Paperless Dissertation and Workflows Revisited

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I was listening to the Mac Power Users podcast the other day, and the conversation was all about blogs. One of the niceties that was pointed out was how you have the luxury to talk about whatever topic you’d like. I realized that I don’t seize that opportunity enough. So, although this is still in the realm of my usual-speak, I thought I might delve a bit into some of my research workflow. I’ve detailed this many, many times before, of course, most recently as a guest on the 100th episode of the Mac Power Users. If you haven’t checked it out, here’s the link; go listen now! Things have changed, though, since I first wrote about my paperless-dissertation-writing workflow. Also, because of my complete inability to keep it together during my interview and because of time constraints on the interview, I didn’t have nearly the time I would’ve needed to talk about the rest of my workflow. In the time since my final defense I have continued to conduct research, and have picked up a few extra bits of knowledge along the way. These bits mainly involve slight modifications, additions and subtractions. So, here it goes:

The Tools

Broadly, text editors are at the heart of my writing, and have all but totally supplanted Microsoft Word. I now use Word only when I absolutely, positively have to. I am completing a new manuscript and getting ready to submit it for peer-review; however, this time I’m writing it using a text editor, AND using LaTeX. Here are the text editors I have been using, (especially) over the past year in order of my preference, which corresponds to frequency of use:

  1. Sublime Text 2
  2. MacVim
  3. Text Wrangler

Sublime Text 2 is the newest of the bunch (to me, anyway). Authoring text in an application like ST2 might seem like overkill to some, but once you’ve experienced the beauty that is multiple cursors, along with other powerful editing features, it begins to make perfect sense. I prefer text editors for writing more than ever, and way more than I ever did with Word. Anyone who has ever spent any time with Word is all too familiar with its default settings, which include the auto-formatting-nightmare special. This setting makes you believe that you can format parts of your document with ease. That is, until you actually try. Then all bets are off. In addition to becoming a Word Ninja, I also crafted my own work-around to some of these problems. I’ve taken all this a step further now. In short, while I was writing my dissertation, I wasn’t as savvy as I am now with respect to the abundance of text editors and their various degrees of usefulness.

For those of you who don’t know: Microsoft Word is a word processor, and while it is obviously fully capable of allowing you to author and format great documents, it is really best suited for polishing a written, finalized product. I now use Microsoft Word only for final production purposes. By contrast, text editors are for writing text, plain and simple, and lack the formatting features found in word processors. The files produced by a text editor (especially if saved as plain text files) are orders of magnitude smaller than .doc or .docx files and are cross-platform compatible.

EndNote Revisited and Adventures of Online Citation Management

I continue to do research and continue to use EndNote. I realize that I sound as though I work for Thompson-Reuters (I don’t) when I say this, but I honestly can’t imagine doing work without it. It is so good to me. When I was writing my dissertation, EndNote was on version 3, I believe. I’m now using X5, which certainly adds new features but remains the same at the core. The biggest change for me from then to now is learning a little more control of the application in terms of formatting citations. There was a problem I discovered when using EndNote’s APA 6th Edition plugin that could’t be fixed through the standard preferences. This required some digging into the template and altering it manually, which was kind of a pain but totally worked. I found a similar issue with AMA 10th Edition. Again, not a big deal, but something to watch out for.

Collecting Journal Articles

RSS feeds are a great way to remove some of the hassle of looking for research. I also have one set up for advance access to Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology. As the name implies, you get stuff before it’s officially available as a print version. Good times. I am also still using the heck out of Papers’ built-in search repositories set up in roughly the same way. When I think of something I am going to be looking at long-term, I’ll set up a search in a repository (say, Pub Med), and just sit back while the 30 most recent articles populate my search window. I get what I want, and go back to it every so often to see if anything new has been published. This works like a dream, and will amaze your fellow researchers. Pubget is something I’ve used a few times to grab a PDF, but only one of the two university libraries I use is affiliated with PubGet at this point, and it’s the one with fewer subscriptions; often, I run up against a dead end as a result. I’m fortunate that I have two university libraries to tap, though, and I don’t know anyone else that enjoys the level of research access that I do, so I’m not complaining.

That’s it for this week. I think next week I might post up my stereo system gear. I’m a card-carrying audiophile, and have been for a long time. Sharing that journey is something that’s worth a post. Or three. Or twenty.


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