It keeps getting easier

30 Jan

You know, I’m a moaning bastard. No two ways about it. I’m old and cynical and lots of things get on my nerves. Yet I discovered a shortcut last night that is going to help me enormously in doing my MA and while it’s only a small thing, I’ve been – for some reason – disproportionately excited by it. I’ll get to that in a minute. First of all let me trawl through the good old days…

When I was an undergraduate, I had to buy a lot of books. If they didn’t have them in the university book shop I had to wander about Liverpool and try every second hand bookseller I could find. I had to try all the libraries. It was a bit of a pain in the arse. I was also trying to be a writer back then and I bought a second hand typewriter. Every time I screwed up, or changed my mind, I had to retype a whole page. Or I had to use those little tipex rectangles to blot out a word and then retype over it with the letters usually misaligned. It was, to be quite honest, a bit of a pain in the arse.

By the time I came to do my first MA, we had Amazon. As long as I was quite organised I could get all my books, delivered to my door, well in advance of needing them. I also had a word processor. It was a big, ugly, grey thing that you could use as an electric typewriter or as a rudimentary computer – typing onto a six inch screen, saving the file to a floppy disk and printing out the pages only when you were happy with them. It was a lot better than the typewriter, although printing stuff did take about as long as typing it. The only difference was you sat there and watched it, fed paper into it, and had a beer.

By the time I got to my PhD, Amazon had added the ‘Look Inside’ feature to their books. Which is just as well. I lost some of my notes along the way and although the quotes I needed were already in my thesis, I didn’t have all the details for some of my citations. Instead of trawling all the libraries, I located the books on Amazon. I opened the ‘Look Inside’ feature, searched for my quote, and hey presto – I had a page reference. I also had access to the front pages in the book – the ones that give you year of publication and geographical location of the publisher. (By this point I also had a laptop. I won’t even go into how much easier that is than a typewriter or a word processor…)

Ok, coming back to my latest discovery. But let me put it in context. My research technique has always been as follows: read a book and make notes in it while I go. Afterwards, I come back to it and trawl through all the notes I’ve made. The ones I think are going to be useful I write out, in longhand, in an A4 pad. With the page number, and the book’s publication details at the top. Sometimes, that process can take two to three hours. I filled four of these pads while researching my PhD thesis. (And incidentally, it was the loss of one of them that led to the ‘Look Inside’ discovery).

Two of the novels I’ve read so far for my current MA I’ve read on my Kindle. I knew there was a highlight feature on it, and I knew the highlights get written to a ‘Clippings’ document on the device. Very handy to have all your notes put into one place for you to reference in seminars. What I didn’t know, however, is that this ‘Clippings’ document is actually a .txt file. Which means, I can plug my Kindle into my laptop, open this file, and then copy and paste all the quotes in it into a Word document. Actually, even better, I can copy and paste it into an Excel spreadsheet. Then I have an indexed list of all my quotes, properly referenced, readily available without having to get cramp in my wrist. I can search for quotes rather than having to flip through pages to find them. And best of all, I don’t even have to type them into my essays – I can copy and paste them in.

So now I have to find something else to moan about. I could always moan about the inconvenience of that I suppose. Or how about this – why wasn’t all this stuff around twenty years ago? The hardships I could have avoided if some technological inventor types had pulled their finger out a bit quicker. Lazy bastards…


One Response to “It keeps getting easier”

  1. Martin Palmer January 31, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    The more I hear about eReaders, the more tempted I am to get one!

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