Friday, March 20, 2009

Helpful research tools

I'm deviating from cemeteries a bit today and talking about some useful research and blogging tools. I've had trouble organizing and tracking sources, especially when they're spread over multiple sources. For any one project I may have articles, books, web-sites, pdf files, and any number of other materials. In addition I tend to maintain a fairly large bookmark library that I divide into categories and I use a couple of different computers on a regular basis! The following tools have really helped me keep things a little more organized.

1.) Mozilla - in my opinion, it's the best web browser available. Fast, flexible, and expandable. It's also cross-platform, with versions available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. This makes life a lot easier for me since I use a Mac and Windows machines interchangeably.

2.) Foxmarks - an excellent bookmarks synchronization tool. If you use multiple browsers and different computers this is a must-have. It lets you keep a common set of bookmarks across several different browsers and/or computers automatically. Works with IE, Firefox, and Safari. Highly recommended!

3.) Zotero - a Firefox extension that helps collect, manage, and cite research sources. Zotero lets you collect citations easily from Amazon or a library catalog page, you can then add notes about what you've found useful. It will also let you cite PDF files and keeps a copy of the PDF locally. It's been a great tool for thesis writing, but I can see it being very useful for genealogists or anybody else who needs to keep track of sources!

4.) Scribefire - I'm trying this out. It's a Firefox extension that gives you a full-featured blogging tool in the browser. Very handy to have and it provides links to services such as Reddit and StumbleUpon.

5.) Picasa - this is an excellent photo catalog and editing tool from Google. It lets you do basic editing along with some more advanced features as well as maintaining a catalog of images.

All the software I've mentioned is also FREE. That's a great bonus for a poor student (or poor researcher in general).

There are a few physical tools I find myself using quite a bit. A notebook computer is always useful, and the new netbooks are a great relatively inexpensive research tool. A netbook is a small notebook that's designed to be a good email/web browsing/word processing tool. It's small, usually less than 2lbs, with a small screen (10" or less, often) but newer models boast impressive battery life - up to 8-9 hours for the Asus 1000HE and excellent portability. It's great to carry around for notes and internet access on the go. Usually the processor isn't powerful enough for heavy-duty photo or video editing, but it's fine for just about everything else. You can pick up a model with good battery life, a 120-160gb hard drive, and a decent screen for around $300-$400. Most office superstores and electronic stores are carrying a version of these, I'd recommend trying one in person to see if you like it because the keyboards do tend to be a bit smaller than full size laptops and not everybody is comfortable with smaller keyboards and screens.

Digital camera - I have a dSLR I use a lot, but I've found a good point & shoot is more than sufficient for most blog related tasks. A compact tripod like a Gorillapod or an Ultrapod can help you get good shots, especially if the light isn't great, or if you want to be in the shot. The best thing about newer point and shoot cameras is that they can take decent quality video and/or act as voice recorders. If you're on a budget, a digital camera can be a great tool because it's a digital swiss army knife. Use it to take photos to include in your blog, videos for youtube or your own later reference, and voice memos to jog your memory later when you're back home.

Of course, every researcher has their own favorite tools and techniques. I've tried to cover what I use on a regular basis and why I use it. If I missed your favorite, let me know!

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Anonymous said...

Your newsfeed is a bit uninformative, just the subject lines.

Keep it up!

Emily Hamblin said...

Have you tried Google's Chrome browser? I've also heard that Google desktop is helpful.

When do you think Zotero will add the SAA citation rules?