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Reference Indexing system wanted

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  • Reference Indexing system wanted

    For the last few weeks, I've been thinking about all the reference information I have - some is paper based from entire books through to single pieces of paper, some is electronic files.

    Most of my reference matieral relates to safety management, quality systems, and from (currently) studying an MBA. (this is all for personal purposes - ie portable to a new job)

    My project is to find a way to index (and file) it, so that I have some chance of knowing what i have. Apart from the MBA stuff, which currently takes up lots of room, the rest of the paper stuff would fit in two filing cabinets, and a couple of bookshelves.

    Any suggestions? How do you manage to find long-term resources/reference material?


  • #2
    Sounds like you might implement the paper tiger type approach, using Excel--

    One row per document:
    Col A--location
    Col B--title
    Col C--keywords

    If you need to find something, you search column C by keyword

    There are some threads here where people have discussed this, you might find them if you do a search.


    • #3
      I have similar needs. Nearly 3,000 research papers recorded in an old DOS-based program called Papyrus, which last I checked had not been supported for several years but was available as a free download. (I paid $99 for it 15 years ago.) When the world was migrating from DOS to Windows, the developers were writing a Mac version instead. The result: No Windows version. No Mac Version. No Company. That said, it's quite a nice little program, that can search on key words or text strings from titles or abstracts or comments. I have four file drawers of hard copies of papers and Papyrus will point me to those files. The program that's the gold standard for this sort of thing is EndNote, a Windows program, and it can't convert Papyrus files to EndNote files.

      I also have several hundred books that aren't catalogued but need to be. If for no other reason, to hopefully keep me from buying any more interesting-sounding books from Amazon and not discover until after it arrives that I already own it.

      Customer files have never really been a problem, and certainly not since I put in CRM software, but I do tend to lose track of vendor files of the someday/maybe type (this looks cool, we need to look into it someday. Or here's a product we should consider adding once we have these other processes in place.). Off the top of my head, I know very little of what I have filed under general reference. Then, there are all of the miscellaneous electronic files.

      Paper Tiger is an industrial duty application that should work quite well for the vendor, general reference and electronic files. I have not used it but have taken a quick tour of it, and the commercial Paper Tiger application is not quite as ggrozier describes above. The lawyer Randy Stokes has used it for years and describes it elsewhere in this forum.

      Another alternative is Powermarks, an application which I believe was designed for cataloging web sites but which has been rather ingeniously used by some to keep track of nearly anything.

      So what's the best approach? Wish I knew.


      • #4
        This may or may not address your problem, but I thought I'd share this info. Years ago we had several sizable data bases which were being maintained in Appleworks, of all things. Naturally we wanted to migrate this info over to Excel/Access and began searching for someone to do it electronically since we didn't want to re-key everything. (We chose to just have the data converted to Excel and then we imported it into Access so we could control how the data base was constructed).

        We located a company named "Shaffstall Corporation" in Indianapolis, IN.
        Don't know if they are still in business, but if they are you can reach them at 317.842.2077.
        Their prices were very reasonable and their turnaround time was excellent.


        • #5
          Thanks for the advice.

          I've just spent an evening playing with the "Personal Brain". I want to love it, but.. browsing to and editing links to files is poor.

          Paper TIger looks like an overkill for my needs.

          I think I'll create a list in Excel, with keywords, and then experiment with a queries in a database.



          • #6
            to keep things really simple and searchable for now

            Here are some very low tech methods I have used and am using, but eventually will need to use a real bibliographic data base manager that is compatible with your profession's requirements.

            For paper based stuff, for a major content area in my profession I photocopied the table of contents of the main reference book in the field. I stapled it into a heavy folder with a large tab so I could locate it easily. Then I labelled about 25 folders using the major headings in this table of contents, also using pretty heavy folder stock. I omitted a few that I knew I would probably not be collecting information on. As I have used materials that I had on hand or obtained new ones, I have put them into the most applicable folders and made a dot on the photocopy for an article or clipping, and wrote bk for book, j for journal if it was too big to go into the folder and was going to sit on a book shelf with the rest of the volumes of the same journal, vid for video, cass for cassette, and ntbk for stuff that is in a 3-ring binder. If I had an article that applied to several content areas, I made a note for each and put it into the folder for each to which it was applicable, and likewise for a book that had chapters on different subjects. If a folder gets too thick I may make a second one, dividing by whatever reason seems relevant (content, method, date) or I might toss out what is outdated.

