Thursday, 16 September 2010

organising journal articles

Being organised is my main coping mechanism for pretty much anything related to work: labeled folders (physical and digital), class lists, marks spreadsheets, project timelines, budget documents, agendas for meetings, to-do lists, checklists, synchronising all my files across all my computers/laptop/ipad via dropbox, and knowing exactly where every powerpoint/lecture/seminar/conference paper I have ever prepared for is located. Sometimes I wonder whether or not being excessively organised (at work only, I might add) is actually a form of procrastination. Okay, I don't wonder, I know. Let's not speak of this again.

I don't know whether other people are as fussy me, but it works. Just don't mess with my spreadsheets. In this post I will rave on about one of my favourite things to catalogue and organise: journal articles.

It occurred to me that over the past few years I have developed a fairly effective way of staying up-to-date with current journal articles and subsequently for keeping track of those journal articles. It initially involves google reader and a Mac program called Papers, but really any kind of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed reader will do the trick coupled with whatever method you have for organising your PDFs. Just don't tell me it's 'chucking them in a big folder on my desktop called STUFF TO READ'. I did that for about a month. Didn't work out so well.

Okay, so basically: subscribe to journals that you like. Most journals will have an RSS option somewhere, often illustrated by a little orange square. Click that. If it gives you a big page of code, that's good. Copy the URL into your feed reader (I find google reader to be the most effective) and then every time that journal publishes a new issue, all the abstracts will be sent to your feed! I'm subscribed to about thirty journals, but I find new ones all the time. Not all the articles that come through will be relavent for you obviously, but this method allows you to skim through the content without missing anything. I also plug all my news feeds, blog rolls, lolcats, nerd news and tumblrs of interest into my google reader so I have around 200 - 300 items appear in my feed each day. I read it like I would a paper or a magazine, but the content is entirely up to me.

Another way to keep track of current research is to set up an email alert in google scholar, so that when new items appear that match your search terms (you can set multiple search terms) you'll be emailed. This can get overwhelming at times so you may want to direct the email alerts to an alternate email address, perhaps one you have established for this kind of thing.

The second step is to organise the PDFs you have downloaded. I use the aforementioned program called Papers. It does cost around $30 or so from memory, but students can get a discount. It lets you organise your PDFs with full bibliographic details (which you can also match and import via a quick built-in google scholar search), assign tags, take notes and assign a star rating out of five - just like iTunes! I've heard there are free options out there, but the developers behind Papers release fairly regular updates AND this program synchronises with an iPhone/iPad app also called Papers. So when I open the program on my computer and the app on my iPad, the two programs have a little chat with each other and synchronise! The future is here people.

TL;DR - So, long story short, I have this database of 200+ journal articles (85% of which I'd say will appear in my thesis) that is fully searchable. I can organise by topic, my own personal rating, author, journal, publication date, etc. I also feel like I have a decent handle on what is current, because I get all my favourite journals delivered to my flippant fingertips every time they publish something new. All I need to do now is go put all this organisation to good use and finish my thesis.

Eh, maybe tomorrow. Today I feel the need to do a mind map for something. We will talk about MindNode some other time.

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