Research Paper workflow help

Hello. Long time listener, first time caller.

Please let me apologize in advance if this is in the wrong area, and quickly describe who you are working with here.

I’m a perfectionist, scatterbrained, adult ADD college student. What this means is that I’m always feeling that the inner workings of my brain are going a mile a minute, are in complete disarray, and that if only I could find some way to organize my head my collegiate life would be oh so much easier. Because of this I go on workflow organization benders for days at a time, working myself to the point of mental exhaustion. Do I use Scrivener? How? Can I integrate Evernote into my work flow? How? How about Curio? How? How about OmniFocus? How? Ohhh look a squirrel…

My current OCD session came about due to a research paper I was assigned to write. It’s a 9 pager, with over 8 sources, which I’m sure is childs play to many here. I know a bunch of you write 100 page monsters with 100 sources. But for me this is just at the point that I cannot organizationally “wing it” without tripping off the before mentioned OCD craziness.

So I guess my question is, how do you folks write your research papers, and keep all of your actual research organized? More importantly than having your PDF source in Scrivener somewhere, how do you pull information from that source? Do you highlight the source, then add each highlight to a note card in Scrivener? If so where do you physically put these things? How do you label them so that you know where you are going to use them? Do you put multiple cards from different sources in the same physical area so they can be moved about and organzied? Do you manage them in some fashion so that you can use the cork board?

Crazy minds want to know!

Dude, that’s one dam hard question.
I’ll tell you how I do and you see if it works for you.
First of all I have to decide what I will write about. Then I use Scrivener in order to make a outline not more than 2 or 3 levels. Two levels are best for a paper three for a thesis. Further levels are added later as needed. Sometimes I use MindNode, a Mind mapping app to help me in this. There is a free version at Mac App Store and a paid version with a few more features and another one for Apple iOS.
I start adding my research notes with bibliographic references that are managed with SENTE (another great app for Mac) to the notes folder. Than it is time to start filling the document.
If required (most of the times it is), I open a folder and name it free writing with the same outline. It is here that I keep my free writing for each level. Free write is great because when you come back to it in a later occasion, it will give new ideas e open new paths. Here I use code colours - idea already discussed in main paper; idea in stand by; idea to review… whatever I need.
With this in my macbook screen I usually do not feel many difficulties in start filling the main pages.

Hope this is useful and apologise for my english, but I am a portuguese native speaker.

I can relate to much of what you are saying. I am still that way, but I’ve managed to figure out how to break research into pieces and conquer the chunks.

I learned that mess after being forced in law school to write long briefs and research memos. Coincidentally, later in life, and out of spite for the editor who felt a point I was making was not apparent, I once wrote a footnote that ran 4 single spaced pages with 57 direct sources and close to three times as many secondary cites (legal cites can stack into each other with notes).

I usually can’t begin to write until I devour the topical areas I initially see as relevant to the paper. In that phase, I use devonthink. I file everything into a folder there that I think is important. It doesn’t matter if it really is, because I’m just satisfying all my countless distractions and digressions while capturing things that will later be relevant. At some point, a lightbulb goes off and I see a structure to the information. That’s when I go back into devonthink and begin to parse, sort, and filter the information.

Once that light bulb goes off, I can usually write the outline in the air in front of me and immediately spew a draft out of my mouth. They saw that type of information processing is from “open” or “global” learners. It’s a non-linear thing to the people who describe such things. For me, it’s just how it works.

At this point is when I turn to scrivener and get the “chunks” in place. I write the individual topics in draft form. I put loose references to the citations (e.g. a footnote at this point says stuff like “that article from the oxford patristics guy on the geometry of the energy fields”). I don’t need ot be specific because I know that devonthink has the cite materials. I can go back later and cite check and insert cites. For now, at this stage of my writing, it’s all about making the rough draft, and if I got into citing and proper references, I’d be lost in distractions forever. So I don’t do it, rather I make fun of the research which makes this writing stage fun to me. I put snarky footnotes in, stuff like “this citation is the mandatory tip of the hat to the same article cited by everyone else, copy it from them”

Once I have drafts of the major topics together, and if I have the luxury to do so, I close the project and forget about it for at least a day, but if possible, a week. I let the whole cake bake in my mind for a while. I usually have enough other things to work on that there’s plenty else to do.

Upon returning, I read what drivel I wrote, and think “that doesn’t sound right” and “what was the point?”

Now, the real writing can begin because I usually restructure the whole paper at this point and rewrite it. Once that draft is done, I go put proper citations in by going back to devonthink and checking my citations and gathering the reference. The cite checking gives me enough “space” that I can go back and re-proof the whole draft with a third fresh look.

Now it down to moving little things, rewriting paragraphs and editing for minor things.