            I have also used the address book in my palm as a very basic data-base manager for a small group of materials designating what group it belongs to and it alphabatized by author). Then as I read the work, I put a few notes in. This is great for working on the go, as one must if working and getting a graduate degree. But, if I were doing any real academic or professional heavy duty writing, I would start putting citations into a bibliographic data base manager as I used them. I would chose one that is compatible with the style manual of my field. I have noticed that many professors are reallying completely on their graduate assistants for entering and maintaing such, so I might ask among the grad. students what they are using and how to get it.


            • #7
              I have two systems for reference stuff.

              One is an index. My filing is alphabetically numbered. (did I confuse you?)
              I have an index. Whenever I add a file (not that often, remember this is long term storage, not things you use every day) I write it into the index.

              Then I also think about what other words I might use to try and find it later. Those go beside the index note.

              For instance, I have an HP Ipaq PDA. The manuals happen to be in H108. But under "I" I have a note that says "Ipaq - H108." Under "P", I wrote "pda ipaq - H108."

              I don't lose something very often any more.

              My second system is in my rolodex. Same thing. I may only need a plumber once a year. Of course I've written down "Sam Plumbing Services" in there, but I also stick in a card labelled Plumber - see Sam Plumbing Srvc.

              I'll make a note of who NOT to use too. Under Florists, I have, "ABC Florists" and "don't use XYZ florists"

              Use whatever system will work for you. Mine happens to be a rolodex. I just don't seem to have any procrastination about keeping that up to date.

              For your computer files, there's several softwares out there that will index your files and allow you to add keywords in, so your searches can bear fruit quickly. I'm thinking of Google Desktop Search right now. For pictures, there's also Picasa2. Picasa lets you group pictures without having to move them from folder to folder.

              Good luck!


              • #8

                Back in the Compuserve days, a writer named Wanda Swenson gave me advice on what she called her "infoindex." It was a plain old Word file. She used one for her work as an author to track URLs, references, files, and so on, and one at home to track her insurance policies, medical records, etc.

                Basically, she just dumped everything into it along with the keywords she thought she would need to access it later.

                For loose pieces of paper, she put a number on them and put them into a single file (really big file). When she wanted to find something, she'd enter the search words into Word, and eventually find what she was after. If it had a number, she looked in the file. If it was a book, she'd entered its shelf location. If it was a file, she had its cabinet and drawer number.

                I've implemented forms of this at various times and various jobs. There's a lot to be said for ease of data entry and quick searching (plus you can print it out and take it with you). But if you need to do complex searches or really need the power of a database, then it may not meet your requirements.


                • #9
                  Hi all - I posted this to 43 Folders a few days ago, and haven't got any responses so I'll try asking here.

                  [beginning of 43f post] Sort of tangential to the question of implementing GTD for grad students (& other academics):

                  I'm a grad student in a social science field, with a lot of articles that I am having trouble figuring out how to organize. I kept them in binders according to the class they were assigned for, but now I'm done with coursework and so that doesn't make as much sense anymore as it has in the past. Some of the articles from classes are relevant to my own research, while others aren't as much. Then of course there are all the articles I'm copying/printing out as I work on my research. I'd like to keep everything I have to date around just in case (I tend to keep academic stuff around for a few years after using it - until I am sure I will never refer to it again - but then I DO get rid of stuff!), and mentally having some of them associated with my classes has helped in the past since I can usually remember where to look for something. That isn't really so with all of the non-class research articles - a category like "research" just isn't working anymore.

                  Binders don't seem like an ideal method anymore either, unless I were to index what's where (e.g., assign a unique # to each article and assign #s to binders, etc.). Should I create categories for articles that are relevant to my research and organize them that way? Should I use bibliographic software to better organize things, or some other method? And how should I physically organize things? A filing cabinet seems like it could work better than binder after binder, except that I move somewhat frequently and have no idea how I'd move something like that from place to place (also, I live in a studio apartment and am extremely short on space).

                  So...does anyone have ideas? What has worked for you? (Or, conversely, not worked?) The hPDA has been great in my life, sort of a "gateway tool" that has led me to become more organized, in control, and feeling less stress, but the disorganization that plagues my collection of articles is really wearing on me. I have been getting into GTD a little bit at a time (I know, you're "supposed" to implement it all at once, but a gradual approach is working for me). Each small step I take (e.g., capturing each task I have to do in my hPDA, thinking about what I have to get done in terms of projects/next actions, etc.) helps me immensely, and leads me to seek out additional ways to improve my quality of life. My piles of articles are the next area that I want to get under control (and I have a feeling my research is going to suffer until I accomplish this). Any and all suggestions are welcome! [end of 43f post]

                  After reading this thread and a few others, I think it's obvious that I should purchase EndNote (I used a trial version for a while and liked it, but from what I've read the most recent version still has a lot of bugs and so I put off buying it). I am tempted just to make a catalogue on index cards, but that wouldn't be searchable or accessible when I'm not at home so I think a digital indexing system is the way to go.

