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Something to consider when writing papers or doing research projects:

When saving a large amount of research and reference articles to your computer or thumb drive, there are a number of things you can do to make life much easier for yourself in the long run.

Do:

  • Save all your research to an easily-identifiable location, whether this is a folder specific to your class, your project, or to research in general.
  • Use as much of the full title as possible, or the author’s names and partial titles, when you name your file.  It may seem like a pain (journal article titles can be abominably long), but will save you grief later — articles on the same subject can be very similarly titled.
  • Tag your files if you’re working on an article, project, thesis or dissertation that has you hoarding fifty files or more.  Tags and keywords could be invaluable in finding your sources for specific points (when you need it for the paragraph on vocabulary-building exercises, for example, as opposed to the paragraph on general vocabulary acquisition).  Just google “tags” and your operating system to find walk-throughs on how to tag as well as downloadable programs that can assist you.

Don’t:

  • save files with the default name.  You’ll waste more time than you expect switching back and forth between seven different files named “untitled” or “document” to find the one you want.
  • use abbreviations for titles if you have a large collection of resources; research repeats itself.  ”Word problems, 3rd graders” may seem like a perfect name at the time, until you look back later and can’t remember if that one is about the use of word problems to connect curricula for third graders, or an article on tactics improving word problem scores in third grade students, or a study on word problem outcomes for a set of third grade students who are non-native speakers of English.
  • assume you’ll recognize a nondescript, incomplete, or unhelpful file name later.  I promise you that after your collection reaches a certain size, you won’t.
  • spread your research across every folder in your computer.  Unless you have tags (see above), finding what you need will seem impossible if you aren’t sure whether you saved it in the downloads or my documents folder and the title doesn’t have the keywords you’re searching.

Another helpful tip:

Consider where your attention lies in references or citations both when you save your sources and when you organize them.  Long titles will be far easier to scan in the “List” view of a folder, as opposed to the “Tile” or “Thumbnail” settings many people use as a default.  If your files have other pertinent information in its properties — publication, tags or keywords, authors, etc. — the “Details” view can allow you to sort files by those pieces of information as well as by the typical file name, date modified, or other basics.

For example: I write using APA style, where the researchers take front and center; after a few years of it, I’m far more likely to remember the names of the authors of an article than I am the title.  Certain properties of the PDFs I work with are unalterable and don’t always include the correct authors, but if they did I could arrange them alphabetically by author in the “Details” view.   Instead, my file names include the author’s name before the title.  Beginning each file name with the last name of the first researcher that would be listed in the references page and in-document citations means I can find the work I’m referencing almost immediately from there.  

I worked with a professor and researcher who couldn’t necessarily remember either, but could tell you the year it was published because the research was all very current and every new finding was substantial.  She and I would have greatly benefited from including publication years in the titles, if we’d thought of it at the time.  This is especially helpful when working with news articles, historical texts, or court documents.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to taking my own advice a little too late.  Over sixty articles and only a handful of the names tell me what they actually are…maybe I need to find myself a research assistant.

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