Keeping a Research Database
I've received quite a few questions about the research database / process I use to put together my books, as well as posts like The Best Essays I Read in 2013.
Here's the system I used to store, organize, and review 3,492 posts this year…
Evernote serves as my research database. Evernote is capable of doing a ton of different things, but I only use it for one thing: storing the full text of useful articles I read on the web in a searchable, organized fashion. Within Evernote, I keep 36 separate notebooks that organize entries by topic. Example notebooks include "Business," "Skill Acquisition," "Programming," and "Quotations."
I don't use Evernote for anything else: it stores my research. I know a lot of people use it for everything: storing documents and receipts, tracking tasks, setting reminders, etc. For me, keeping the system simple is best.
For a more comprehensive look at what Evernote can do, check out Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly.
Low-Friction Collection: Evernote Clearly
Evernote's Clearly browser plugin makes adding the title, URL, and full text of the articles I read to my research database quick and painless.
Adding an article or blog post to my database is a matter of hitting a keyboard shortcut:
Control + Command + ↑. Clearly automatically identifies the appropriate body text, re-formats it an easy-to-read style, and saves the full text to Evernote in my "Web Archive" notebook.
In addition, I'm using Feedly.com as my RSS reader. Feedly supports saving blog posts directly to Evernote, which saves even more time. This is a good example of finding ways to remove Friction from common tasks. If it took anything more than a keystroke to add material to my database, I wouldn't do it as often.
This system makes storing 10-50 articles per day trivial.
Maintaining the Database
Every month or so, I review the contents of the "Web Archive" notebook and sort the entries into my various topic notebooks. This serves three purposes:
Using the Database
This simple process ensures I have a huge archive of quality information close at hand while writing books, blog posts, and essays. I'm able to review the stored information in many different ways:
- By topic
- By date
- By source / author
- By keyword via full-text search
- Some combination of the above
Even better, I have access to my database even if I'm not connected to the internet, which is handy if I'm writing on an airplane or need to block my internet connection to focus on writing.
Thought Still Required
Evernote doesn't do my work for me: I still have to think. Using this system requires manual review, mulling over the information I've stored, and deciding if/how/where to use it. The system simply makes it easier to store large amounts of information for later review, organize that information in a useful way, and retrieve items of interest when I need them.
That's my method. It's simple, easy to set up and maintain, and it works. What tools and processes do you use to collect and store important information? Can you make your current process more effective or efficient?
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