh Braun that outlines many of its redeeming qualities, but without focusing particularly on its application to historical research.

As I’m deep into research and writing this summer, I’m thinking about my own process of working with sources, taking notes, and using those materials to then put together my argument. I’ve spent the past two days working at the Haverford College Special Collections and taking notes on both manuscript and print sources for my dissertation. With this period of extended research time (vs. teaching during the school year), I’ve started refining many of my note-taking techniques and hone the organization of my notes so that I can draw on them effectively when it comes time to write.

At this point, I’m deeply invested in Zotero, which I really like, and have used for a number of years. Given this longevity, I’ve built up a very extensive library in Zotero and have grown accustomed to how well it pulls metadata from websites and how nicely it integrates into Microsoft Word.

However, I was pretty compelled by Hattem’s explanation of how Papers2 dealt so well with PDFs and allowed one to annotate them and then search those notes. That’s one aspect of Zotero that I’d love to see, but at present doesn’t have. In fact, the aspect of my Zotero library and my larger workflow that feels most discombobulated is my annotations for PDF files. So, given this functionality, I downloaded Papers2 and started playing around with it this afternoon.

In terms of the PDF annotation, the program definitely fits the bill. It manages the files very nicely and allows me to annotate them easily and then search through both the text of the PDFs and my notes. Zotero lets me search my notes very easily, but doesn’t dig into the text of the PDF itself. I also like how Papers2 allows me to easily insert citations into any program and doesn’t require a plug-in to Microsoft Word. (However, via a helpful contact on Twitter, I’m aware that Zotero does offer integration across apps that extends beyond just Word).

There are some things about Papers2 that I’m still confused by or haven’t yet figured out. Some of these deal with grabbing citations easily with correct metadata (as Zotero does), formatting citations correctly (as Zotero does), and easily create and organize research folders (as Zotero does). Notice a theme?

I think I’ll continue to play around with it, and I really like the idea of having a centralized program for reading and annotating PDFs that will allow me to effectively scour my secondary source reading, in particular. However, I’m not sure exactly where it will fit in my current workflow given the amount of time I’ve invested in Zotero and many of the systems I’ve developed for my own effective use of the program.

Does anyone out there use these two programs in conjunction with one another? What does your workflow look like with these programs? Are there ways to pull PDFs and their metadata from Zotero in bulk to Papers2? I’d love to get some insight on any or all of the above questions.

Here’s an example of how I’m experimenting with the citation tools connected to Papers2 and using it easily insert a formatted bibliography entry.1

  1. Ekrich, Arthur A, Jr. “Thomas Eddy and the Beginnings of Prison Reform in New York.” New York History 24, no. 3 (July 1, 1943): 1–17.

3 thoughts on “Thinking about Digital Workflow

  1. Pingback: My Quirky Workflow | Zachary M. Schrag

  2. Bastian says:

    I use zotero Scrivener and Papers as well. Great stuff. Love Them. Thinking of a new Workflow as well. Not ready, but i will find One.

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