On several occasions I have written about how I use Devonthink Pro (DTP) for scholarly writing. Although at one point I had all my information on manuscripts in a single DTP database, over the last year I have maintained separate databases; one for PDFs, another for my annotations.I accomplish this by having separate folders in Dropbox. After extracting my annotations from Highlights.app, I place the exported files in their own folder. Once a month, I export all the PDFs in my Paper’s Library to their own Dropbox folder. I use a Hazel script to throw away any duplicate PDFs in the Dropbox folder. I index (not import) the annotations folder into one DTP database, and index my PDFs into another.This setup allows a fair amount of flexibility. Not only is this setup advantageous for writing with DTP (as I will cover in my next entry), it allows easy access to my PDFs for reading with Liquidtext or listening with Voice Dream.
As I wrote in my last entry, I was excited when I read Ricardo Sanchez’s article on the integration of Storyist and Scrivener. Full of anticipation, I plunked down my $15 and downloaded Storyist. I was disappointed.First i tried to enable DropBox sync in Storyist, but then realized Storyist requires the native Scrivener file to be saved on iCloud Drive. I followed the instructions in Storyist to set up iCloud Drive—the Storyist Folder showed up on my iPhone, but not on my Mac. I consulted the forums and saw that iCloud sync can take some time—up to several minutes. I waited-no sync. I cold-booted my phone-no sync. I reinstalled Storyist—still no sync. Finally, I connected my phone to my Mac and iTunes.Lo and behold, a Storyist Folder appeared on the iCloud Drive on my Mac. On my Mac, I set up an alias for a current Scrivener project and moved the native file to the Storyist Folder on ICloud Drive. The file appear on my phone. The folder hierarchy appeared identical on the phone as on Scrivener on my Mac. Many of the features of the Storyist software don’t work with native Scrivener files.I navigated down into the Drafts folder on my iPhone and typed some text. I waited for what seemed like several minutes for the file on my Mac to update. I opened the Scrivener project on my Mac and opened the section I had edited on my phone—the edited text did not show up on my Mac. Instead, I saw file conflict notifications between the Mac and iPhone version of the section. No matter how I tried, I was unable to resolve these conflicts.To make a long story short, I feel like I wasted $15. The lack of usable features and the unreliable sync of Storyist are deal killers for me. In fact, the only advantage I can see in using Storyist is the ability to read native Scrivener files. In every other aspect, I found Storyist inferior to the Dropbox text sync method I discussed in this entry. I’m going to continue to hold out for the real deal: Scrivener iOS.
I have a unique way of processing scholarly information, I am convinced it gives me an advantage when writing grants and manuscripts--allowing me to find specific notes and related information very quickly and efficiently without having to rely purely on memory. I’ve written a bit about this before, but the process has evolved, so I am dedicating an entry to my updated workflow. The software and utlities integral to this workflow are:
Highlighting in Papers 3Despite lacking the outstanding features of Skim, I am back to reading/highlighting in Papers. I switched back to Papers primarily for synchronization. I do a fair amount of reading on my iPad. Any highlights I make on my Mac become immediately available on iOS. Anyhing I highlight on my iPad shows up on my Mac. Although I prefer Skim, the simplification afforded by doing everything in Papers was irresistable. Here is the manuscript we’ll be working with, highlighted in Papers.Export NotesOnce I’m finished highlighting, it's time to process. Within Papers I go to File->Export->Notes and am provided with the following menu box. (1) I usually choose to save the file to my Desktop, as it needs to be easily accessible for processing. (2) I choose "Selected Papers Only" or you I export notes from my whole collection. (3) I choose Plain Text.First Stage of Processing the Untitled Notes File on DesktopHere is the untitled notes file saved to my desktop.Contents of the unprocessed notes FileKeyboard Maestro Script to Add Citation + Link and Save FileI have written two Keyboard Maestro scripts to help process my exported notes. The first script adds metadata to the text of the notes file we just exported, then renames the file using the unique Papers Citation. In order to use my script, in Papers, I make sure the correct paper is highlighted. Next, in the Finder, I select the exported note file. I invoke the script and it prepends the unique Papers Citation followed by a Papers Link to the top of the file.Keyboard Maestro Script to Add Citation + Link and Save File