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Preliminary Notes

Workflow Design Solution for the Junior Researcher

By Rebecca Cober, Stian Håklev, and Lixia Lin

Knowledge Community

Our design will address the challenges and opportunities faced by the junior researcher. Although our primary objective is to develop a workflow solution that will enable a graduate level university student to become more organized, efficient, and productive, we hope that our design will be generalizable to all students, including those at the secondary school level.

Overview

The junior researcher undertakes many difficult tasks throughout the lifecycle of the research process. These challenges include the dilemma of how to effectively organize a growing collection of electronically formated articles, the problem of how to efficiently acquire accurate citation data to match to these articles, and the question of how to aggregate and organize highlighted text, notes, email correspondence, tweets, and ideas. Although it is easier than ever for students to build their personal libraries of academic papers, and to share ideas through social media, the sheer volume of information can be distracting and overwhelming. Staying focused and on track, at the same time as strengthening connections with colleagues to further research interests, can be a challenging task.

Mindmapping tools can help the junior researcher to conduct research such as literature reviews and case studies. These tools support better understanding and interpretation of the research materials because they allow researchers to keep track of ideas articulated through brainstorming sessions. Potential areas of study which are overlooked or obscure can easily be identified and organized. To more fully interconnect and interrelate ideas being discussed, the tools facilitate the synthesis of raw data into coherent arguments, and allow authors to prune erroneous points from body of research, to unify and emphasize the main point, or to balance elements in a harmonious fashion.

Currently, there are many resources available to the junior researcher that help to facilitate these tasks. For example, Papers uses an iTunes like interface to aid in the organization of a student's electronic library. SciPlore is the first software tool that allows users to organize PDF and metadata using mind maps. A unique feature is the ability to add manual reference keys on the fly. DevonThink is a so-called "everything bucket" (1) which let's you easily capture, store and organize PDFs, notes, and other files relevant to your research. However, there is not one solution that addresses all of the requirements of the junior researcher. Most graduate students have assembled a suite of software and social media tools that allow them to accomplish their research tasks. Our goal is to propose an integrated design solution that addresses the administrative challenges faced by the junior researcher, at the same time as encouraging the exchange and growth of new ideas among colleagues.

1: http://log.scifihifi.com/post/76989703/everything-buckets)

Design Process

Our investigative approach has been twofold: first, we wrote a future scenario of what our dream workflow solution looks like, and second, we researched and tested existing software solutions. By writing a future narrative, we were able to think deeply about the features that are most important to us for our solution, and it helped us to imagine how these features could be seamlessly integrated together see appendix 1. Similarly, by considering the strengths and weaknesses of existing software solutions, we were able to experience first hand how software can transform workflow. see appendix 2. In addition to these activities, we also took screen shots of promising functionality and layouts of existing solutions to use as a source of inspiration. See appendix 3.

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