How do ethnographers collect data? How do they index and retrieve it?
What strategies do they employ to take it across borders, store it in
safe places, and transfer it into different formats? And what tools do
they employ to analyze it?

I'm interested in generating a discussion about what sort of technologies are best for research, including the capturing, categorizing, managing and analyzing data in various text and multimedia formats. Any suggestions or recommendations. What's your setup?


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I'm a big fan of Zotero because I use it not only as a reference manager, but increasingly to keep track of my online "field notes" (i.e. annotated screen-prints from online forums, etc). I don't use many collaborative features as yet, which apparently Mendeley is (becoming) superior at.

I'm intrigued by Anthrodyne ... an open-source OS for anthropologists? Brilliant. I'd like to hear more details about that as and when they become available. A portable version of the OS might also be useful for field researchers as pen drives are cheap, easy to carry and fairly robust.

Lane DeNicola said:
Yes I've heard generally good reviews of Mendeley, and it bears some striking similarities to (and differences) from Zotero (and in fact I've seen a bit of comparison in the Zotero forum). A key distinction, though, is that while Mendeley is "free as in beer," it is also closed source. Typically that will be an important criterion for inclusion in the default distribution, but one beauty of the Anthrodyne concept is that it will be extremely easy to incorporate such alternatives at some level.
What does everyone recommend for text editing software? PageFour is great for Windows, and Scrivener for the Mac. The most comparable software I can find for Linux is Zim. What am I missing? What do you use?
This may be a bit of a tangent, but a long-standing and related question for me has been what different groups of people consider "text." I'd say it's quite likely that most people don't really recognize any different between "text editors" and "word processors" (let alone "typesetting" software or "page layout" software) except perhaps that the latter are more feature-rich somehow. Notepad and TextEdit are just super simple versions of Word or Pages. For programmers, web authors, and other geeky types, they're a world apart, though (and this is actually discussed a bit on the Wikipedia entry for "text editor").

"Text" means ASCII, Unicode, or data conforming to some other specific character encoding system—including text that also has a higher-order structure (like HTML, XML, or RTF). As a result, "text editors" are usually geared toward foregrounding a document's syntax (e.g. by assigning different colors to "tags" or "properties" or other structural elements). These have always been fairly central in the Unix (and so Linux) world, as they are especially amenable to pipeline filtering and processing using command-line tools. The text editor Emacs (an early exemplar of the folks at the Free Software Foundation) is...well, one of the top five most powerful pieces of software ever built, really (IMHO), but it also demands a pretty good memory for key-combinations and has a fairly steep learning curve (compared to, say, TextWrangler on the Mac). Wikipedia also has a great entry that compares various text editors.

"Word processors," on the other hand, are less about presenting syntax than about presenting "visual formatting and layout"—fonts, styles, margins, headers/footers, tables, indexes, text flow around graphics, and so on. These (typically) rely on a binary (rather than a "character-encoded" or "plain text") file format, where many things are hidden from the user so that they can focus instead on what the document looks like (and so typically these involve WYSIWYG interfaces). It used to be that the closest thing to a "word processor" on Unix was TeX (which would take a plain text file structured according to the TeX typesetting language and convert it to very nicely laid-out Postscript). Many still use that for its superior facility with laying out mathematical equations, but today we also have OpenOffice Writer, as well as many other alternatives (see the Operating System Compatibility section on the Wikipedia entry comparing different word processors).

Then there are also many other related but distinct tools (e.g. Scrivener) that do allow the editing of text, but integrate that capability with annotation, outlining, mind-mapping, blogging, online collaboration, etc. It's a quite varied palette of functions!

Justin Shaffner said:
What does everyone recommend for text editing software? PageFour is great for Windows, and Scrivener for the Mac. The most comparable software I can find for Linux is Zim. What am I missing? What do you use?
Hey Lane,

You can go off on a tangent any time. As far as I am concerned, this is a wonderful initial guide to a set of options that I have never considered in quite this way before. Thanks a lot.

Lane DeNicola said:
This may be a bit of a tangent, but a long-standing and related question for me has been what different groups of people consider "text." I'd say it's quite likely that most people don't really recognize any different between "text editors" and "word processors" (let alone "typesetting" software or "page layout" software) except perhaps that the latter are more feature-rich somehow.
Lane, Thanks for the clarification! Would yourself and others be interested in helping me to compile a list of recommended software for qualitative research for the three main operating systems? Myself and another colleague at Cambridge begin this project about a year here, but I've been thinking lately to possibly move it to another location such as the OAC wiki, or a Wordpress installation, and see about updating it.