ContinuedThe script continues on to a save dialogue box where it replaces "Untitled" with the unique Papers Citation. I have to manually remove the curly brackets (as they are disallowed in file naming). I save the file to the Desktop.Download the script here…. You'll have to remove the .txt from the end of the file to use.Uniquely named Notes File Saved to Desktop.This note I just saved contains ALL of the exported highlights from the manuscript in a single file. As I've talked about in previous entries, I find it more efficient to access a single concept rather than having to dig through an entire papers worth of notes. I developed (along with a few others) a second KM script that copies the Metadata at the top of the note file, parses the single note file into a collection of notes files--one highlight per file, and appends the metadata to each file.Processing highlights in this way has revolutionized my grant and manuscript writing efficiency.Keyboard Maestro Script to Parse Highlights and Append metadata to each noteDownload the script here…. You'll have to remove the .txt from the end of the file to use.Moving the FolderI highlight the folder on my Desktop, then double click my Shift Key--this invokes a Launchbar action.Launchbar Moves FolderUsing Launchbar I move the text notes to the folder where I keep all the extracted highlights from all the manuscripts I'v read.Ulysses to finish the processAs I've mentioned previously, i use Ulysses extensively in my personal and professional life. I use Ulysses to finish the processing of my highlights, but any text editor will do. (1) Ulysses is pointed to read all the files in my Notes folder--here you see all the individual files extracted from this manuscript. (2) is the text of a single highlight, (3) is the metada added to each file by the KM script. With some notes I will add my own comments, other times, not. (4) are the references that support the statement....these are added manually by reading through the statement and copying each of the corresponding references from the original PDF. I don't go back and forth between the text file and the PDF...instead, I take advantage of Launchbar's Clipboard History.Launchbar Clipboard HistoryI merely highlight each reference mentioned, then in bulk I paste each of the references into the note.Appearance of NoteI showed you what this file looked like in Ulysses. Here is its appearance as a free standing text file. Depending on my mood (and time) I may or may not append refernces to each note file.Copy PDF to Indexed FolderAfter I've processed everything, the last step is to export a copy of my PDF to a location Devonthink can access.Using Devonthink to Find Concepts and Related InformationYou may aak yourself why I go to such lengths processing the information I read. The answer is Devonthink. I use the "Artificial Intelligence" of Devonthink quite extensively in my writing. As I mentioned, all the processed highlights, copies of PDFs go into a set of folders on Dropbox. I then Index (not import) the information in these folders (1) so they are "seen" by Devonthink. Why is that important? When I conduct a search (2), I can find the idea I'm looking for (3). By clicking on the "See also" function (4) in Devonthink I can see every piece of related information in my scholarly library (5), including things I have previously written. This ability has revolutionized the way I write.ConclusionIn this entry, I have shown you how I read and process scholarly my annotations from manuscripts. Although the process requires an extra ten minutes or so per manuscript, the payoff is immense.Please comment below.
I’ve been patiently awaiting the iPhone version of Ulysses. As the Soulmen blog states, they hoped to have the app released by Christmas, but ran into some delays.I’m a big fan of Ulysses—the Soulmen keep adding features—and they have a sense of humor. The iCloud native version is feature-rich without getting in the way. I lose a bit of app functionality when editing files from DropBox, but it is still pleasant to write in the Ulysses interface.Ulysses is, hands down, the best writing environment for web content. In fact, if it wasn’t for Scrivener, I would say Ulysses is the the best writing environment, period.Until the Ulysses iPhone app is released, as I noted in this blog entry, I’m currently forced to interject Editorial into my workflow. Editorial allows me to dictate and edit files on my iPhone, then share that work with Dropbox. In the future, after Ulysses for iPhone is released, Editorial will remain part of my writing arsenal, since I’ve figured out a way to share files back and forth with Scrivener. I’ll use Editorial at least until Scrivener comes out with their mobile app.In some ways, I’m glad Ulysses did not release their app for Christmas. The anticipation gives those of us that love writing something to look forward to. I just hope it doesn’t take Soulmen too long!
