27 August 2013

How to Arrange Digital Research

When you research a topic online, you will likely find and download many sources. Many of these will be rubbish.* I have a system for reminding me which sources I have determined are useless, and which I will reference in my writing, and/or read again. This post offers my solution, which is a little more complex than it needs to be--but I like it.

1. Step-by-Step

  1. Create a new folder for every research topic. Name it an abbreviation of the research topic, eg PIL for Public International Law.
  2. Fill the folder with every relevant source you find.
  3. Rename every source so they begin with an open- and closed-square bracket, with no space between. Like this: [].
  4. Skim the introductions and conclusions of your sources before reading them fully. Often this will show which are irrelevant or poor scholarship.
  5. Texts you decide to keep, rename with a tick between the square brackets. Like this [√]. The astute reader may notice this is a square root symbol and not a tick. It is close enough. To type the tick/square root on a mac, press opt+v. On windows, you will need to go through your menus: ->'insert' ->'symbol'; it is therefore easier just to use a forward slash '/' on windows.
  6. If you decide a source is rubbish, rename the file with an 'x' between the brackets: [x].

1.1 To add more detail:

  1. You can use other symbols to denote material that is useful but not the most important; this orders chosen sources below the 'accepted pile' in a 'maybe' pile. I use the '~' symbol for this.
  2. If the research is long enough (eg a dissertation with myriad case law), a numerical system could work, too: [1], [2], [3], [n].
  3. Other letters may be handy for neat list-arrangement: eg [c] for cases, [s] for statutes, etc.

1.2 Example:

As every file begins with '[…] Source Title', a 'list view' will order your sources alphabetically and according to your preferences. For example:
    [√] Apple
    [√] Pear
    [√] Strawberry
    [√] Watermelon
    [~] Butternut Squash
    [~] Tomato
    [x] Beef
    [x] Butter
    [x] Chicken

*I am grateful to Andrea Nicholson, my LLM dissertation supervisor for pointing this out to me, and letting me know that such judgments are normal. My dissertation research became much more efficient after I heard the advice. Her suggested method to me was simpler than the one in this post: just make a folder titled 'irrelevant' (or something else similarly pertinent), then move every irrelevant source into it.

Created: 26 August 2013. Version 1.0.

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