Lane DeNicola said:
This may be a bit of a tangent, but a long-standing and related question for me has been what different groups of people consider "text." I'd say it's quite likely that most people don't really recognize any different between "text editors" and "word processors" (let alone "typesetting" software or "page layout" software) except perhaps that the latter are more feature-rich somehow. Notepad and TextEdit are just super simple versions of Word or Pages. For programmers, web authors, and other geeky types, they're a world apart, though (and this is actually discussed a bit on the Wikipedia entry for "text editor").
Certainly! Looks like a solid organizational schema, and having such a list would be a necessary step anyway in some of my own work. How likely is it you'd be migrating to a new host in the near-term?
I am a Mac user and here is what I use -- I think most Mac users do something close to this:

Fieldnotes: DevonThink -- you can do open coding with DevonThink via tags. It is more powerful than Evernote and does not rely on The Cloud, but the downside is doesn't have the mobile device integration.

Interviews: Olympus recorder -> audacity -> express scribe

Photos and Videos: iPhoto. I don't do much with these media tho so ymmv.

Plaintext editor: Textwrangler, out of habit mostly.

The Finder is fine as an 'anything bucket' for storing files, but for files that I need the metadata for -- i.e. PDFs and citations of articles, I use Sente.

For reading notes I use a DevonThink database.

For searching the Internet for content I highly highly recommend Launchbar, which lets you make custom queries.

I'd be interested in using specialized QDA software except 1) the price is ridiculous and 2) a lot of it relies on attitudes to coding that are strike me as un-anthropological.

For teaching fieldmethods the next time around, I'm planning on having students use a combination of ExpressScribe and Evernote, since both are free and cross-platform. Hth.
Rex, thanks for the contribution. When I used a Mac, my set-up differed from yours only slightly. For writing, I mostly relied on Scrivener. Journler is also good for random notes and journalling. For reference and pdf management I used Bookends, but Sente looks just as good if not better!


Rex said:
I am a Mac user and here is what I use -- I think most Mac users do something close to this:
Fieldnotes: DevonThink -- you can do open coding with DevonThink via tags. It is more powerful than Evernote and does not rely on The Cloud, but the downside is doesn't have the mobile device integration.
Interviews: Olympus recorder -> audacity -> express scribe

Photos and Videos: iPhoto. I don't do much with these media tho so ymmv.

Plaintext editor: Textwrangler, out of habit mostly.

The Finder is fine as an 'anything bucket' for storing files, but for files that I need the metadata for -- i.e. PDFs and citations of articles, I use Sente.

For reading notes I use a DevonThink database.

For searching the Internet for content I highly highly recommend Launchbar, which lets you make custom queries.

I'd be interested in using specialized QDA software except 1) the price is ridiculous and 2) a lot of it relies on attitudes to coding that are strike me as un-anthropological.

For teaching fieldmethods the next time around, I'm planning on having students use a combination of ExpressScribe and Evernote, since both are free and cross-platform. Hth.
Hi all,

Great conversation. And I totally agree with the proposed taxonomy of document & text editors. I think the question of tagging and what meta-data we should be collecting is a really important topic as well.

I'll put together a more complete post later in terms of the physical tech I'm using. In terms of software, I'm currently using Windows 7 as my primary OS.

For Word-processing/Writing: I confess to mainly using the Word 2010 beta. I've just downloaded PageFour and will be experimenting with it for my next paper.

For Imaging: I go back and forth between GIMP & Photoshop. But most of my work is done in Adobe Lightroom, which is an extremely powerful organization and tagging program (as well as batch image processing). If you're collecting visual data, it's a great tool.

For Blogging/Fieldnotes: I'm a big fan of Wordpress

For references: I just jumped from Zotero to Mendeley -- The main reason for this was that my Zotero research library got so large it was really dogging my browser. Plus Mendeley's PDF features are really solid. That said, when the standalone version of Zotero comes out, I may switch back as Mendeley has its own set of issues.
For fans of Scrivener, there is now a beta release for Windows, and a port of this release for Linux. Enjoy!

Hi, I'd like to revive this topic, as I'm very interested in these questions, and am wondering if answers are different a few years after the original discussion... 

I am currently writing doing fieldwork and writing my field notes in Journlr (I use a Mac), but am looking into other good systems for writing/managing field notes. 

I'm curious if anyone has experience using the following to write and/or manage field notes while still in the field?

- TAMS Analyzer (or other qualitative data analysis software)

- DevonThink (I use it to collect other research materials and reading notes)

- Scrivener

- plain old text files

Would love to hear about your systems!

I'm also interested in having my notes in some sort of password-protected folder or encrypted system. 

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