I'm a big fan of the read it later service, Instapaper. Instapaper stores article to be read at your convenience on any device. If you subscribe to the premium service you get a bunch of perks.Two of the great premium features of Instapaper are 1.highlighting and annotation of articles and 2. The ability to save entire articles and annotations directly to [Evernote]. By hitting ‘like’ in Instapaper, the app automatically saves the full text article to Evernote.For my purposes I save liked articles to Evernote , but rely on IFTTT to handle my Instapaper notes. Each time I highlight or annotate within Instapaper, a text file with the annotated text is saved to Dropbox by this script. The saved note looks like this....Once the text note is in Dropbox, using the same Literature Devonthink Database I use for writing (as I wrote about in this entry), I index the folder that contains all the extracted highlight text files. Thus when I search in Devonthink, I find literature from saved web articles, scholarly manuscripts, and extracted highlights all in a single pass. Using the “See Also" magic hat in Devonthink I can find other relevant information very quickly.A few things I need to work on:1. Automating save to Dropbox of Instapaper comments.2. Automating full text transfer to DropBox from Evernote (for notes with highlights)I hope you find this useful.
In my academic roles in the Duke University Human Simulation and Patient Safety Center I write a great deal. I write manuscripts, grants,white papers, and a whole host of other material. I’ve read the most efficient way to write a long document is to spew everything into a draft as quickly as possible, then go back and edit.Typing slows me down. The fastest way for me to “write” something is with my voice. I find it easier to adhere to this ‘draft first’ rule when I dictate using my voice rather than typing out a draft on my keyboard.Why is this? When I type, I tend to correct errors as they occur. Even worse, I try to polish each sentence on the fly (rather than powering through the entire document at one time). The constant editing interrupts my thoughts and makes slogging through an whole first draft extremely tedious.Lately, I've been using a workflow that takes advantage of the native iPhone’s dictation feature to “write.” This workflows has sped up my writing significantly by forcing me to keep moving forward while allowing me to write anywhere/anytime.This workflow is relatively easy to set up. Here is the software you’ll need.OmniOutlinerOmniOutliner is, you guessed it, an outlining program. Before I write anything, I use OmniOutliner on both on my iPad and on my Mac to plan my document. The Omni Group recently added the ability to sync to iCloud (currently a beta feature). Universal access to my outlines allows me to draft and rearrange my outline on the fly, regardless of location.ScrivenerThe next piece of software is Scrivener for Mac. Scrivener is an essential writing programs. That’s right, essential! If you don’t use Scrivener yet, stop reading and download the software right now.One of the advantages of Scrivener on Mac is it allows me to write in chunks. I can start writing in the middle of my project. When I sync the Scrivener project to Dropbox, I end up with a number of text files (each representing one ‘chunk’ of the Scrivener Project). Being able to write non-linearly from anywhere allows me to complete a draft very quickly. I am able to knock out sections of a document while in my car, walking between meetings, or anywhere else the urge to write hits me.Chunks of text in Scrivener may be moved around ad nauseum. I take advantage of the ability to move things around quite frequently. If I don’t like what I’ve changed, Scrivener has built in version control , so I can revert back to past drafts.Scrivener exports pieces of the project as individual files. Scrivener puts all these files in a “Drafts” folder inside the folder of your choice. These files can be txt, rtf, or other formats. I use text since I write in Markdown.DropBoxI set up a folder in my DropBox hierarchy called “Writing Sync.” It is here I synchronize my project between Scrivener and Editorial. Each new project gets its own folder.EditorialEditorial