Thursday, May 8, 2008

Research and Note-taking Tools

A person on the BibleWorks forum asked what others were doing to take and organize notes as they did research. The person was hoping to do so within the BW7 editor. This would certainly work, but, as the person noted, it would take some forethought about directory structure in order to organize the notes efficiently. There is an effective "Find" feature in BW7 that would allow for later searching. One can also set up notes within Logos, of course, and you can work with those notes more easily by grabbing the free DomiNotez "note enhancer for Libronix."

It is great to have all your Bible-related notes in a single place, but neither of the note taking editors in BW7 or Logos (or any other Bible software program) are well suited for collecting research notes on books or articles. So what else is available? I have previously blogged about bibliographic tools (here and here), but we are interested more here in research and note-taking tools.

My two favorite tools are 1) the combination of Orbis (a free-form text-retrieval system) and Ibidem (the bibliographic database) with NotaBene and 2) Zotero.

Orbis is outstanding and is well structured in connecting notes to their origins and also quite versatile in composing free-standing notes. It basically is creating a textual database with sophisticated search functions. The drawbacks: it will cost you somewhere around $200-400, and it will take a commitment (but potentially a very worthwhile one)to learn how to use NotaBene.

Zotero continues to expand its capabilities, and it is free. Using the Vertov plugin, Zotero can even be used to annotate a wide range of media. I have also noted how to keep Zotero synced across any number of computers using FolderShare. Zotero works great for inserting end/footnotes and for generating bibliographies in MSWord and OpenOffice, and you can even download an addin that formats everything according to the SBL stylesheet. (Read about it here and my observation that it was having trouble adding page numbers. If you install the Zotero Development XPI, it works just fine. This is a one-click installation, so it is easy to do, but note that there are some language restrictions.) The drawbacks: you need to be using Firefox, and there is a little extra work to keep it synced across multiple computers.

So, Zotero is great as a bibliographic tool, but what about its use as a research and note taking tool? Take a look at the graphic below. (Click to expand.)



Books can easily be added through a site like Amazon with all their bibliographic information included. Web articles or pages are easy to add, and one can also add standalone notes. Once the items have been added to your library, you then have multiple ways of organizing and annotating them. You can create Collections to organize the items, and items can be dragged/dropped into multiple collections or subcollections. You can add a note to it or attach any other resource, either online or one located on your computer. You can also add tags which will prove to be useful later in searching. You can also link the item to related items in your library. When it comes to finding / retrieving the info you want, note that you can click on one of your collections and see just those items. You can search using the tags you have applied. You can also use the search box to search your items. Note that this search also includes the full text on the web pages you have in your library! If that isn't enough, there is also an advanced search that uses Boolean operators and searches on any field you choose. It is a pretty amazing tool...

Bottom line: If you are using NotaBene, Orbis and Ibidem are the way to go. Everyone else should really look at Zotero.

I have a couple of bonus options for you in my next post!

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