Academic Research

How I Approach Academic Research & Tools and Tricks That Help Me

When I conduct academic research, I’m moving through four distinct phases. In the first phase, I gather. At this stage, it’s too early for me to be selective. Rather, it’s time to search the right databases and download PDFs of anything that seems useful. “Does this look germane? Great! Let’s put it in the basket.”



Setting Up for Success: File-Naming Conventions


When I’m pulling down a PDF, sometimes I’ll add something helpful to the beginning of the file name. For example, if a journal article looks like it’s mostly providing background information, I’ll add “BG.” Or, if the article seems to primarily discuss a case study, I’ll add “CS.” I try not to overthink these tags. (By the way, I also use some of the helpful naming tips shared here and here.) When I’m in full-blown gather mode, I also reach for Zotero, free software that helps me keep track of (1) what I’ve pulled down and (2) citations/references.



Sorting Research and Organizing the Initial Readthrough


After the gather phase, it’s time to sort. I tend to group my PDFs and then order them in the sequence I plan to read through them. Sometimes, I’ll use folders to separate content—sometimes just so I don’t see the size of the stack!



Mapping My Mind: Notes, Highlights, and Beyond


Next, it’s time to dissect. This is when I react to the content. As I’m chewing on the fruits of my research, I’m generally looking for pathways from article to article. “Do these authors generally agree?” “Can I build a bridge from here to there?” During this process, I highlight, make notes, and keep track of my ideas. Sometimes, I’ll also put together a “mind map” that helps me connect ideas and uncover research trails I might not have explored in my early searches. Right now, my favorite mind-mapping software is XMind. I also like MindMup.



The Pivot: From Critical Analysis to Reconstruction


For me, academic research is a recursive process, and I might cycle through the first three phases several times before I ever reach the last. At this final stage, I begin to reconstruct. That is, having worked through my research, I’m ready to draw from my notes, order my ideas, and synthesize my findings. Typically, this process culminates in a piece of writing. During that eventual writing stage, I might decide to conduct more research—turning over more stones as I work through the finer details. Largely, though, my screen is split between viewing my PDFs and my Word Doc. (And, obviously, I have copious coffee on hand!).



My Academic Research is Better with Casedo


Whatever the project, my phases are the same: I gather, sort, dissect, and reconstruct. And with Casedo, the transition is fluid. First, because Casedo lets me import a mix of PDFs, Word Docs and emails with attachments, I have my work in one place. (And no longer must descend into the catacomb-like structure of my OneDrive!).



Sorting Research is Easier in Casedo


Casedo also makes it easy for me to sort my research. I typically drag-and-drop files into the Index, in the order I want to read them. From there, I might create folders or folders-within-folders if I want to further streamline my workspace.



Casedo Helps Me Track Relationships Between Documents


Once I have my files organized, I use Casedo’s continuous-scrolling feature to work through my research from top to bottom. While conducting that initial read through, I use the Bookmark, Highlight, and Comment tools in Casedo to keep track of my ideas. Although those tools are excellent, I think my favorite is the Link tool—I’ve never seen an annotation tool like it. With the Link tool, I can create a pathway between documents, which is helpful whenever I identify relationships and points of agreement/disagreement among authors. I think of my Casedo links as wormholes that transport me to my thinking, making it easier for me to connect ideas, compare documents, and generate ideas. (Before, I was always writing down these relationships; now I move through them). And because Casedo has two windows, once I find those relationships, I can rapidly add Comments and Highlights to the documents I’m comparing. Frequently, I’ll then recall bits of research that might also relate to my ideas. At that point, I appreciate the single search bar in Casedo, which helps me find the word or phrase I was thinking about, without having to open extra windows.


All in all, I think Casedo makes life easier whenever I’m working through complicated concepts in a stack of documents. That is, with all the smart tools and the pleasant all-in-one workspace, academic research is better with Casedo.


While you’re here, click HERE to read our article on ‘How to build an argument’.