Friday, 8 January 2010

Organised research: the geeky solution

Aside from the sheer amount of reading to be done, one of the most troubling aspects of extended research is how to organise your notes. An annotated bibliography is the standard written way to list all your sources with a concise critical analysis of no more than a paragraph per source. I’m still at the identifying sources stage, making links between authors and concepts, so although I can make a start on this, I need something more flexible to organise my ideas. I think I’ve worked out it is essential to use technology in some way.

So, I’m trying something extremely geeky. I’ve downloaded and installed MediaWiki and have been using that. Installation took me around 30 minutes. It was much faster than I expected with fewer problems than anticipated. It requires SQL which I had already installed for some other project and PHP which was easy enough to get hold of. If these things sound alien, don’t worry you don’t actually have to do anything much beyond following a few instructions to install them.

So what is a wiki? Essentially it is a group of webpages that are very easy to edit. The key factor is hyperlinking is incredibly easy. If I want to link to the page on William Robson I just enclose his name with [[ ]], like this: [[William Robson]]. If that page does not exist yet I follow the link that is created and start typing; zero setup required. On the Robson page I can then link to each of his works, create notes and summaries; and crucially, keep track of where the source is available should I need it again.

One of my main resources will be the LSE Library at which I thankfully have alumni borrowing rights. Unfortunately at other libraries, such as the British Library, I will have to make all my notes onsite. They also have draconian rules about what you can take into the building itself – no pens for example – so I will be able to log in to my server at home via a laptop and update the relevant pages from there. The benefits of being able to access all my notes anywhere are also obvious. No excuse for not making use of all available time!