My Top 10 Apps & Programs for Research

My Top 10(ish) Windows and Android Apps and Programs for Research  (and some mild stationery ranting)

I frequently stumble upon lists of invaluable apps for researchers which assume everyone is using an iPad, if not a Mac. I, for a variety of reasons, do not. I use a laptop running Windows 7 plus Android tablet (Samsung Tab S) and an Android smartphone (Samsung Galaxy S5) packed with apps I use for studying. As I don’t plan on switching to Apple any time soon (ever), I thought it might be useful to list the programs and apps that are available on non-Apple systems (though some are available on multiple platforms).

10 Programs for Postgrads

Writing

I would love to use Scrivener for writing my thesis, but until it integrates properly with bibliographical software, it’s not an option for me. History theses need a ton of references and if I don’t do them as I go, I mess them up.

Therefore, I use old faithful, MS Word. Word gets a lot of stick, some of it deserved. Some of it is based on ancient incarnations of the program and which aren’t really an issue any more. Some complaints are based on aesthetics, and I quite like Word’s interface. I have recently upgraded to Office 2016, which does not seem to have greatly changed from the previous version. There are also apps for Word, Excel etc for Android which I’ve found very handy.

Pros: it’s ubiquitous- just about everyone can open a .doc/.docx file; it integrates with bibliographical software (see below); it’s flexible and adaptable, in terms of styles, templates, and fonts etc; language integration- I need to be able to tell my word processor that chunks of text are in Italian so I don’t have to look at wavy red lines on foreign words; track changes and comments- much of the feedback from my supervisors comes this way; apps available for on the go working.

Cons: It has a reputation for instability (though I haven’t experienced this in years of using it); some people find it too cluttered and complex.

Many screens. Many screens.

Many screens. Many screens. There would be more but I took the photo on my phone.

Bibliography

There are numerous bibliographical programs available, some free, some not. I use Zotero. It’s not the prettiest- it has a distinct Windows 3.1 feel to it- but it’s utterly practical and does exactly what I need. It integrates with Word and allows me to edit the footnote format to suit the requirements of my department (which is, slightly inconveniently, like Chicago style, but not exactly the same, so off-the-peg formatting isn’t quite right). Adapting the style was a bit of a faff, but you only need to do it once. Zotero is free, with upgrade options for storing all your papers online. I store everything in the cloud and don’t need to store anything this way so merrily use the free version with no drawbacks. There is so far no app for Zotero but I can’t say that I’ve needed bibliographical management software on the go, so it’s not been a problem for me.

Reading

For reading on my tablet I tend to use ezPDF Reader app, but as Evernote and now Dropbox apps let you read pdfs, I find I use ezPDF less and less. Although I can annotate in Evernote, however, the annotation options in ezPDF are more varied and are finer, so I’m not giving up on it quite yet.

I have a Kindle and the Kindle apps on my tablet and laptop, and Google Books, but I’m no convert to their use for academic texts. I use my Kindle almost exclusively for reading fiction in bed or while travelling, and the app for image-heavy texts. Google Books is good for finding some weird old texts but I haven’t found it to be useful for anything else. That said, there are a surprising number of Italian convent constitutions available, for which I am grateful.

Notes

All of my notes and transcriptions from the archives are stored in Evernote*. I love Evernote. I can’t stress this enough. I love Evernote. It does all the things!

You can use Evernote in a variety of ways, on a variety of platforms and I’m sure everyone works slightly differently with it. I primarily use the stand alone program on the laptop and the app on my tablet. It’s a little difficult to describe really. In addition to archival work, I store articles from the internet that I either want to read later, or want to keep. There is a Web Clipper tool for browsers which lets you save pages to Evernote quickly and simply. You can also upload various other files. I primarily save pdfs of journal articles in this way, but it will take audio, images, docs etc. You can also just type right into the program and create notes that way. You can do all of this as easily from the app as the program itself. Evernote can also use your camera to photograph images, documents and business cards. It has fairly decent OCR software so it can “read” documents you’ve stored this way. It even has a bash at reading my photos of medieval Italian documents from the archives. It’s rarely successful with the handwriting, but frankly, sometimes I feel like I’m rarely successful with some of them, so I don’t judge it for that.

Screenshot of my current Evernote view

Screenshot of my current Evernote view. There’s probably something embarrassing here that I’ve not noticed.

