Stay organized: Tools for research and teaching

When doing research one of the most difficult tasks is preventing information overload. There are so many interesting aspects in your own research (of course my research is the most interesting in the whole world…) that you want to include as much as possible and you don’t want to miss anything. I think my own PhD research consisted of about 2000 pages with interviews, 1000 pages with notes and another 1000 pages with newspaper articles, webentries and so on. And lets not forget about the enormous amount of literature out there. It seems like everyday a journal on Islam, Muslims and youth (or a combination of that) is appearing. It is impossible to keep track of it all and even the ones you did read, you have to ‘store’ them in an efficient and effective way. There are several things you can use to create and maintain some order in the chaos.

There are several products for analyzing text, audio, video and pictorial data. The two most well-known are:

ATLAS.ti is a computer software used mostly, although not exclusively, in qualitative data research and analysis.

NVivo 7 (also known as NUD*IST) is a project management software that can be used in qualitative data research and analysis.

I use Atlas.ti because in particular the latest release is very easy and intuitive to use; not only for text analysis but also for audio and video. In addition to that you can use several other programs.

Mind mapping is probably one the most well known software applications to use, but be careful:
How to get the most out of topic notes in your mind maps – Mind Mapping Software Blog

Topic notes are an essential tool for helping to prevent information overload. Because they are normally hidden from view, they are a great place to store extended information that would otherwise be crowded into your mind map. As a form of visual diagramming, mind mapping was never designed to support more than a word or two per topic. Placing five words, or 20, or 50 any map topic results in a map that is almost unreadable. Notes enable you to create a very concise topic name, and then to capture all of the other important information in a note.

A good alternative is also the free Compendium:
Compendium Institute

Compendium is about sharing ideas, creating artifacts, making things together, and breaking down the boundaries between dialogue, artifact, knowledge, and data.

I use the latter two in particular for more concrete tasks such as writing a paper or an article (as a preparation for that) or just for an in between analysis of particular events when I’m confused about the actual meaning of it or about how the event did evolve).

When doing research is can be useful to create your own databases. There are probably many out there that are very good, but I’m very satisfied with Zoho Creator:
Online Database Software, Create Online Database Applications, Web-based: Zoho Creator

Database software to create online database applications

Perhaps in the future you will find such a database attached to this site.

Also very good, but then in particular for teaching is Polity’s website Digital Media and Society. It could be a commercial entreprise this site, but when you are interested in all resources, syllabi and literature on digital media and/in society this can really help you.
Digital Media and Society

This site has been created to support and supplement this series of cutting edge books from Polity on new technologies. It also aims to provide a new space online where those with an interest in the relationship between these new technologies and society can share views, resources and queries. We hope not only that you will find the information here helpful and stimulating, but that you will bookmark this site and return to it frequently, as both a contributor to the site and a consumer of it.

All these programs of course do not mean that you don’t have to do anything anymore. Perhaps more important than as a means to organize your material, these programs when used frequently make it easy for you (or even force you to) organize yourself.

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