Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Managing research data: hastily scribbled ideas, scraps of paper and sticky notes

What do I do with the small scraps of paper, hastily scribbled ideas and the sticky notes plastered everywhere? This article suggests scanning them with long file names: What do I do with the small scraps of paper, hastily scribbled ideas and the sticky notes plastered everywhere! | Genealogy Circle, and quotes another article, which you can find here.
Most of the time, unless there is a very good reason, I will scan my original notes and capture them as a pdf or jpg. That way I can save time by not retyping them and I don’t have to worry about introducing further errors.
That's all very well, but how do you find them again?

I can think of at least two ways to deal with it that may be better.

One is to use a program like Evernote,which can store (and automatically back up) all that stuff in a single file, or series of linked files (called "notebooks"). This saves having to fiddle your way through lots of long file names.
Something similar to Evernote is Microsoft OneNote, which comes with Microsoft Office. Unfortunately it is poorly documented, and while you can buy third-party books that tell you how to use the other components of MS Office, the ones I've seen devote only one or two uninformative pages to OneNote. Evernote can import stuff from OneNote as well. And Evernote is free, though you can get a paid version that will do a bit more.

Another way of dealing with small scraps of paper and hastily scribbled ideas is to write them out in a text database program like askSam (where you can also store a scanned copy, if you like).

This is a screenshot of the askSam for DOS version of my note storing template:

Sorry if it's a bit distorted, but the "new and improved" Blogger editor makes it extraordinarily difficult to get graphics right and readable.

The Windows version of askSam looks slightly different, but the principle is the same. I write the contents of the note in the Note[ field, and askSam will let me produce a report that will sort on any of the fields.

And having written it there, and backed it up, I throw the sticky note away.

You don't need those things cluttering up your life, with dirt and bits of hair adhering to the sticky bits. At least I don't need them. 

One can use this for any kind of sticky notes, scraps of paper, stuff written in your Moleskine notebook/diary, or on a cigarette packet or paper napkin. I use keywords like "famhist" or "genealogy" to select the genealogy ones. askSam will search, by default, in every field, though you  can also tell it to do more selective searches. But with such notes typing "Hayes genealogy", for example, will bring up all notes containing those two words.

In this post I'm talking about fairly short notes that occupy no more than one sheet or scrap of paper. Multi-page documents are a bit different, and with those I don't usually throw away the original, but I file them, and use computer programs to keep track of where I put them. If you want to know more about that, see my article on Keeping track of paper files.

But if you really can't face the prospect of retyping all those notes, there's also Evernote. See my review here.

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