Wikis for Notes
I am a big fan of wikis for note-taking, research material collation and organization. There are a wide variety of easy to use, free wiki services online and an increasing number of small footprint, simple standalone wikis. I probably should have blogged about this earlier and shared some of my experiences, but an excellent article by Dustin Wax at lifehack.org does a superb job of explaining the rationale and gives some great how to tips.
I have been using a wiki for most of my research notes for the past two years. At the entry stage, it forces me to think logically and structurally when entering information, but without forcing me to lose my research train of thought. I can focus on the research and the content and quickly and efficiently add material to a secure repository. At the stage of interpretation and working with a large body of notes of all types, and a mixture of media, the wiki automatically provides data views from overview, drilling down to detail by virtue of its own structure. When it comes to actually having to appreciate/measure your own progress, or document the state of your research, the wiki allows for very flexible re-purposing of content.
I pointed above at Geoffrey Rockwell’s blog entry for a talk given by John Bradley this week at McMaster about his Pliny Project. What has stuck with me from John’s talk is the thought he has put into the deliberative interpretation of humanities research. The point at which we consider what we have read, what we have made notes on and compiled. How do we go from note taking to presentation of our own thoughts? Pliny is a valuable tool for managing the interpretative process — one which seems to be largely unaddressed by many of our hi-tech tools. However, wikis are another tool like Pliny that can aid in the interpretative process.
Although wikis are clearly not for everyone, finding the tools that suit your way of thinking or make up for your own idiosyncrasies (I point the finger at my own here) involve experimentation and investigation. I commend wikis to your kitbag if you haven’t played with using your own yet.