                  So that leaves my primary problem of how to organize a lot of articles so that they are easily accessible, easy to move (e.g., I will be moving across the country for fieldwork in less than a year, etc.), and don't take up a lot of extra space. I am thinking maybe I should just continue with using binders (so far I have just been putting things into 3" binders) organized by last name of first author, and indexed in EndNote.

                  My system has to allow for a lot of expansion, so if I go the binder route should I just plunk down the money and have one per letter?

                  Suggestions? There have to be people on this board who have dealt with something similar...


                  • #10
                    A new kind of Excel-based reference tool

                    This is copied from the "Organize your daily notes" thread on this forum, but I think that it could do what you are asking.

                    My trusted system including all my notes is one big (Excel) file. I use it as an information store for contacts, keyboard shortcuts, bookmarks to files on hardrive, websites, or internet, quotes, passwords, all my work stuff, anything that I may want to recall in the future. The system is also my todo list manager for all next action, waiting, someday. And it is my indirect filing system for paper based items.

                    This whole list of stuff is simply in chronological order, that is I just plunk each entry on the next line and date it.

                    The format is like an electronic scroll, very similar to that of Evernote. My list is close to 5,000 rows (one item = one row) long now and I average about 10 entries per day. At normal monitor resolution, my scroll would be 80 feet tall. Excel allows for around 65,000 rows on a worksheet and the next version (Excel 12) coming out soon will allow 1,000,000 rows. So I am not worried about running out of space yet.

                    Once a "critical mass" amount of personal information has been captured, it is amazing how easily things can be found using a natural language kind of query

                    For example, when is Grandma's birthday? I search for Grandma & birthday there it is!
                    what is my password for this board?
                    (I really used this one just now) username & password there it is!

                    what is holding me up on the Jones project? "@waiting & jones "there it is!
                    where did I file the TPS Cover Sheet template? "TPS & .doc "there it is!
                    what are my current next actions? "next action" there they are!

                    The search tools That I use to navigate this information are a pair of vba macros that have grown up with this file:

                    Tool 1 displays pop-up windows for each search result in sequential order beginning with the most recent. Just pound through the pop-ups until you find what you want.

                    Tool 2 creates an ad hoc report on a new worksheet to report all items that contain the search string.

                    If anybody out there would like to test drive this system, drop me an email and I will send you a copy.



                    • #11

                      I saw your post the other day but didn't have time to reply to it I'm a grad student too, but in computer science. I've never tried EndNote or its kin, because I write my papers in a typsetting system called Latex, which comes with a bibliography format (to simplify everything) called Bibtex. That's not the point, but I did find a java program (JabRef) that is basically a bibliography database that keeps things in the appropriate Bibtex format. I think it would be considered a very distant cousin of EndNote. I used to use a self-made Access database to keep track of all the papers I had, but it just became too much overhead, and I definitely recommend getting a ready-made system.

                      What I really want to address is the whole binder thing. That just seems like too much work, in my humble opinion. All that hole-punching, what happens when your run out of room in a binder, and exactly how do you distinguish between the different articles, i.e., flip from one to another, etc. I've been wrestling with the same issue, and while I was doing course work, I was using binders to keep articles, sorted by class or major project.

                      But I think GTD can help you here - just with the simple concept of reference filing. What I've got now is a banker's box (buy them at any office supply store, or even Walmart, holds a couple of feet worth of files). I have hanging folders, one per letter. I store my articles in this box. They're stapled in the top left corner, and when I put them in the folder (landscape), the staple is on the top-right. (Bear with me ) Each article has a key, or index, based on the letters of author(s) last name and the year of publication. So, an article written by Jones and Smith in 2000 is [JS00]. This key concept I picked up from the alphanumeric bibliography style that we sometimes use; I don't know if it goes outside of math/science much. Anyway, I write the key up by the staple, so that I can easily flip through my articles.

