PhD Apps and Resources

In approaching the final months of my PhD program in historical theology, I have been contemplating the various apps and resources I use for my research and writing. Over the past several years I’ve been able, through my seminars, to try out some different tools and see which fit. The list below contains the tools I’ve found best fit the approach that works. Certainly there are others out there, but this seems to work the best for my needs.

Programs (both computer and iOs)

Word – Microsoft is the bane of many folks’ existence and it receives a lot of criticism. However, it is the best word processor and paper writing tool out there. With the integration of the Endnote toolbar, I’ve found that the process of writing seminar papers is quite easy. Granted, I took the time to learn the ins and outs of the program through some online and in class tutorials. How we arrange and set styles, how you can remove gigantic spaces between footers, and how to create page breaks that reflect appropriate pagination requirements are just a few things that are easily resolvable when you know the program.

Evernote – This program has revolutionized my entire research and thinking process. I currently keep the program on two computers and my iPad so I can work on notes in various places (office, study, library, Starbucks, etc.) By creating distinct folders, sub-folders, and carefully managing files I’ve gone from pages and pages of handwritten notes (and painful handcramps) to a completely paperless system. With the additional of Evernote Clipper (which I desperately wish could be used on my iOs devices) my ability to grab articles, webpages, research data, and other relevant materials quickly for later review and classification has exploded. This is the best tool in my entire box.

Dropbox – Navigating PDFs and documents between my laptop and iPad is made simple with this cloud based system. I have the central filing system separated in folders for: church matters, personal items, PhD research, and a couple of other shared folders. Then each major folder has appropriate sub-folders. For my PhD research I have created a sub-folder for each seminar and then transfered them to a portable harddrive when I’m finished with the seminar. (The best moment is moving a folder into the “completed seminars” folder.) Dropbox is essential for my work as it is integrated with some apps below.

Endnote – Perhaps the greatest difference in research over the past fifteen years has been the development and sophistication of the documentation programs. I’ve used Endnote since my master’s degree. Though I’ve tried other programs, for my purposes Endnote is the best. With its latest update I’m deeply impressed the integration of many facets of the program. The Endnote Web feature is also very helpful. As aforementioned, the integration with Word allows me to drop in properly formatted citations and footnotes into papers as I go through the “Cite While You Write” system. This has saved me about 2 to 4 hours of formatting per paper. I can’t stress how important this kind of documentation and citation program is. There are other options, check them out here.

Apps (primarily iOs)

I use my iPad extensively for my research and work. Frankly, it is the workhorse of my life. Here are some apps I use in my research.

iAnnotate PDF – I have moved almost exclusively to non-paper research. Where there is paper (other than lengthy texts) I scan and create PDFs. Through iAnnotate I can mark up, highlight, notate and export these PDFs to my Endnote program for storage and immediate reference. iAnnotate has been great and as it interfaces with Dropbox, I can easily download, work on, and then upload PDFs to the cloud.

Notes Plus –¬†This is how I take notes in seminar and often while I do some research in the library or my study. It allows for handwritten notes on my iPad using my JotNot Plus stylus. When I’ve received PDFs of presentations I can import those and mark them up. As a side note, I also use this app for taking notes during couples counseling sessions.


iTranslate
– The research language requirement is important for a PhD. However, sometimes I need to get the idea of a scholar who is writing in Latin, Italian, French, German, etc without taking up the labor intensive time of carefully translating. So I use this app to get that idea and see if I need to return and carefully translate. This makes my research a bit easier, but it isn’t a clean translation and needs to be carefully understood.

Kindle – When I can, I use Amazon’s Kindle for eBooks. It is a great app and a great system. Though I don’t (and probably won’t) own a Kindle device, this app allows me to grab eBooks from Amazon, mark them up, take notes, search, and carry thousands of them with me and they only weigh 2 lbs. Its just as good as the iBooks app in my opinion.

Google Play Books – Google Books has done a lot to bring out of print texts that are still important to the table of contemporary scholarship. So their app is helpful, though not without limitations. I use this app often and have about forty out of print books which are germane to my research loaded.

 Accordance РThough I also have the Mac version, for my research in historical theology (particularly patristics) the iPad app has allowed me to carry, search, note, and reference over 1,000 texts all on my iPad. The Mac version has a better search tool, but the iPad has sufficed in about 75% of the time. Also, during a couple of seminars I have been able to utilize the biblical texts side to bring up and discuss relevant matters to the seminar.

Logos Bible – I don’t own Logos’ computer based system. However, I do have about 600 volumes on my iPad which are indexed, searchable, cross-referenced, and always available. This is a good program and it has aided my studies.

FeeddlerRSS – Staying current on the best scholarship is essential during a PhD, or at any time really. One of the great things about our current situation is that we have some world-class scholars who blog regularly and discuss important matters. Through Feedler, I can stay up to date, read my feeds and interact as I need. Google is doing away with their Reader service in July, which is an utter tragedy, so I guess I’ll have to move over to another platform. However, this has allowed me to star blogs, tweet them, and interact at a level unlike anything else.

So, that is my basic run down. I don’t use a bunch of fancy programs or apps for outlining (though I’m considering it) and I use a lot of services like Worldcat.org through my browsers. I tried Mendeley and just never really made a good connection with the program. So that’s why I’ve stuck with Endnote. About six months ago I made the switch from PC to Mac when I purchased a MacBook Air. I had been using a Mac Mini for ministry stuff and that made the transition easier. However, when it came to papers I couldn’t use Pages for them because of the limitations of the program. Office for Mac brought all the significant Microsoft Office programs to my Mac and has made all the difference in the world. Anyways, this is submitted to aid anyone.

What programs do you currently use for research? How is it easier today than twenty years ago? What am I missing?