Sunday afternoon, after a traditional german cake&coffee session, I felt fully motivated to do some work stuff that involves larger amounts of time, yet lesser efforts in thinking: I started a software installing spree to keep up organizing my thesis. I have recently changed from pc to mac, mostly because the keyboard sounds of a mac actually make me want to write. But this change involves some other adjustments too, and so I spent the last four hours simultaneously writing this post and installing everything I felt I could need during Project Thesis. You will find these programs in what I think is the order to go about the research process.
Usually before going to the field, you already read. All those documents want to be filed and catalogued somewhere, so that when you start writing, it will be easier to create in-text-citations and bibliographies that are neatly formated and free from the occasional hand-made typo. There are several options for you here, but I am just going to focus on three: citavi, EndNote, and zotero. The first two are usually available with a license offered from your university, zotero is freeware. With citavi you can also get a free version that allows for projects with up to 100 sources each, however, it’s pc-only, which is why I will have to migrate my data now. EndNote comes as a free online version, too, but keeps limited citation style options, among other restrictions. Personally, I don’t like it’s style and find many of the extra features from the licensed version – like maintaining my cv and writing grant applications from within the program – unnecessary. I kind of liked this introduction to zotero, and will make the reality check for accessibility during the next weeks.
Organizing data from the field will probably be a little more demanding than organizing literature only, and even though all the above offer options to include other sources such as video, audio or image material, you may want to tag and sort all these with a little more space for creativity. This is where atlas.ti, MAXQDA, or Scribe may come in handy. A discussion on pro’s and con’s from the EASA media anthropology mailing list can be found here. Personally, I have no experience with any of these, but will keep you updated on my experiences with Scribe. I decided for it, because it works well importing to zotero, and because I’m a fan of open source software. Not that I would be super informed and able to contribute myself, but because it offers much more independence. Should I change universities, I won’t have to migrate all my data from one program to the next because of different licensing policies. Also, a nice overview of useful open source software for anthropologists can be found here at Stanford.
Then, there’s the horrors of transcribing. I don’t think I know anyone who likes to do it, yet, it’s part of the game. Again, I want to mention three software options. Express Scribe is a decent basic option, but they will make you pay if you want to upgrade to using a food pedal. Same thing goes for F4/F5, but with the latter you already pay for the basic option. (The free version will allow you to transcribe audio data of no more than 10 minutes. If you feel like cutting your material into chunks, you might as well go with this option.) Since I am a mac user now, there’s no real difference between paying around 80€ in total for either one including food pedal, since both versions only work with specific pedals on a mac. As long as I go without, it’s going to be Express Scribe, however, because the free version seems to offer a little more and I don’t have to cut my audio data. The third option is a browser-based, yet offline working, program called transcribe by wreally. With only 20$/year it’s a fair option as well, but doesn’t offer that many formatting options right on the spot.
There is also speech recognizing software out there, but no flawless one by the time, so anyway you will have to prepare to spend time on correcting if you go for any of these. Furthermore, sometimes the recognition will simply fail, so there’s no way of making a program do the whole job, so far. Then, of course, you can always try to pay someone to do the dirty work. I have tried this before with good results, though you still need to double check the material. And, that’s a costly option unless you’re able to not feel guilty paying less than minimum wage equivalent, something which would certainly make me question your ethic principles. Second, you’re much more likely to really know your material by heart if you’ve gone through transcribing it with your own ears and hands.
Another tool I will look at more closely within the next weeks is GRASS GIS. Its another open source option developed by the US Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratories to work with geo data. It looks somewhat intimidating, and probably offers much more than I will actually use. But I am currently working on a presentation I will give soon where I need maps that I can customize, so I’ll give it a try and keep you updated on how it works.
I’m curious about your experiences, so please feel free to share anything you would like to add to the list, or your recommendations etc.