At no point can I actually sit down and bang out a linear paper unless it’s on a simple topic, I’m rehashing something I know very well, or I’m writing from memory. But by doing the stages I describe above, I can get through some very large writing projects.

It may help to break the process into four phases: notes, references, draft, paper.
Then use a software tool for each phase.
Notes: need to catch/store ideas, bits of evidence, links to remote or local files.
References: a manager to locate, store, and process citations in correct format.
Draft: a tool to organize, outline, write, and revise early copies.
Paper: a word processor for final formatting of header, footnotes, spacing, etc.
My own tools are Devonthink Pro Office, EndNote, Scrivener, and Pages
But many other combinations will work. Only Scrivener is essential.

Whatever you use, the form of an expository or persuasive paper is:
Introduction: something interesting, offbeat, or arresting to grab attention;
Argument: also called thesis, the essence of what you’re presenting/arguing;
Evidence: the facts/quotations/interpretations/analysis you’ve lined up;
Conclusion: not a recap, but a link to larger issues, ideas, and problems.
Works for a paper or speech; source is greatly modified Aristotle’s Rhetoric.

Thank all for your replies. I have a lot to think about here. It seems I’m doing some of the same things this time around. For example, I’ve mirrored my outline in the Notes section and also have a “Raw Research” folder in the Research section in which all my note cards from my sources are. I’m tagging each note card with some way to tell what source it came from, and then moving them to the Notes outline. Then I put that on a split screen as a cork board next to wherever it is I’m writing. Then I order the notecard in the order I want to use them. As soon as I use the info/quote from a note card I stamp it “Used.”

Do you write without your sources up and then go back to see if anything you wrote down was from a source? Do you highlight the source and have it next to your writing? I know that you use Devon Think (which I believe is like Evernote) to gather all your reference material, but once you have it how do you get it from a folder full of research articles to usable information to in your paper?

I write research papers in the field of behavioural ecology. This is my current workflow.
I use the scientific paper template that is now included in ver 2 under miscellaneous.
Reading: I download and import pdfs to Papers. Once I’m ready to go ahead with the citations, I select the papers I want to cite, and export to Endnote (as an endnote xml file). Typically the references are a mess, so I have to fix it in Endnote.

Stats: I do all my analysis in a couple of stats programs, export the results as pdfs, and import into scrivener’s research folder, usually each section of the paper has its own folder in the research section. This allows me to keep the results handy, and not scattered all over the system.

Graphs: Same as above

Writing: I make a rough outline of introduction and discussion in the research section. The methods and the results are usually straightforwards, so I do that first. Scrivener’s split screen view allows me to refer to the stats as I’m writing the results, which is a FANTASTIC feature, and usually the first thing I show other academics when I’m showing off scrivener.

Actual writing: I write the introduction/discussion in full screen mode, putting in references roughly, sometimes marking them with the annotation thingy, or just ‘refs’ in paranthesis. When the document is nearing completion, I open endnote, and start plugging in the endnote temporary citations.

Compile: When the manuscript is reasonably done, I compile to Word (all my collaborators use word, so no escaping it), scan the document for endnote citations, and then fix formatting, species names, etc etc.

Hope that helps. I never use the index cards.

There’s a lot of good advice already on the thread but I thought I’d just mention that you shouldn’t look at the page count like that. Firstly, everyone who’s every done anything larger has instinctively thought to themselves “pfft, is that all?” because that’s how humans think but fundamentally take the papers one at a time and that’s how you end up doing the 100 page monsters. You do them all in a fundamentally similar way and you just put increasingly more into them.

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a limit on sources. How does “use 8 sources” work? Do you just get 8 books from the library and write the essay? What happens if you want to use 9?

Well… The directions are “at least 8, no more than 9.”

But I agree, and he is a stickler on the 9 pages too.

I basically estimate how many words are on a page for the given font, size, spacing and multiply by the number of pages. Then when I get to that point I compile and finish in Word.

I write summaries, and then summaries of summaries, until a few words will recall large chunks of information…and where to go find it. For URLs I use the comment boxes in DTP; for RTF or PDF files, I will use comment boxes or else in each folder I create a top file, called 00 summary, in which I “nest” the folder’s key ideas and evidence, often with a link to the longer item.

I work on a large screen, so I can keep the DTP window open while drafting. The summary files I may copy to the Scrivener research folder, and then use Split Vertically to see them beside the draft. So I do keep the research data close at hand, but rely on summaries to help remember what’s in the data. (I’m talking about very large research projects, not 9 pagers with 8 sources.)

It depends on what I’m writing. For expository writing, I tend to write without, except for any exceptional quotes that form the reason I am writing. For certain legal writing, I’m constrained to use direct quotes for some parts of the form of the legal writing. This type of writing is far easier than what I gave you above, however, because it follows a clear form, I’m just plugging things in.