is a phenomenal text editor for iOS with a slew of built in features. Editorial allows me to edit documents written in Markdown and has a wholebunch of other features that makes it my go-to document editing software on iOS. Editorial, unsurprisingly, syncs with DropBox. I have Editorial point to my “Writing Sync” in Dropbox.Now that I’ve discussed the software I use, let’s set everything up.The WorkflowThe first thing I do is draft my outline in OmniOutliner. I typically do this on my iPad or my Mac then rearrange the outline until I'm happy. Once my outline is complete I export it as an OPML file.I create a blank Scrivener project, then import the OPML file into Scrivener. Importing the OPML populates the Scrivener project, preserving the hierarchy of the outline. Each bullet of the outline receives its own individual chunk in Scrivener.The next step is to set up synchronization of the Scrivener with Dropbox. Under the File Menu, I go to Sync->With External Folder….I make sure the back up before export box is checked and make sure that the project is exported as text. I select the “Writing Sync” Folder as the text file destination. I hit okay and the entire Scrivener project is exported to "Writing Sync" as individual text documents (Scrivener assigns a number to the front of each text file to keep them in order).On my iPad or iPhone, I point Editorial to my “Writing Sync” Folder. Within Editorial I can edit each of the individual text files. I open the file I wish to write/edit and use the dictation (Siri must be enabled) on My iPhone. Editorial immediately synchronizes the new text back into Dropbox.Once I return to my Mac I re-synchronize the project in Scrivener. All the files in Scrivener now reflect my writing from Editorial. One I've completed my first draft, I use this same back and forth method to edit.Once I'm happy with each of the chunks, I go back to Scrivener on my Mac and compile the whole document as a single Markdown file. I save this file a level above the “Drafts” Folder Scrivener created when syncing.I can access the full document using Editorial (or any other text editor) on my Mac or iOS device (I use Byword or Ulysses on my Mac) . Finally, when I'm done polishing, I export the document to Microsoft Word (or to the web). Using this workflow, I can write something in about 1/10 the time it used to take me with a keyboard. Although this method works well, it is not without a few annoyances. iPhones limit dictation to 30 second chunks. In addition, Editorial tends to chop off the last few words of a sentence after those 30 seconds expire. Because I’m working on segments of the overall project and can dictate quite a bit in 30 seconds, this is not a huge deal for me. When drafting, the key is to keep pressing forward.This workflow has literally changed to way I write. The workflow allows me great deal of flexibility and saves me a great deal of time.
The early release of Papers 3 got a bad rap, and rightly so. My negative experience began as I imported my Papers 2 library into Papers 3. I had about 2500 papers, but only a fraction of these PDFs were imported properly. I am still recovering from these import problems--having to add each missing PDF by hand. Although importing was a issue early on, The makers of Papers, MekentosJ, now part of Springer Science+Business Media, worked hard to fix problems. I assume, with all the work on Papers, that importing has been fixed. My advice? Back-up your data before trying to import to Papers 3!
Although I had early problems, I can tell you that Papers 3 is pretty robust now. I recently used it to write and submit a full grant. I’ll say the app should be strongly considered if you’re looking for a reference manager / bibliography builder. If you’re interested in some of the changes in Papers 3, check out this entry.
With the release of Papers 3, all files and PDFs are bundled into a single container. Bundling makes syncing across computers more reliable, but indexing of individual files much more difficult. Unfortunatly, my Papers 2 workflow was dependent on indexing of single files. And thus, with the release of Papers 3, I had to revamp my writing workflow. That’s what I’m going to cover in this entry.
