Research Workflow Revisited

A few years ago I prepared a prezi to explain research workflow to students at our college, and I recently refreshed it for a seminar to some of our postgraduates. It really hints or suggests a workflow rather than fully explaining it, and it indicates some of the digital tools that may come in handy. The focus is on literary studies, in connection with my own more specific field of biblical studies. I offer the link to the prezi here again for those interested.

Research Workflow Prezi 02-2018

I have also revisited two main reference managers in recent times, Endnote and Zotero, comparing their virtues in their latest versions, so stay tuned and I’ll offer that prezi with my summary of their relative strengths, life permitting.

Comparison between Popular Reference Managers EndNote and Zotero

Ref Mgr Prezi Sshot

I prepared this prezi for the benefit of students at MST, comparing EndNote and Zotero as tools for managing research references and citing them in essays and assignments. Included is an explanation of the general use of a reference manager, and space to include treatment of ComWriter, a new Australian start-up that is the first I’ve heard of that integrates both word processing and reference management within the one tool.

Research Digital Workflow

This is my attempt to describe visually the process I go through in researching a topic and writing a formal piece about it. I’ve been interested in how this process works and how I might improve it. First, my best effort at diagramming the process (since I’m tired of working on this diagram and want to draw a line under it!):

And by way of comparison, someone else’s effort to show what they do:

Continually analyzing our own research process is a bit like self-analysis. Too much of it is self-defeating, becoming a substitute for actually getting on with life/research & publication. But a little self-checking can be good. Life is too short to be researching in an inefficient or ineffective way.

Crazy Love, Surrendered Life and the Life of the Scribe

That title doesn’t really tell you what this is going to be about, does it? Well, this is a thought and a mini-book review in one.

I’m currently reading the Gospel of Luke (in the ‘Final Quarter’) and once again came across Jesus’ call, not to arms, but to lay all on the line for his cause:

23 Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.
24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24 NET Bible)

Many of you will know that chapter 9 is pivotal in Luke, marking a turning point in Jesus’ ministry, in the course of which Jesus elicits from his disciples who the people think he is, and then ‘turns his face to go to Jerusalem’ and lets them know that if they want to come, it’s all on the line, right down to their lives. It’s all or nothing.

The quote above would be a pretty accurate summary of a book I’ve just finished reading, Crazy Love by Francis Chan. It’s unusual for me to read the kind of book that you would find popular at a Christian bookshop (bookstore, for US readers). I normally read more academic and factually-oriented things. But my sister bought me this last Christmas, and I finally worked my way down to it in my impossibly high bedside table must-read book pile.

Chan Crazy Love

I won’t try to summarize it further, but I did find it challenging. Sometimes I disagreed with Chan, such as when he (like everyone else) assumes that when Jesus says within the parable of the sheep and the goats,

‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’ (Matt 25:40 NET Bible),

that he was talking about doing good for every human being on the planet. That’s a nice thought and a good ideal, but I strongly suspect that Jesus was talking about his disciples, and to the crowd: “They’re with me, and how you treat them, including when I’m gone, I will take personally!” Well, Chan has lots of company there.

When he was challenging the Western reader to live less indulgently and give more material means to the work of God, I knew he was right and felt suitably guilty. At the same time, I would like to be reassured that Chan himself really lives like this. He assures us in the book that he does. I’m just inherently suspicious of people who get their income from the church, telling others to give more money to the church. Well, let’s trust that Chan is not milking the system. No sense assuming the worst, though that’s kind of a gift of mine.

At the end of the day, I thought his book was good, though uncomfortable, reading. It was meant to be uncomfortable – it’s a classic prophet’s call, and God’s task for prophets is certainly not to make people comfortable.

So I felt suitably guilty.

All the more so because I’m a Christian academic. The academics in Luke 9 aren’t the good guys. They’re among the baddies in Jesus’ story. If Luke 9:22 were translated into current English, it might say that those who reject Jesus would be “the elders, the head priests, and the biblical scholars (‘γραμματεῖς’, traditionally ‘scribes’).” When God does a new thing, as He certainly did in Jesus, the traditional political leaders, the existing religious leaders, and the academics normally do their best to shut it down. Old wineskins don’t take well to new wine. Jesus taught with authority; scribes (scholars) hedge their bets and prevaricate (Matt 7:29). The prophet believes. The scholar doubts, checking and rechecking.

The one who is greatest in the economy of God is the child, not the expert (Luke 9:48). God revels in ‘destroying the wisdom of the wise’, and ‘frustrating the intelligence of the intelligent’ (paraphrased from 1 Cor. 1:19 NIV).

So is there any hope for the scholar in God’s kingdom?

All I can find to cling onto here is Paul’s teaching about the one body needing a lot of different parts (1 Cor. 12:12-31). I believe that we need a range of gifts at work in the church, and our sheer diversity is our strength. We need prophets like Chan to kick us stiffly up the backsides at regular intervals. It hurts but it does us good. We need the tenderhearted people too, to pick up the pieces afterwards. We need all kinds.

Perhaps God wants, still, the odd Nicodemus, the odd Joseph of Arimathea, to play a part in His plan and purpose.

Because it’s hard to change how you’re wired, and God is responsible for that wiring, at the end of the day.

Our new MST Journal – Paradosis

I’d just like to give a plug to the new journal put out by my teaching institution, Melbourne School of Theology, called Paradosis: A Journal of Bible and Theology. It’s an economical buy, especially if you compare what a theological college library pays to subscribe to, say, Vetus Testamentum (another theological journal), and the bonus is that English speakers will know what the name means more readily! I found it on Google Books, at

Paradosis Thumbnail

This first issue’s theme is applied hermeneutics, that is, issues involved in how we actually interpret the Bible. It was edited by my New Testament-teaching colleague Greg Forbes, who recently published an exegetical guide to 1 Peter, and is highlighted by a contribution by well-known evangelical New Testament scholar Colin Kruse, who still teaches a subject for us most semesters. The journal editor is Justin Tan, a well-credentialed scholar in our Chinese department.

