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Advice on research software

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Posted by ML
Aug 17, 2013 at 04:38 PM


I may be able to help. I have founded a local history society for the small town and which is on-line only. Soon after I launched the website, with a view to it becoming an encyclopaedia, I was invited by a national publisher of local history books to write a book about the town. As you can imagine, there is a huge amount of information and while I had much content there were and still are numerous gaps in my own knowledge let alone research.

The style of the book is 90 old photos (sepia) with 90 photos (in colour) of the same scene today or thereabouts, with captions for each photo. The word ‘caption’ is a tad misleading, it is actually a short paragraph, about 6 lines of text.  I wanted each caption to be informative and waffle-free, unlike some books in the same series where it is apparent the authors couldn’t think what to say about!

To collate the information for the captions, I had in mind to use Scrivener but after a while found it was a non-starter. The problem is key-wording and searching. For example, the word ‘church’ occurred dozens of times so a search would result in dozens of different entries. Using the outliner feature didn’t help: I could enter a parent topic Church A but would then have to drag and drop each child sub-section to A manually. Sorting is possible but again not ideal. As for random entries, I’d need to know which parent topic would apply first.

The last person to do a book on similar lines took a year to finish it, i had 3 months. Having whittled down the choice of old photos from the 300 or so I had gathered, it was then a question of in what order. I decided upon compass directions and starting outwards into the town centre and in each direction for the roads and streets in order so that the reader would have a pictorial experience with captions that would follow on naturally.

It would have helped had I read the publisher’s required layout for the book (book plan) before I finished so I didn’t have to start all over’ with just 24 hours to spare. However, thanks to the workflow I’d creating, the necessary changes were easy.

For the photos, I used Lightroom 4. I created 3 smart folders, search criteria on keyword. Folder1 contained the photos for the front and back covers and the introduction. Folder 2 the old photos and Folder 3 the new photos. As well as the keywords for each photos, I entered each photos number ( my choice of number, not software generated) in a spare field and prefixed with 0 for sorting, eg 001, 090, etc Having selected all the photos I made a copy of each and renamed them, suffix O for old and N for new. For example, High Street-4-07N, High Street-4-07O. (It was only after checking the book plan to make sure I’d compiled everything as required that I discovered the publishers wanted me to use suffix A and B!)

For the captions, I considered using Lightroom but it is not a word-processor and I should’ve need to know what I wanted to include as I went. What I needed was a sophisticated note-taker so I used Filemaker Pro’ database. I designed a layout with fields for all the info that I needed with sorting as well. I tried to have only one record for each topic but quickly gave up,because that meant searching each time I wanted to add new text. Having completed my research and added text to a caption field and with each record already containing the Lightroom image number, I sorted the database to whatever field order I wanted for a particular photo, cut and paste text from a notes field from records whose information was otherwise identical so that I ended up with one record for each pair of photos; that record containing all the info I need to write a caption for that pair of photos.

Having completed the captions in any order,depending upon my mood and the availability of info, I sorted the records to the sequential image number. The publishers wanted the caption in a word doc file so I copied the photo ref and caption onto a word processor, saved the file as .doc and that was that.