My current workflow has three parts: 1.organizing, 2. creating, and 3. writing/formatting
Part 1: Organizing
Papers is used as my storehouse for all academic literature. I use Keywords and Smart Folders (akin to Smart Playlists in iTunes) to keep my literature sorted. In addition to the topic of each manuscript or book chapter, I use keywords such as "MustRead" that fuel my prioritized reading list. I tend to keep my library sorted by the date in the main window, but can easily search or sort my library in numerous other ways. My library is synchronized using Dropbox.
Most people, while reading academic literature, find additional manuscripts they’d like to download. I’ve developed a series of KeyBoard Maestro scripts that simplify the download of these additional articles from Duke’s Library, Pubmed, and Google Scholar. As I’m reading a manuscript, I highlight the article I want to download and invoke my KM script. The macro copies the text string I’ve highlighted, goes to the appropriate web page (e.g. Duke’s Library), pastes the search string into the appropriate box, and hits submit. Thus with two keystrokes, I can find and download new PDFs I’d like to read. The new PDFs are sent to my “Downloads” folder. Then Hazel takes over.
Hazel is a program that watches folders on my computer. When a file matches defined criteria, Hazel performs a script. I have a Hazel script watch for PDFs that contain the word “Reference.” When Hazel sees a file that matches, it launches Papers and imports the file into my library.
Despite the pleasing new main interface, Papers 3 highlighting leaves much to be desired. For reading and annotating scientific literature I use Skim (Skim can designated as the primary PDF reader in the Papers Prefernce menu). Skim has a robust feature set and is customized for academic literature. Oh, and it’s free! When I’m done reading and annotating, I export the Skim annotations to a PlainText file. I then use a KM script to name the the Skim Notes file to my convention.
Using another KM script, I parse the single notes file into separate text files (one for each highlight or annotation). Each file is named to convention and contains the text I highlighted in the manuscript, my own comments, and the full reference. All the individual notes are aggragated into a folder. I move this folder from my Desktop to the cloud so I can access it from anywhere. I call this my Literature Comments Folder. Now I move to Ulysses.
Ulysses is able to read files anywhere on my computer. I’ve configured Ulysses to point to my Literature Comments Folder so all my comments are available in an organized fashion. At this point I can add additional comments to my individual highlight files. The next step is to index the files in Devonthink.
Finally, I open Devonthink. This workflow has matured from what I discussed in this entry. I have a database that is solely used to index my scholarly reading. From the File Menu, I update the index (NOT import) of my Literature Comments Folder. Indexing this folder allows me to take advantage of the “Artificial Intelligence” of Devonthink, finding relevant information throughout my reading.
Part 2: Creating
At this point I’m ready to start developing my scholarly work. I use Tinderbox (in Outline View) to generate a high-level preliminary outline. Tinderbox is a power-user’s application. I’ve only scratched the surface of its capabilities, but find it extremely useful early on to organize thoughts and find connections between what I’ve read and what I hope to write.
From within Devonthink, I review each of my comments. If I find something I want to include, I drag and drop the file (comment, reference, and highlighted text) into Tinderbox. Then, using Devonthink’s “See Also & Classify” command, I see related notes in my Literature Comments Folder . I drag and drop the additional comments into Tinderbox too. As I think of new ideas, it’s not uncommon for me to conduct a freeform search from within Devonthink to see which comments bubble to the top.
Once I have several dozen comments in Tinderbox, I find myself entertaining new thoughts, and often adjusting (or add to) my outline.
Another way I approach the creative process is to surf through interesting comments and move them one by one into Tinderbox without organizing them (usually in the Map View). Once I have a few dozen of these interesting quotes and highlights, I start to see connections between them, letting me further refine and organize my thoughts (and begin to develop and outline).
Once I’m satisfied with my outline, I’ll sometimes export to OmniOutliner for additional organization. But most times, I’ll export my outline directly from Tinderbox to Scrivener.
