Research Workflow 1: Digital Preservation and Writing

In this series of posts I outline the way that I go about researching and writing in a manner that makes the most sense for me, keeps me organized, and preserves my work as best as possible for the future.

There are lots of great posts out there about research workflows, but since I find that I glean something from most of them that I read, I don’t mind adding another one. I have drawn liberally from lots of other sources – most of which I cannot remember – so apologies in advance to anyone who I have drawn upon without citing.

Digital Preservation

Over the past year I have become more concerned with digital preservation. A couple times within the last year I have tried to find things I wrote 10–15 years ago, only to find they were in a format that I could not open or could only open with some difficulty. If all goes well, I plan to be in the same career area for the next 30 years or so, and I want to make sure that if 20 years from now I want to review a file of research notes from today that I am able to. This led me to use plain text as my main file format for everything I do. If I need to work in another program, I make sure that I can export my work into plain text. Why plain text? Simply put, it is hard to imagine computers without it. I’ve also started to write in markdown. It is easy to learn (I’ve written this post in markdown and have written a conference paper with it), but I’ve yet to see how well it transfers to Word, which still is industry standard in humanities academia. The real test of writing in markdown will be how well it works for articles and book chapters. I think it should work fine, with the possible exception of footnotes.


At this point, I am using Byword for writing in plain text on the Mac and iOS devices (this was written on iPad). I’m syncing b
Byword to the same folder in Dropbox that nvalt also monitors (more on that workflow in a later post). However, there are many other great plain text editors out there (I also like plaintext for iOS. Just do yourself a favor and don’t use the baked in text editor. This process ensures I can write from anywhere, and means there are lots of backups around. I also use textexpander, which means that I write ‘phen’ for ‘phenomenology’, ‘levs’ for ‘Levinas’, etc. When it comes time to finish something, I just export from Byword into the appropriate format and do any layout necessary.

In the next post, I’ll take a look at finding and annotating research sources.

Apps used in my workflow

There are lots of great ways to set up a research workflow. I have a macbook, iPad, and iPod, and here are the apps that I use (I’ll talk about them in later posts):

Keeping up on the latest news/conferences/publications

  • newsify for google reader (iOS)
  • zite (iOS)
  • twitter


  • goodreader (iOS)
  • pocket

Bibliography manager

  • bookends (iOS and Mac)


  • byword
  • word
  • textexpander

Keeping organized

  • nvalt (Mac)
  • fantastical (Mac)
  • sparrow (Mac and iOS)
  • week calendar (iOS)
  • reminders (iOS)

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