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System for taking and organising reading notes

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Posted by MontrealFan
Dec 5, 2011 at 08:25 PM


Dr, Andrus ?
Thank you for posting this question, as it is one that I have been wrestling with and can?t seem to find a great solution for.  Right now Zotero seems to be the best option for me for collecting references, and I am trying out a new system of taking notes based on this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education (which I think I found because of this forum, so thanks to the original poster!): http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/taking-better-notes-in-zotero/36561

For collecting, I have uploaded my pdfs into Zotero and imported their citation information.  If I run across a new pdf as I am browsing, I save it and its citation information.  If it is a web page, I capture the web page.  For hard copy references, I look up the citation and collect the citation entry, maybe with a note about where the hard copy is located.  Zotero might let you attach other kinds of files to the entry, just like it attaches PDFs.  It would be interesting to know if you could attach an iphone camera shot or output from a pen scanner, and open them with the Firefox browser window.

I have not been very systematic about adding tags or filing references as I collect them, although that would be a great habit.  I at least try to keep the project folder active in Zotero when I am researching a particular project, which automatically files the new entry in that folder.

For note taking, based on the above article, I have begun to take notes as stand-alone Zotero notes.  Each note begins with a keyword indicating the project that I am taking notes for, as well as a short summary of the main idea.  This first line is visible in Zotero as the title for the note. I give the title a distinctive format, to identify it as a header if I later export it into Word 2010 (more later).

After the title and the text of the note, I include basic citation info (first author & year), with a code to indicate whether the note content is a paraphrase or direct quote of the source, or my own idea in reaction to the text. If it is a direct quote, I use cut and paste from the browser window, I put quotation marks around the quote, and I include the page number. I then link the article to the original source (as described in the article above). 

I also tag the note with any relevant project names, and I file it in my folder structure.  Zotero?s folders allow you to file items into multiple folders, so I have some folders that represent projects and others that represent actions (e.g., References to get).  Both tags and folders allow me to link the note to more than one project (versus the note title, which I try to keep cleaner and more focused on my immediate writing project). I don?t like the redundancy that I have built in between tags and folders, but I haven?t yet figured out a good way to use them efficiently.

For organizing and writing: From what I read on the Zotero forum, you can filter and export Zotero notes to a word processor and preserve formatting.  If so, my goal is to export whatever notes are relevant to my writing project into Word 2010 for organizing and writing.  I love the navigation pane in Word 2010 for outlining: headers show up as items that can be moved around, which also moves their associated text; different header styles allow you to create a hierarchical outline. I am hoping that I can use the title of the note as a header in Word 2010, which will make the note a section that can be viewed and moved around in Word?s navigation pane.  Sort of like an index card that can be moved around in an outline structure. I am also hoping Zotero will include the citation information from the linked source, but I haven?t tried this yet. 

I haven?t gotten far enough along to test this workflow out on an actual writing project.  Already I find the note-taking a bit heavy, because there are a lot of steps I have to remember (write note, define header, include citation info, include tags, file into folder structure, link note to original source). But I have tried Citavi, Qiqqa, Scrivener, Bibloscape and Mendeley.  All of them have great features, but none of them beat Zotero for collecting sources (including a huge collection of existing pdfs) and importing the citation information easily. I am hoping that this new way of taking notes will pay off for the “second phase” that Dr. Andrus was talking about.  I would love to hear more about what workflow others are using for this second phase!
-Montreal Fan