Saturday, January 31, 2009

Research on the go (or Photocopiers are so 20th century)

Most of you have probably already figured this out, but I find I need to remind my students occasionally about some research tools we now have that were not readily available even five years ago. So, let's say you are in the library or a bookstore and you find something you want to remember. The 20th century way would be to get out paper and writing utensil or, if you were in the library, bring the book to a copy machine and make some paper reproductions. What does the true 21st century researcher do? [Check Tommy Keene's (TK) comment to this post.]
If it's short enough:

  • I use my PDA and add it as a note.
  • Send a text message to myself on my cell phone.
If it's a bit longer:
  • Use my PDA and make a voice recording.
  • Send a voice message to myself on my cell phone.
  • Send a voice message to your box. (Thanks, TK! I've been using for files, but I was unaware that you can also drop voice mails as well. [ is free, but you do have standard phone charges.])
  • I had really liked using Jott (I'd blogged about it here) because it did voice to text conversion and sent them as text messages or emails. (I really hate trying to type out text messages on my phone...) Jott is dropping their free, basic plan, however. A standard plan will now cost $3.95/month which is not bad at all, but I wasn't using it quite enough to justify it. Do check out Jott Links, though. Using your phone, you could use the voice to text to set appointments for your Google Calendar, add items to your Remember the Milk list, update Twitter or FaceBook, or name some item/book and come home to find a link to that item on Amazon.
If it's a chunk of text or a visual:
  • In our seminary library, we now have a copier that saves files as PDFs and delivers them to my network folder. That's sweet...
  • No PDF copier? Use your cell phone camera or (if, like me, your cell phone is one of those ancient ones that only is a phone) take a digital camera picture. (Now, how do you get the pic from your phone to your PC? Good advice HERE.)
But what if it's really the text and not just a picture of it you want? Open your picture in optical Character Recognition (OCR) software.
  • I have an inexpensive scanner that comes with some basic OCR software. I can open JPG, PNG, TIFF... and it does a pretty good job of getting everything into text. Note that this also works well if you want to convert PDFs which are 'images' and not text. Use a screen capture utility (suggestions here) to take a pic of the PDF, then feed it through the OCR.
  • Don't have a scanner or OCR software. Check the Wikipedia OCR entry, and note the list of software (some of which is free/open source) available.
  • Don't want to bother with dedicated OCR? Want to try full-featured note-taking software? Then remember that Evernote (there is a free version--my review here and another here) and OneNote ($59 for Microsoft OneNote Home and Student 2007 or $80 as part of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007) have a built-in tool that can identify and extract text from pics.
For biblical studies sorts, however, there is a problem... None of the OCR software (unless you buy very expensive professional stuff) knows how to deal with Greek or Hebrew text. (I do know of HOCR which is free OCR software for Hebrew, but I have not tried it.)

Do you have any research tools suggestions for the 21st century? Help save some paper and share them here!

BTW, as TK points out in the comment, did you see the Zotero icon up in the address bar of this (and any other) blog post? Click on that folder icon to see the Zotero options for saving info.


  1. Great advice, thanks!

    Zotero should definitely be on this list. I have a guide here

    I use for voice messages to myself. Works from any phone. Each drop has a dedicated phone # that you can stick in your cell phone and leave yourself notes, all of which can then be downloaded later and stored on your computer, or you can just listen to them on the site. You can set a password for your drop, and it is web accessible anywhere. Comabines well with Zotero. Best of all, it's free!

  2. Thanks for the post. Getting the info is great but what about accessing it later. Do you put all the info you find into a database so you can find it later? I am thinking about doing this and I could really use some help. A post on databaseing would be great.