Finding information is the easy part, keeping it organized so you can find it again when you need it three years later? That’s the tricky part! Having an organizational plan before you start collecting links, documents and photos, or creating an organizational structure to put already found information into is key to being able to find that detail you need easily. Why waste time searching for it again when you could just put it in a good spot in the first place? Here’s my not-so-secret techniques to information organization and management which helps me keep things organized and not frustrated!
Using the techniques discussed earlier, you have probably found lots of amazing research materials – but where to store all of this information a way that you can see easily see it, share it and track back to where you found it? There are many options to consider, but here are the locations that I use:
- Folder in the Cloud (Dropbox)
A Note on Labels or Tags
When you are choosing a research material storage solution, it is okay to have one tool for one thing, and another tool for something else – just keep your labels the same between tools. For instance, when organizing project materials, I will have a project pinboard, an Evernote tag, a Dropbox folder and a three-ring binder all labeled with the same name, so there is a consistent scheme of organization that cuts across all formats.
Pinterest is great for storing photos and they can link back to the original source location, but it doesn’t work for text documents. I love Pinterest for its visual display, and being able to easily see and organize artwork for maximum effect to be able to see connections and similarities between artists, objects and time periods.
My research pinboards are here, and they are organized in different ways, by project and by time/place. When I work on a project, I collect information over a period of time, sometimes years, before I feel I know enough to move forward on a project. I used to keep all of the URL’s to the photos in a text file saved on my hard drive, but now I use Pinterest which is much nicer!
The Embroidered Sleeve gown board is an example of a project board. I have been gathering photos of gowns that have one embroidered sleeve, similar styled gowns without embroidery, and examples of period embroidery using pearls and gold thread.
Evernote is an online app that can store anything that is found on the web. It saves items to notebooks and you give them tags so you can find them easily again. I love Evernote for storing links to PDFs, Google book finds and anything text-based, but I do not love it for pictures. Even though you can store pictures on Evernote, you can’t see them all on one page like Pinterest, which makes finding the one you want tedious. Most importantly, Evernote stores a snippet of the material and the link back to the original source, it does not store the whole PDF or book – for that, you’ll need to download it and store it somewhere.
Folder in the Cloud (Dropbox)
For files and articles that you want to store, I recommend using a folder in a cloud storage solution, such as Dropbox. There have been so many horror stories of hard drives which have crashed and taken years of research with them, so please be smart and use a backup solution or a cloud storage folder. Dropbox allows you to share folders with other people, which is great for collaborating with a partner on a project.
It’s not an online solution, but there’s nothing quite like the feel of a good book in ones hands… I have my books organized roughly by subject, with a few shelves devoted to holding books and papers for different projects.
What to Save?
When you do research, it is vitally important that you save some key pieces of information so you can remember where you found it and why it is important to you! Here’s my ticklist:
- Where you found it? Save the URL, permalink, n:urn, or PURL (permanent URL) of the item you found.
- What did you find? Write a brief summary or copy/paste key pieces of information about the item you found. Whether it be the title/author/subject or title/museum name/accession number, you should save the data that you would cite the article or item with that.
- Why you found it? I like to save the date of the item ( example 1525), subject I was searching for and what captured my eye about this particular item.
- Copyright information: If you are going to publish, you will want to save this along with the photos you find. More and more museums are placing photos of their artwork into the public domain. Saving the rights information along with the item will save you a lot of time later when you are looking for photos to be able to use in your book/article/etc.
To be able to find information again, quickly and easily, you need to save it in safe place and using some sort of organizational structure to categorize it. There are two ways to go about this, by project or by subject.
Organizing by project is a handy way of keeping everything together that you need for a particular project. During the research phase, this could be done using any or all of these (I use all of these):
- A folder on your computer or cloud drive,
- Pinboard on Pinterest
- Notebook in Evernote
- A file folder on my bookshelf with project notes, sketches, etc.
- Books grouped together on the shelf
When you move into the exploration and production phase on a project, I find that it works best to get the information off of the computer and into a hardcopy form. I like being able to mark up documents and photos with different colored pens to highlight details and sections of text that are important. I move all of the sketches and notes in the file folder to a three-ring binder, where I also have printed out the articles and photos of the object or garment and placed them in page protector sleeves. All of the physical materials such as paper patterns, fabric, trim, etc. go into a clear plastic tote bin which as a paper label with the project name tapped on the inside so it can’t be easily lost. This system works great for when you have to quickly straighten up the work room, as the binder then goes into the bin with all the materials and nothing gets lost.
When researching for a particular project, I often find amazing tidbits of information, portraits and sculptures that I want to keep track of, but which doesn’t fit into any of the current project categories. What to do? Create subject categories! These allow me to collect documents, articles, photos and other information relating to a decade, garment or subject for future reference and be able to find them easily. I use the same subject category on Evernote and Pinterest, saving everything as I go along with the search.
This of course is not the only organizational method, you can also have subject sub-folders within projects and project sub-folders within subjects… The key thing to spend a little bit of time planning out a structure to organize your data and materials into, so you can remember easily where you put them!
Hopefully these tips will help you organize your research so when you need to find that one article on a particular subject, you can easily do so, and not berate yourself for being so sloppy and disorganized. A little pre-planning can make the project write-up fun and successful, instead of a horrible headache.