Part 3: Writing and Formatting
Scrivener is the place where the early versions of my manuscript are built. Scrivener imports OPML files from Tinderbox or OmniOutliner—each bullet of the outline gets its own content field. I do the majority of my early writing in Scrivener, attacking whatever section I feel like writing at the time. I use the Magic Citations of Papers 3 to insert my references as I write. Once I get words down on the screen, I often find myself tweaking the outline in Scrivener. This early phase, when I’m writing on the go, is when I yearn for the iPad version of Scrivener. Until that’s available, I’ll continue to use Scrivener’s synchronization with SimpleNote when I plan to write on my iPad.
When I’ve completed all the sections in my Scrivener outline, I’ll export everything I’ve written to Ulysses. I use Ulysses to edit and rewrite (in Markdown) until I think the work is ready for submission. As I’m importing and editing my paper in Ulysses, I make sure to have the document type set to Markdown (not MarkdownXL). MarkdownXL uses the curly brackets as an internal mark for annotations. If I use MarkdownXL in Ulysses, all of my Papers citations are formatted as footnotes—very annoying.
Word or Pages
I write and edit for several rounds in Ulysses. Ulysses for iPad makes this process more seamless and enjoyable. Unfortunately, when I’m done writing, I cannot format my bibliography in Ulysses. I have to export my file to Word or Pages. That’s okay though, I still have to format my paper. I use an old version of Pages (the new version of Pages still doesn’t allow bibliography formatting). Microsoft Word also works. To do this, I highlight all my text and from the Ulysses Edit Menu I select Copy as RTF (Word), then paste it in the word processing application. After my bibliography is formatted, I format the rest of the paper.
Finally, as the final check of my writing, I use a KM script to read back the text to me. I often find errors, even in this late phase of writing. Finally, I double check everything conforms to required format of the journal (or funding agency) and hit submit.
And there you have it: my writing workflow. As with most of my workflows it is continuously subject to improvement. For the time being this workflow has streamlined my writing. I hope it works for you too.
I’ve written about the interplay between my Mac and iOS devices in several entries. The interplay between my iPhone, iPad, and computer are critical to my productivity. Recently, I discovered a program called MyPhoneDesktop that I use so often, it has made its way to the home screen of my iDevices.
Although I love my iPhone, I have trouble with the soft keys—they slow me down when I have to type things like URLs or text strings. If I wanted to transfer files, I would typically use Dropbox (or email) to get files from my Mac to my iPhone or iPad. But no more. After installing and configuring MyPhoneDesktop on both my iPhone and Mac, I can rapidly share information between my devices.
As an example, I can search for a contact on my Mac, then have my computer dial the number on my iPhone. I can send URLs, text snippets, or complete files from my Mac to my iPhone or iPad merely by dragging and dropping onto the app. Similarly, I can transfer pictures to my phone by dragging and dropping onto a pop-up receptacle that emerges from the right side of my screen. Perhaps best of all is the app's bookmarklet that passes a web page from the Mac to my iOS device through the push of a single button.
What’s the downside? I can’t transfer information from my iPad or your iPhone back to my Mac.
I use MyPhoneDesktop numerous times every day and you will too. Pick up a copy for $4.99.
As I mentioned in previous entries. I'm an avid audiobook listener. I have a twenty minute commute between my home and work. Using my forty minutes of commute time in addition to listening when I exercise, I easily go through two audiobooks a month.
I listen to wide range of titles: to give you an idea I am currently listening to The Creative Destruction of Medicine by Eric Topol and Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing by Po Bronson.
Often, when listening to audiobooks in my car, I have a flash of insight. It might be an idea for a research project, and idea for an entry in my blog, or a quotation I'd like to capture. Although I could pull off the road and type my thoughts into my device, I've found a more efficient method that works when I'm on the move. Before you read more, please go through my post on Capturing Ideas.
Okay, back? Now let's talk about what I do to capture ideas on the move.