I usually know, when I’m at the point of writing, that an idea or quote I’m writing came from a source, so I tag it for cite checking later. Other things, because I thought an idea or quote was so exceptional when reading it, I just copy into a scivening and write scrivenings around that quote, saving clean up for later macro editing.

Because it looks like you are writing for school, that’s the only reason you have the “use eight sources” constraint. Pick four sources you like and four sources you don’t like and contrast them!

what’s the topic?

It’s an autoethnography for an intercultural communications course. We’re required to take a culture that isn’t our own. I’m writing as if I was an Iraqi citizen in the area that I was deployed to some years ago. I’m discussing “my” culture, my world view and what influences it, as well as what it’s like to communicate with my actual platoon on a particular encounter. Basically thinking of that encounter as if I was on the other side of the proverbial table. Kind of interesting, and since it is an entire semester course crunched into a single months time, easier for me to write than taking on a culture that I have never encountered.

I’ve use writing assignments such as these throughout college to work through stuff, get closure, try to understand things better etc.

hmmm… that’s interesting. So the point of the resources is to verify culture? Seems like you could fill eight of them up quickly by picking up holidays, marriages, children, funerals, work, greetings, conversation style, and religion. The problem with your assignment is staying focused on a narrow enough slice so as to not overflow 9 pages!

Pick something narrow like a wedding and contrast it back to here? Weddings pick up all those topics.

What a great thread. “Ooh, a squirrel”! lol, DMB.

A quick note about writing as you’re scanning a document: I used to use split screens, but I especially like the new QuickRef view (click on the button). In the document in which I’m writing/drafting/taking notes, I click QuickRef–that document now inhabits a small window that I can move around the screen. In the main editor window, I then select the source document. It’s one of the many elegant additions in Scrivener, and suits my note-taking style well.

I’m still muddling through how to organize research and writing processes (maybe that’s never-ending?), especially that in-between stage of taking notes and brainstorming or drafting ideas, and I’d like to figure out what to do with those squirrely ideas or questions that pop up about something other than what I’m now working on but linked, in a broad way.

DMB, your topic’s fascinating. I tend to have lots of trouble narrowing my topic(s), and the smaller, the better (in my case). In hindsight (and foresight, no doubt!), all my papers and work were (and will be) platforms for working through stuff. I imagine you’ll offer, as well as get, fascinating insight.

For those of you who use both DevonPro and Scriverner:

What have you found is the easiest way to copy or move docs stored in DevonPro to Scrivener?


I’ll have to check out that view. I hadn’t thought of using it like that. A bit frustrating but I ended up overwriting and then trying to figure out what to cut out to make it within the assigned length. I wonder how people who have a limited amount of space do it. Using word count wasn’t very accurate for me.

I ended up making note cards in scrivener while looking through my source. I put it in quotes if I take the text straight from the source so that I remember to either use quotes or remember to paraphrase. I leave the quotes off the card if I paraphrase from source to card. I did this for each source nested in a folder labeled “raw data.”. Then I made another folder that mirrored my outline and then moved the cards to their respective area of my paper. Then I went to that folder in the paper and used the coarkboard to roughly order them. Finally I used split screen to write as I looked at the cards, and labeled the cards “used” as I used them. Worked out ok I guess but I can’t help but think there is a better way…

Excuse the lazy post here. I find it hard to drive and post messages using my iPad at the same time.
OK OK my wife is the one driving but still…it’s like, bumpy and stuff.

but it worked. I think it sounds like a good approach to this project. It gave me a good idea for how to deal with a project I’ve been procrastinating on because I’m not really sure how to tackle it.

That’s the messy underbelly of real writing. It’s like sketching – people always see the final piece and never really see all the working tracings and rough sketches. It’s messy!

So, you are probably right that it could have been smoother, but the question always remains as to whether that smoothness would have worked the ideas out of you. Something about writing always seems rough. It’s the rewriting that is smooth, until a few days after you submit it and think of how much better it could be.

I move very few; rather leave them in DTP for better searching and analysis. And I don’t like to clutter up the Research folder in Scrivener.

But, if you must, the Export command in DTP allows export in several formats, and the best one for Scrivener is RTF.

I, too, leave the research documents in DTP. What I use the Research folder of Scrivener for, is a series of confuse notes that I slowly shape into a pre-draft. There is everything there: selected materials from DTP, casual notes, different versions of the same paragraph, links, pictures – anything that may or may not enter my draft.

As soon as I see some sort of logic in a Research document, I copy & paste passages to my Draft folder. Research materials are there for reference, but are not considered by the word/character counter, and do not interfere with my draft. It’s a great, helpful intermediate repository leading from pure research to actual writing.