Knowledge management: How do you do it? AKA: How do you not forget all the things you read?


#1

This is a topic that every knowledge worker must address: How do you keep track of and archive all the things you read, hear, learn?

As academics researchers, one of our main activities is accumulating knowledge from various sources, and then to use that knowledge to create our own.

I’ve been on the hunt for the best tools and workflows for most of my grad school career. I wrote a blog post about it here: http://www.acuriousmix.com/2014/09/03/designing-a-personal-knowledgebase/

I still haven’t really found what I’m looking for. I have an imperfect system right now that gets the job done, but a lot falls through the cracks.

So I want to open up this thread to see how people learn and archive knowledge about pain (and anything else).

My currents system involves the following:

Inputs

Papers

  • Email TOC from select journals
  • Twitter feed
  • Saved specific searches on Pubmed
  • RSS feed
  • Recommendations from colleagues

All the papers go into Papers3.app, which I use to store the PDF files and also manage citations. It’s a solid app, although not without problems. Others include Mendeley, Zotero and Readcube.

Processing

  • I select which papers to read (that’s a story for another day) and read in Skim.app, making highlights and annotations.
  • Sometimes I’ll keep a separate plain text file with notes on papers. I keep all my text files in nvALT
  • If I am doing targeted reading, I sometimes put nuggets from papers into a broad topical outline, which I usually write using OmniOutliner. I will then refer to these outlines when writing papers or just in need of some knowledge.

Overall, this process gets the job done, but it’s messy, relies on too many apps, and doesn’t allow me to connect knowledge the way I’d like.

Writing

  • When I write things just by myself, I prefer to write in plain text files. Why do I do this? See this excellent guide on how and why to use plain text as an academic here
  • For longer form writing, I’ll use Scriver.app, writing in Markdown and then exporting.
  • But most of the time, when writing with collaborators, Microsoft Word dominates. People are just used to it. It sucks for collaborative writing, since you need to keep sending files back and forth to each other. You can’t work at the same time.
  • To solve that issue, I’m looking into online collaborative writing environments such as Authorea, that allow you to write in plain text, in real time, collaboratively. You can also work offline using Github since it’s just text files.

So that’s it for now. Not perfect. Still much to be desired. Some open problems:

  • Collaborative citation management - how do you format bibliographies when everyone has different citation software? A shared library?
  • Knowledge network: How can I link together all the nuggets of stuff I get from reading in a visual or high-level way. See my post above for what I’m talking about.
  • Automation: If the process is too hard, I won’t do it. That happens to me a lot. A lot of times I’ll read a paper without capturing anything. And then it’s good as gone after a little while.
  • Open source: I hate committing to proprietary tools, because you never know when it will become obsolete. So many programs that people used a lot even a decade ago are now defunct. Hence my preference for plain text and such. But there is no doubt that professional software is more polished, and I’m not nerdy enough to have code skills to hack my own things together. Maybe that’s the final answer - I need to make my own tools. but for now that’s not an option, and for most researchers, it’s not either.

So what do you do?