I'm an avid user of Siri. If you don't have a Siri enabled iOS device, you won't be able to take advantage of this workflow. First I ask Siri to launch TextExpander. Then I ask Siri to launch Drafts. Within Drafts I hit the Microphone Icon on the bottom of the virtual keyboard and dictate a TextExpander Snippet Trigger and then hit done. TextExpander expands the snippet for me. For instance, if I dictate: "dot i d x" Textexpander launches my personal ideas snippet. Next, I hit the Mic Button again and dictate my idea and then hit done. Siri converts my voice to text.
I've configured my Drafts menu so I know the "send to Notesy" choice is first. I wait until I've parked my car before sending my new note(s) from Drafts to Notesy (letting Notesy sync while walking to my office).
Using this method, I've captured many ideas that would have been lost had I waited until I reached my destination. I hope it helps you too.
In past entries I’ve written about how I rely on the combination of SimpleNote and nvALT to capture ideas, meeting notes, and more. I’ve been blissfully ignorant of the syncing issues between the two. I’ve had little problem with this combination, but apparently others have.
When I read that Brett Terpstra (the architect of nvALT) will no longer support SimpleNote, I knew it was time to find an alternative. For me, the choice was between Notesy and Nebulous Notes. Since I need my SimpleNote replacement primarily as a pass-through and for quick mobile searches, I settled on Notesy. I’ll reserve Nebulous for more in-depth tasks.
I also learned that Brett recommends DropBox syncing for nvALT–so I’ve moved my nvALT Folder back to DropBox. I backed up my folder and followed Michael Schechter’s directions to make sure I suffered no data loss.
The total time to make the switch was about 10 minutes.
I've written about Soulver for my Mac–a notepad calculator that allows you to mix words and numbers. And now Soulver is available on the iPad. Soulver is my favorite app for budget and grant planning. I can jot down my ideas line-by-line. If I make a mistake, I erase a single line (rather than starting over). Because I can mix numbers, calculations, and words, I am able to reconstruct my thoughts days, months, or even years later. And since Soulver syncs through Dropbox, I can share my work between my Mac and my iPad. The iPad version is currently selling for $2.99.
As I mentioned in a previous post, reading and writing are central to my academic career. I am a voracious reader. I not only have to keep current in my clinical specialty, Anesthesiology, but also in my research areas, Simulation and Games Based Learning. Because of this, I’ve developed multiple workflows that make reading and annotating more enjoyable, efficient, and useful.I’ve mentioned my preference for Papers2 app to keep track of scientific publications. What I didn’t mention is that I’m a prodigious highlighter-it is not uncommon for me to mark up a single manuscript with dozens of highlights and notes. Keeping track of the information in manuscripts AND my thoughts about what I read used to be a real chore. Before Papers included highlighting, I had a complex workflow to accomplish this feat. Now it’s relatively simple.As I mentioned, when working with scientific literature, I like to batch operations. I go on paper collecting binges where I do little (if any) reading. Only after I’ve completed my collecting, is it time to read. I actually schedule time on my calendar to read, annotate, and synthesize ideas.This entry is about my annotation workflow–and how I use technology to speed up the process of retrieving concepts when writing and citing.I do most of my reading (and annotating) on one of two devices: my Mac or my iPad. I read so much, it’s hard to keep track of all the ideas. There are few things more frustrating than knowing I’ve read something, but being unable to find the source. This workflow alleviates the stress of finding relevant information in my library. But even more than that, using artificial intelligence in a tool called Devonthink, I can find links between concepts that were not initially apparent to me.This workflow has been a personal success. Before implementing this workflow, I could spend hours trying to track down an appropriate reference. Since implementing this workflow the same task takes seconds.I also wanted to thank Derek Van Ittersum (Kent State | blog) for inspiring me to polish this workflow–I had a chance to collaborate with Derek on the Mac Power Users 100 show.Programs needed:
- Papers2 Mac
- Papers2 iOS
- DropBox Mac
- DropBox iPad
- Devonthink Pro Office Mac
- Scrivener Mac
- Tinderbox Mac
- Scapple Mac
Setting Things Up
I’m assuming you’ve already installed DropBox on both your Mac and you iPad. As I discussed in a previous entry, I configure Papers save PDFs to a designated folder Dropbox. I set this up by navigating to the preference menu in Papers and designated my preferred folder you in Dropbox. I do this to have the PDFs in my Papers collection accessible from anywhere and by any tool.Within the Papers preferences, I’ve configured Papers to launch a PDF in a new tab (using Papers itself, NOT an external PDF reader).
