Thursday, August 16, 2012

Research, Research, Reseach

Since I don’t write fantasy fiction where facts are malleable (i.e. flying horses, dragons, dwarfs, magic rings, etc.), I am forced to do research, as Joe Friday said, "Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts." Research is the act of truth finding and substantiation. If your story is during the Civil War, you better get your facts, dates, and places right or you will never hear the end of it. The same goes with novels about ancient Rome and World War II. There are experts who love to find fault, even if the story is great, they will nit-pick.

I am researching two books right now. One is another O’Mara Chronicle and the other is a big novel dealing with Americans caught in World War Two. The collection of data and facts on Chicago, American railroads, steamship companies and Italy all during the period of 1937 to 1945 is daunting. In the parlance of the day, TMI (too much information). I used to print out everything and place the pages in a binder; this allowed for quick reference but with large articles or books searching was troublesome. I tried other cut and paste ideas (Word files, even Excel), but still too much paper. What to do?

On one of my LinkedIn Group sites someone suggested checking out Microsoft OneNote as a way to manage research and story. Since it was already bundled with Microsoft Office 2010, sure, why not? It has been a saver of time and paper. (I had thought the software had something to do with music, dah!)

Here is the marketing description by Microsoft:
Microsoft OneNote 2010 is a digital notebook that provides a single place where you can gather all of your notes and information, with the added benefits of powerful search capabilities to find what you are looking for quickly, plus easy-to-use shared notebooks so you can manage information overload and work together with others more effectively.
Unlike paper-based systems, word processing programs, e-mail systems, or other productivity programs, OneNote delivers the flexibility to gather and organize text, pictures, digital handwriting, audio and video recordings, and more — all in one digital notebook on your computer. OneNote can help you become more productive by keeping the information you need at your fingertips and reducing time spent searching for information across e-mail messages, paper notebooks, file folders, and printouts.
Seemed perfect; find an article in Wikipedia, copy and paste into a OneNote Page (it even holds the URLS in an active format, and references the article at the bottom for later footnoting). Need to preserve a story line that you have hand drawn, scan it then paste it on a page. Have photos from that small Italian hill town where the nasty Nazis are having a beer, paste them it. You can type directly into the page, save to a particular heading, even change the type color and size. It is a lot like Word but more flexible with the data though it is comparatively limited in formatting. One thing that I discovered is that after you name a file, that file is automatically updated as you add pages and information. No need to remember to save, it also updates the same file when you have your thumb drive open (as a back-up). If there is one small complaint is that it doesn’t seem to update the date on the file as you make changes. I assume that it thinks this isn’t necessary, but being able to see the last time you accessed the file would be nice.

While not perfect (sadly since I work in both Mac and Windows, it is not available for the Mac, yet), it is a good data manager and certainly better than a binder. But for Mac there is Growly and Curio and a couple of others, while I am not familiar with these, they are Mac friendly and come recommended by some sites.

Let me know what your experiences have been with OneNote and I’ll pass them on.

More Later . . . . .

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