What are your killer apps for scholarship?

I’m a shameless technophile, one of those children of the internet age who started using the web on Lynx, with a deep and passionate aversion to paper. Naturally, over the years, I’ve developed a warmhearted affection for a few pieces of software that really help my work move along. Here, I’d like to share two of them (obviously, I’m not getting any kind of payment or other consideration for this), and encourage you to share your own.

Probably my favorite application is Scrivener. A Mac app (though an afterthought Windows version exists), it allows the user to impose organization on the sorts of sprawling documents that we law people sometimes produce. Essentially what it does is allow you to break up a document into discrete chunks, structure them in a hierarchical (e.g. outline) form, and then move them around logically based on that hierarchy. Vonnegut once divided the world of writers into “swoopers” and “bashers,” where the former just starts writing and then fixes the mess in the mix, while the latter carefully crafts every single sentence just right before moving to the next. I am an extreme swooper; much of the time, when I’m writing an article, the whole argument changes before the end of the second draft. But this tends to introduce massive disorganization: all of a sudden, a point that used to be the conclusion becomes merely a premise, several core points of the previous argument have become digressions, and vice versa. That’s when I dump my Word doc into Scrivener and reassemble it.

My second favorite application is iAnnotate. This is an iPad app, though, again, there’s an afterthought Android version. (Ok, so I’m firmly in the clutches of the Apple ecosystem. There are worse fates in the world.) It’s a pdf annotator, and it’s basically just built right. I almost never print off an article anymore: instead, whether I’m reading someone else’s work or revising my own, I just dump it into iAnnotate as a pdf, which lets me draw, highlight, enter text notes, you name it, then re-save it in a form readable by any pdf reader. It can also import word docs and convert them on the fly. Thanks to this app, I don’t even own a printer anymore at home. And good riddance.

Your turn: what software streamlines your scholarship? And can anyone recommend a really good reference manager for me, preferably one that makes it easy to work with RAs? Right now, I just use Evernote, which is a great external-brain-kinda application, but doesn’t have the capacity to, e.g., take citations and stick them directly into Word documents like the dedicated reference managers do.

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14 Responses

  1. Patrick Luff says:

    I’ll second iAnnotate (syncing with another must-have service, Dropbox).

  2. I’m feeling rather old and cranky after this post: I love paper (I take notes on canary colored, college-rule pads), real books, etc. and while I have a computer (how could I not, as my father spent most of his adult life working for IBM and once I started teaching in my mid-forties, it became a necessity), I don’t own or use any other high-tech gadget whatsoever (including a cell phone…does a color TV count?…we still don’t know how to use most of the buttons on the remote control). I like, nevertheless, learning a bit how the young technophile folks live and work these days.

  3. I’ve started using EndNote, and the shared folders in the web version have worked well for me working with my RAs (though you can’t share attachments, which is irritating).

    I also use Toodledo, which is a to-do list (and has mac and android front-ends). It’s great for deadlines, but you can also create subtasks, so every paper has a series of tasks associated with it. This is really helpful for my bigger projects and empirical type work, where I need to stage data gathering and manage a lot of moving pieces.

  4. David Zaring says:

    Dropbox for sure. Westlaw Next is honestly pretty good for cites, if that is what you’re looking for from Evernote. And I like the dictation services (my phone, SpeakWrite) for notes. Feedly for the blogs.

  5. P.S. in the old days, I used Grandview – all the way through law school, even. It was a dos program for outlining, and I have never found one that compares. Ever. We’ll see if Scrivner does the trick.

  6. Miriam Cherry says:

    Experimenting with Mendeley for cites…

  7. jason says:

    OmniOutliner, for macs only, but is a great outlining tool. Started with it in law school, and it became by main program for notes, drafts, and collecting and organizing statutes and case law research.

  8. I have used Dropbox and Evernote.. But I would prefer Dropbox.. Very user-friendly. And yes, for project management I would suggest “Trello”..it’s a simple drag-and-drop management software.

  9. Bruce Boyden says:

    Paul, you dump a document into Scrivener — and then what? How do you chop it up, into paragraphs, sentences? I’m trying to figure out the best way to use the notecards, so far I use them like research 3×5 cards but it’s hard to get stuff written on the visible part in the corkboard view.

  10. Paul Gowder says:

    Oh, yeah, the corkboard view is pretty useless. I usually work in the “scrivenings” view, which just presents the document in chunks.

    My usual workflow is:
    1. import doc file.
    2. go through doc file in “scrivenings” view, splitting up into subdocuments at logical breaks in the original prose. (easiest way: place the cursor into the document at said logical break, hit command+k)
    3. rename all the subdocuments in the “binder” pane to indicate what they are
    4. shuffle them around into a sensible order, also in the “binder” pane
    5. impose outline structure on it, again, in the “binder” pane by creating new documents with hierarchical outline levels, and putting subdocuments at their appropriate point within them.

    the point being that then I can easily see which parts of the argument are missing, which are in the wrong place, etc.

  11. Bruce Boyden says:

    Thanks Paul, I’ll give that a try. Still looking for an electronic replacement for 3×5 notecards…

  12. Scrivner’s lack of footnote formatting and cross-referencing made it a non-starter for me, unfortunately.

  13. Tanya Marsh says:

    Zotero has been great for gathering and organizing sources. It can even export footnotes in pretty good Bluebook form. Plus, it’s free.

  14. Emily Brent says:

    Bruce,
    Take a look at “Ideamason”, which has a good notecard-like system and stores the citation. It also has an outliner to help sort the bits into a useful structure.