Papers on the Mac and iPad have built in highlighting tools (on the Mac, invoked by hitting the control key over highlighted text, or on the iPad by holding a finger down and dragging). As I highlight or make notes in Papers , a separate layer is created in the PDF that keeps track of annotation information. As I annotate, each highlight and note appears under the “Notes” tab in Papers.If I find a paper I’d like to read that’s not in my library I copy and paste the title and author to my OmniFocus Inbox-to be gathered during a future collecting binge. This way I don’t interrupt what I’m doing.After I’m done highlighting and note taking, I write a single summary note that captures the essence of the paper. At this point I also tag the paper Papers Keywords. Once I’ve completed my summary, if I’ve been reading on my iPad, I synchronize the PDF back to Papers on my Mac. After syncing, the annotations I made on the iPad are available on the Mac (and visa versa). If I’ve been reading on my Mac, I don’t need to synchronize to perform the next step.Once the annotated PDF is in the Papers collection on my Mac, I go to File:Export:Notes within Papers (make sure the “export selected paper” is highlighted and RTF is selected) to export a Notes file to a folder on my Desktop. RTF format is important–Devonthink relies on it.A limitation of Papers is that it can’t export each note or highlight separately–it dumps all my annotations into a single file. I open the file and cut and paste each individual note (that represents a single highlight) into its own file. I then comment on the highlighted passage. Finally, I use the “Magic Manuscript” feature of Papers (invoked by hitting my Option Key twice) to append the citation reference to each statement.Finally, I drag each RTF into to the “Supplemental Files” tab of the Papers. This saves each comment in a supplemental folder residing side-by-side with the manuscript in the Papers Dropbox hierarchy.The next step of the workflow uses the “Indexing” feature of Devonthink Pro Office. Using Devonthink, it is possible to index (or reference) any folder on your hard drive. This makes the contents of PDFs and RTFs available to Devonthinks Artificial Intelligence without directly importing the information into a Devonthink Database.I created a Devonthink Literature Database that indexes (does not import) my Papers2 Folder. I did this the first time by opening the File:Index… Menu item in Devonthink and navigating to the Papers Folder in Dropbox. All subsequent updates are done by opening my Literature Database, highlighting the indexed “Papers2” Folder, and navigating to File:Update Indexed Items. Indexing can takes quite some time–be patient.This all sounds complicated, but trust me, it’s worth it. What this allows me to do is open Devonthink and find any statement, concept, or related item quickly. I can then cherry pick comments related to my search and paste them into a draft document with little modification.When I’m writing, I take all related concepts and paste all of them into a single card in Scrivener. This allows me to arrange, and rearrange information to help support my argument. Because I took the time up front to include the Magic Manuscript Index from Papers, no further searching or citation work is needed, until I’m ready to format my bibliography.Scrivener for iOS is under development–it is likely my workflow will change when it is released. Instead of using Scrivener, one might consider using Tinderbox –Derek’s tool of choice or the newly announced Scapple (by the makers of Scrivener). I will cover the next step of the writing process using these tools in an upcoming entry.
In this entry I’ve covered my annotation workflow and how I make use of my annotations when writing. Using Dropbox, I can access my highlighted manuscripts from anywhere. Using a combination of Papers and Devonthink I can make use of my annotations saving me countless hours of time when writing.