Issue 2 concentrates on the Psalms, and is already ready for press, so shouldn’t be too long in coming.

So, I hope you take the time to have a look!

Top Ten Software Tool List #3 – Things I’d Like to Try

Here are some digital tools I think I could use and would like to try out:

  1. The Adobe Creative Cloud, e.g. DreamWeaver for website construction and InDesign which might allow digital publishing…but I’m worried about learning curves, and at the end of the day, just tight.  So we’ll see…looks professional, which is good.
  2. Scalar, advertising itself as ‘born digital’, so should not be of that genre of “works on a device, but otherwise is just a book of text.”  Free, too.
  3. Circos, for data visualization on a circle format.  For some reason, I think this is a great way to condense information into a small space, if it isn’t allowed to blow out into too much complexity.  I’m not thinking just of data visualization that uses a table full of stats, but of idea visualization.Circos
  4. PearlTrees, as a way to introduce hierarchical structure into a Pinterest-like visual arrangement of interests.Pearltrees
  5. Substance, another digital authoring tool.  I’d try iBooks Author, if I was willing and, shall we say, liquid enough to make the conversion to the Mac parallel universe.  But it’s surprising how well free tools rival the paid ones sometimes.  Another free offering is Sophie, if it’s still supported.
  6. Tableau, a free data visualization tool, recently found.
  7. WorkTop, a program to plan research and study workflow, which seems a valuable function.  Maybe, as an alternative, Aeon, which offers to do the same thing on a timeline format???
  8. Scrivener, a tool to help the writer.  Birthed in the Mac universe, and tailored first of all for fiction writers, I infer, but perhaps useful for non-fiction as well.  People out there in web land swear by it.Scrivener
  9. Compendium, another tool from the universities, designed for literary analysis, content curation, idea mapping.
  10. or another infographics tool.  Tried this one with distinct lack of success, but would like to produce good infographics, so need to plug in some extra IQ and return to this or a rival offering.

Not many of you out there reading these things, but I’m always eager to hear feedback on things you’ve tried and love or loathe, or clarification of which tool is intended for what purpose.  So comments are most welcome!  Meanwhile, here are interesting digital resources I’ve found and grouped into Pinterest boards:

Next post, God willing (or ‘inshallah’, as a colleague who was a returned missionary from the Islamic world used to say), a post on the Old Testament – I’ve found something interesting in 2 Kings!

Top Ten Software Tool List #2 – Tools I’ve Dabbled With

This list is a little harder to whittle down; I’ve dabbled with more than ten!  I’ll try to eliminate the most obvious ones…like FaceBook, which I finally admitted defeat and began to use some time in the last year.  I’m not much for small talk, and that’s what FB seems to be about, so I held out for a while like a good Gen-Xer, though that’s now the prime user group, it seems.

Anyway, leaving that option out, and assuming that it’s obvious that I’m dabbling with WordPress, whose results you can see here, here are ten others:

  • VUE (Visual Understanding Environment), a concept-mapping program from Tufts University, the same mob who are responsible for Perseus, the classics and language parsing repository.  The learning curve for VUE is steep, because help is rather basic.  It is plenty powerful for data handling and can manage multiple layers, with clever analysis tools.  I managed to import my EndNote research library via Excel (in a complicated manner!) and have its data interpreted rationally by VUE, with benefits like instant highlighting of all works with the same keyword, etc.  But it’s sink or swim.

VUE Example Patristic

  • – a little thing for biblical scholars and students that renders a line of Greek or Hebrew into correctly accented English transliteration.  Cuts down the time that transliteration requires by about 80%.  If you have more than a line or so to transliterate, it’s a great help.  Free from Logos.
  • StepBible – does 75% of what paid-for Bible software does, for free.  Depended on it last year for access to the Samaritan Pentateuch, which I couldn’t find elsewhere.  From the Tyndale Tech people, especially David Instone-Brewer, the guy behind the TyndaleTech blog, who has a long track record of providing this sort of great digital help.
  • FreePlane, the mindmapper that I used to diagram the structure of Psalm 148, as below.

Psalm 148 mind map screen shot enlarged

  • Docear – the unique referencing software that uses the FreePlane mindmapper, integrated with bibliographic functions, to permit the mapping of one’s own research sources in one diagram and the structure of a written piece in the other.

Docear Example

  • MS Excel – sorry, included another Office program, but the surprises keep coming at what this program can do.  It’s a great translator, importing data in one form and spitting it out in another.  And if your table is too complicated for Word to handle, it’s really Excel where it will be at home.
  • Pinterest – my way of upgrading browser bookmarks to a more visual, user-friendly form.  If only you had the option of sorting the pins yourself!  Why users create boards of 1000 pins or more is beyond me.  It is most useful for short, selective lists.
  • – a nifty way to hook into relevant academic discussion and put up those pieces of academic work that risk being left in obscurity otherwise for a range of reasons.  Interesting to watch where it might go.
  • Ngram Viewer – would like to do more with this.  Earlier I posted these experiments in charting discussion of, in this case, Noah and the Flood (or Deluge) in English publications 1600-1850 or so:

NGram Viewer Noah,Flood,Deluge 1600ff

  • Zotero – tempts me to switch from EndNote at regular intervals, on account of better note-taking abilities and the ability to link records (i.e. bibliographic sources) to other, related records.  I think if its timelining function could be made more intelligent and flexible, I probably couldn’t resist any longer.

Tune in soon for list #3, the tools I look forward to experimenting with soon.