I want to make this post because I’m feeling overwhelmed with choice. There are way too many services for me to try and keep up with — to the point where I need a service to keep up with the services I’m using! I’m on an eternal hunt to find the best, and it’s costing me more time (and occasionally money) than if I were to just stick with one. So here is my drawn-out methodology for how I use and collect notes, data, and articles, and how I use and interpret social media. I hope this helps other students but to be honest I’m writing it out of selfishness so I can clear my head! Inspired by the recent book The Information Diet by Clay Johnson, I thought I would attempt to itemize my communications and research because I’ve found myself trying too hard to stay on top of things. I’m not sure the book is worth paying ten dollars for, as Amazon reviews seem mixed, but nonetheless an information diet is a sound idea.
To do research:
- Library online catalog/PDF full text journals from home (through a proxy which they allow).
- Bing/Google to find good primary and secondary sources that are old and out-of-print or just not in print but online instead, social media (I’ll come back to that), print books, magazines (of course, but not often).
You’ll notice I don’t mention Wikipedia. That’s because I refuse to look at it while researching so I don’t get suckered into using it. I will sometimes use it as another fact check, to glean the meaning of something quickly, or to see if there are other sources available.
To read research: Interesting news articles and analysis (and other nonfiction longform pieces that are not journalistic in nature–web-based HTML) go to ReadItLater. Articles that I want to save for citations go into Evernote via Evernote Clearly or ReadItLater’s “Send to Evernote” function. PDF journals go into a folder on my Dropbox account. I read them with FoxIt Reader (for PC) and GoodReader (for iPhone/iPod) so I can make annotations.
To write about research: Make an outline either in Word or on paper first (or do an ink note diagram with OneNote or Evernote). Word is used for writing papers and doing citations. I don’t use automatic citations because they’re never quite right. I always have the OWL Purdue site handy so I can see how to format them correctly. On larger papers I may look into something like Zotero or NoodleTools to keep my citations aligned with my quotations, but I have yet to need them and will pretty much always do manual footnotes and bibliography regardless.
To save assignments: Dropbox. Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox. You can set it up so you have a local copy of all the files on Dropbox as well as a server copy so you will almost always have at least one way to access your data. You can do this, and have it automatically sync new documents to their servers, if you install their Windows program.
To take notes in class: I use pencil and paper, starring key terms, and putting dates or other small tidbits in the left margin (I’m a history major). I later type them using Evernote and clean them up so they’re easier to search later. Complex stuff merits an ink note (although I haven’t had to use any yet). I can export Evernote notes as PDF files using CutePDF Writer instead of printing them, if anyone else asks for them and doesn’t have Evernote. I also record the lecture audio with my iPod and sometimes listen to it while I’m retyping notes to be sure I don’t miss anything. I’ll occasionally listen to it while studying for an exam. Obviously, this works better in some classes than others. If the professsor uses PowerPoint slides or handouts then I may not need to record it (but I still take handwritten notes). If the professor is relatively freeform then I do both. This works better in lecture-style classes. Classes centered on discussion or hands-on participation are more difficult to capture (although capturing a good debate can be a fantastic resource).
To stay on schedule:
- Wunderlist for quick to-dos that I can get done in a week or so (read this chapter, do these questions, talk to the professor). Also for paper due dates and my bucket list.
- Outlook Exchange calendar for repeated or long tasks (exams, special events, and the class schedule if I can’t remember it and until I get used to it).
To use social networking: Here’s the biggie.
- Facebook is for friends and Words with Friends.
- E-mail is for close friends, support, online orders and slower form newsletters than RSS. Mailing lists are for staying in touch with projects I follow (like ReactOS) more closely and with less noise than the forum’s RSS feed and less interaction than IRC. Newsletters and DailyLit are for when I want it to be more personal and/or the RSS feed is lacking.
- Texting is for quick emergency messages.
- Forums are for relatively moderated slow discussion publicly.
- IRC is for relatively unmoderated live discussion privately (and tends to be more technical).
- Instant messaging clients are last resorts.
- Skype is for emergency calls to others without landline or cell service; also useful for class discussions and study groups although I haven’t had to do that yet.
- Reddit is for fun, intelligent discussion of niche topics mixed with stress relief.
- Metafilter is for a more serious specific set of questions and with much less noise than Twitter or Reddit. It’s not divided by topic, but instead organized by user-specified tags. You never know what you’ll get, but you know it’ll almost always be quality content.
- Twitter is for emergency messages, following the scene, and keeping up with stubborn people who don’t have an RSS feed for their site. Twitter is too much noise! Let me repeat that if you didn’t hear me. TWITTER IS TOO MUCH NOISE. Hashtags and business-ats make it look busy and when something moves as quickly as it does, almost impossible to read.
- Flipboard is for Facebook and RSS on the go.
- Zite is for interesting curated content not necessarily from another curated site. Many articles from Zite make it into my ReadItLater queue.
- WordPress and blogging is for expanding on the things I read, and sharing them in a personable manner, but with more control than a forum.
- StumbleUpon is for finding stuff that Zite, Metafilter, Flipboard, Reddit, or RSS misses and that you may not think to search for (e.g. “Reading” is one of my categories in Zite, but SU can bring a twist on that by giving me a website about, say, pictures of cats holding books, or a reading comprehension test, or a blend of bookcovers made into a collage, which is not something I would necessarily search for but something I would enjoy. It’s something that’s not noteworthy enough to appear in the news or as a front page post on Metafilter or Reddit (although both have a long history with cats), but something that is relevant.
- Tumblr is indescribably fantastic.
- Flickr is for Creative-Commons licensed images I can use for presentations or nontraditional assignments.
- Downcast is for catching podcasts.
- Usernames and passwords are scattered in text files here and there, or in Evernote, or memorized.
Phew. See what he means? There are way too many choices. You really have to make sure you use all of what you signed up for. If not: get rid of it. Maybe I should practice what I preach, though.
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