It stores in folders and by tags, so you can easily cross-reference. Cross-referencing is particularly useful for academic work, and Evernote has helped me to make connections I’d likely have missed otherwise. As well as tagging, it has a great search facility and you can link one note to another to remind yourself of the connections. I also save conferences and calls for papers in Evernote, and set reminders as the date approaches so the program will nudge me to submit something. I have a note listing library books I want to check out, and a reminder set for the next time I’m in St Andrews so I don’t go to the library and instantly forget what I wanted to get.

As well storing hunners** of information, it syncs it across platforms (I have it on my phone and tablet too, and it’s available on the web) so you can access anything while you’re online, and you can make some or all notes available offline too. You can use Evernote for free, but the paid version offers some very useful additional functionality that is well worth the £35 per year. For me, searching inside pdfs and other documents I’ve stored in Evernote is incredibly useful, as is being able to annotate pdfs.

Proper paper and pen, for proper people

Proper paper and pen, for proper people

I also take lots of notes by hand. I find that I am better able to recall what I’ve written than what I’ve typed. I use fountain pens which restricts my paper choices somewhat. Moleskines, for example, though much lauded by people who don’t know much about notebooks, are now made from poorer quality paper and can’t take fountain pen ink. They’re nice, if overpriced, if you use a ballpoint, like a savage. (And if you insist on using a ballpoint, at least use hybrid ink, like a Uniball Jetstream. You’re not an animal.) I used Leuhtturm 1917 notebooks and Rhodia pads. Leuchtturm are the thinking writer’s Moleskine. The paper is much nicer, they have numbered pages for indexing, and are cheaper and less gimmicky.  Rhodia pads are also lovely. I prefer the dot grid personally, but they have lined and blank too. The paper is bright white and super-smooth. I unreasonably hate spiral-bound notepads. They’re terrible.

 

Backup

During my postgrad work, I’ve had two major computer crashes, by which I mean reinstalling Windows and wiping everything crashes. Both times, I lost not one word of work because I religiously back things up. Firstly, and most importantly, I use Dropbox*. This automatically syncs every file to the cloud each time it’s saved, instantly. I store all my files in the Dropbox directory and don’t need to give it another thought. I can upload to and download from it using the app too.

Secondly, I have an external hard drive for backups which I do not use religiously, although I should in case Dropbox suddenly goes bust and shuts down with no notice, or turns evil.

Time Tracking

I use Google Calendar for all deadlines and appointments. I don’t know how anyone who has any sort of schedule manages without it. It even counts down to your next event so you can see how much time you have (answer is always “not enough”). I periodically try to be hyper-scheduled and box off time for reading, writing, admin etc, but I can’t make that work for me very well. I live in hope though. Strangely, the app for Google Calendar is not fantastic- some functionality is missing and the widget doesn’t do what I need, so I use Calendar Widget: Month to see the month ahead quickly.

Hobonichi Techo monthly pages (December 2015)

Hobonichi Techo monthly pages (December 2015)

It will surprise no one who knows me that I also use a paper diary. The sub-psychotic pen rant above may also have tipped you off. In 2015 I used a Leuchtturm diary which I loved. In 2016, I’ll be using a Hobonichi Techo Cousin. This is one of my more ridiculous stationery purchases, but it was worth it. This is a Japanese diary, fortunately with days of the week and months in English too, printed on fantastic paper. Tomoe River paper is ultra-lightweight and handles fountain pens beautifully. This means that the diary is still moderately light to carry despite being A5 and having both week-to-a-view and day-per-page diaries. Foyles have the A6 English versions available, but A6 is no use to me, so I had to buy from Japan. If you do this you will have to pay additional VAT when it gets to the UK, which I grudgingly feel is fair enough, but you will then get stuffed by Parcelforce’s “admin fee” which is actually just a ransom fee and in my case was double the amount of the VAT. You are not in my good books, Parcelforce.

For tasks and small reminders (big reminders are in Evernote, or both), I use Todoist. I’ve used a variety of to do list programs over the years because I like ticking things off, and I’ve settled on Todoist. Again, it’s available online and as an app. It’s hugely functional and I like the natural language entry for dates. It’s also the only program I’ve found that lets you add a recurring reminder for every other day (rather than, say, every Monday, Wednesday, Friday etc) AND lets you schedule the recurrence for X days after you complete the task, rather than forcing you back onto the “correct” schedule, and I prefer this. These things matter to me.

This is how I work. I think most, if not all of these apps are available for a variety of platforms. I am a big fan of things which sync across platforms as I tend to want to use things on the hardware I’m using at that moment, not the one which suits someone else. I hope it’s helpful. If there’s something you use and love that I haven’t mentioned, please let me know!

 

 

*Referral links.

**hunners: Scots, similar to “hundreds”, but used for count and non-count nouns alike, means “lots”.

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