So far we’ve discussed creating a backup system, a local archive of OCRed digital sources and a bibliographic database. We’ve also covered a number of strategies for adding new material to our local repository automatically, including search, information trapping, and spidering. Two programs lie at the core of the workflow, DevonThink Pro and Scrivener. When I add a new source to my local repository, I create a bibliographic record for it, then I index it in DevonThink. Once it is indexed I can use the searching, clustering and concordance tools in DevonThink to explore my sources. Since everything that is related to my project is indexed in DT, it is the one local place where I go to look for information. Rather than explain all of the useful things that can be done with your sources in DT (and there are a lot) I will simply refer to the articles by Steven Johnson and Chad Black that convinced me to give DT a try:
- Steven Johnson, Tool for Thought and More Information
- Steven Johnson, DIY: How to Write a Book
- Chad Black, DevonThink and other Mac Apps for History and Humanities Research, DevonThink for Historical Research, Part II, DevonThink for Historical Research, Part III, and Update on the Ever-Changing Method
A couple of notes about DT. If you do decide to buy the software, buy the $10 e-book on how to use the software at the same time. There are a lot of powerful features and this is the fastest way to learn them. Unlike Johnson, I store everything related to my project in DT. That is why I advise bursting large documents into smaller units for better searching and clustering. As a historian, I also tend to write books that have more chronological structure than his do, so I use a sheet in DevonThink to create a chronology that can be sorted by date, name, event, and source. It is not as flexible as a spreadsheet, but it does not have to be.
For writing, I am using Scrivener, which allows me to draft and rearrange small units of text easily. I can copy a passage that I’ve just written from Scrivener into DT and use the magic hat to find anything in my sources that may be related to that paragraph (just as Johnson describes). The super-secret monograph consists of seven chapters of five subsections each. In Scrivener, I can see the status of each of those pieces at a glance: how much has been written, how much needs to be done, and how each relates to other subsections. Rather than facing a yawning gulf at the bottom of a word processer screen, and potential writer’s block, I can see the book take shape as I work on it. When the draft is finished in Scrivener, it is easily compiled to whatever form that the publisher wants. I can’t say enough good things about Scrivener. By itself I’m sure it has doubled my writing speed.
The key is working with small enough units of text. When you cite a source, you are typically referring to a part of it: a quote, a paragraph, a passage, an argument. Similarly, when you write a book, you can only work on a small part of it at one time. Inappropriate tools force you to manipulate objects at the wrong scale, usually the whole document, however long. Better tools, such as DT and Scrivener, allow you to focus on exactly the pieces you need for the task at hand.