                      I like this system for several reasons:
                      • I don't have to do anything fancy to the paper before filing it. I always staple my articles and write the key on them anyway, so that I know what to reference. Once I'm done reading an article, it can go into the filebox.
                      • Using the alphanumeric key makes filing easy.
                      • I also like the key because it's a good shorthand for the article. Sometimes I think of the article as [ABC05] instead of "that 20 page article with the three line title and fifteen authors".
                      • Expansion is easy. Right now everything (just) fits, but worse comes to worse, I just have to add another filebox and divide the alphabet into two.
                      • It's definitely portable. A full banker's box is a convenient way of carrying stuff, easier than armful of binders.

                      Hope this helps


                      • #12
                        Potential problems with key (index) generation.

                        Originally posted by GTD Wannabe
                        Each article has a key, or index, based on the letters of author(s) last name and the year of publication. So, an article written by Jones and Smith in 2000 is [JS00].
                        What do you do when you have two articles that would have the same key:
                        - Jones and Smith in 2000 is [JS00];
                        - Jordan and Sinatra in 2000 is [JS00] too.

                        What about two digit years - how do you code 1900 and 2000? I know that it is hard to find computer science book published in 1900 but let's think about it generally.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by me_brown1110
                          Back in the Compuserve days, a writer named Wanda Swenson gave me advice on what she called her "infoindex." It was a plain old Word file.
                          I'm glad there's no question of copyright infringement here, because this is exactly the way I do my filing (after starting to use GTD), and I don't know who Wanda Swenson is!

                          Great minds think alike?


                          • #14
                            In response to TesTeq's questions:

                            I've just done a bit of a google search to learn what I could about the "rules" of the alpha bibliography style.


                            alphanumerical (e.g., [GKP92], [Kn97a], [Kn97b], ...). In the latter scheme the labels are constructed from the initials of the authors (typically, the first two letters of the author's last name in case of a single author item, and the first letter of the last name of each author in case of multiple-author items), and the year of publication (usually the last two digits, followed by a,b, etc., in case there are multiple entries by the same author in the same year).
                            True, it is possible to have possible conflicts. I've had a couple. In that case, the first one that gets entered in my database/index wins, e.g., [JS00] for Jones and Smith in 2000. Then, the next article that comes along, say Jordan and Sinatra 2000, will be [JS00xxx] where xxx is some distinguishing term, say a key word from their paper.

                            If I were to have an article from 1900, I would call it [JS1900]. Alternatively, you could just do four years for all of your indexes, e.g., [JS2000] and [JS2000xxx].

                            Note that this is all made-up; there are no hard and fast rules. I just like the alphanumeric keys because I find it an easy way to refer to my articles. The key is to have some way of refering to your articles. You could even just assign them numeric keys, or no keys at all, and just file them by author name. I like having a key because anywhere I'm writing notes, I can refer to a particular article with a handful of characters, as opposed to the long titles or multiple author names.

                            Also, when there is just a single author, the convention in the alpha style is that the first three or two, as in the web ref above) letters of the author's last name are used, e.g., [Smi99] or [Sm99]

                            Finally, when there are a lot of authors, i.e., more than four, the convention is to use a plus sign, so

                            Smith, Jones, Barney, Sinatra in 2000 becomes [SJBS00] but

                            Smith, Jones, Barney, Sinatra, Lesley, etc., in 2000 becomes [SJB+00].


                            • #15
                              This has been an interesting thread for me, as it takes me back to my own grad school days. Back in the day, research groups in particle physics got paper preprints in the mail from colleagues around the world. A major secretarial duty was to index and file the papers. Now, we have an online database of articles called Spires which tracks the web of references (to older papers) and citations (from newer papers) for each paper. Also, essentially all preprints newer than 1992 are available on-live as pdf files at a central archive. I scan author, title, and possibly abstract for over 500 preprints every month.

                              With little need to keep paper copies, I now know that the key with academic literature is not the filing system in your office, but the one in your head. It's our brains that make the connections, not having oodles of papers filed away. Of course, there are programs that can facilitate making and tracking the connections. David Allen has said "don't digitize raw data." The key is extracting the information I need, storing the reference, and moving to the next thing.

                              Here's an example of doing it wrong: I see a review on neutrino mixing. This is an important, active area, but one in which I am not myself working. I think "I'd like to keep up to date on this." So I dutifully note the reference (all electronic now). But the truth is, I have no time to read the article. I keep informed about this area from conferences, seminars, and other mechanisms. I know some of the top people working in this area, and if I ever want/need to read a current review, it's easy to find. So the right thing to do is just move on. Note that this might not have been the right thing to do when I was a graduate student, but it is now. We all have to walk the fine line between not enough information, and clutter and overload.