Workflows: Research Practices & Digital Infrastructure

Workflows: Research Practices & Digital Infrastructure

Resurrecting the Series

In May 2020, I published “Workflows” on my blog. In July of that year, I published a sequel—meant to be one in a series of posts about research productivity—entitled “‘Welcome’ to Graduate School.” Unfortunately, the Workflows series died with that second post. The outline I had envisioned in the first post was far too optimistic, while some of the topics I’d wanted to write about fell far beyond my expertise. With this new post, I hope to revive the series by sharing with you my experiences in the archives. While you can keep up with my activities in Paris through my Newsletter, this post will include some deeper thinking on my current analog and physical practices for retaining information without losing my mind. While reading the inaugural post isn’t essential, it does provide a list of literature to which I’m indebted in shaping my thinking about research, time management, and productivity. The second post provides a snapshot of my methods for capturing data and saving it. I will revisit some of these points here, showing how my process of information capture has changed (out of necessity and by choice).

Modalities: From Analog to Digital

Henry IV is alleged to have said

I want there to be no peasant in my realm so poor that he will not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.

The notion of “a chicken in every pot” suggests something about general welfare and prosperity. To me, however, this expression was always associated with organization. I’m not sure why. This is to say—a chicken in every pot and everything else in its proper place. I shouldn’t dismiss the analytic significance of disorder, disarray, and disorganized chaos, but the life of the contemporary researcher is already inundated with these things to such a degree that adding more complexity to concrete practices would seem to be a disservice—perhaps this is a job for another day. [1]

A chicken in every pot points to fittingness. Things should be where they should be: a teleology if there ever were one. But how does one determine where something should be?

My journals at the center of a shelf.

I wasn’t raised with an iPhone in my hand, so I have a tendency to prefer analog notes to digital ones. As I am in Paris, I regret to inform that I left my trusty diary in storage, back in Ann Arbor. I purchased a lovely little notebook from the Librairie Gallimard, which I’m using as a temporary journal.

My daily diary.

I write every day in my diary about a variety of things. At the very least, I summarize the events of the day and recapitulate important conversations. This is a practice I began in university and one which I make a point to keep up. Obvious lapses will occur, especially during more languid and eventless summers. Periodically, I will digitize my diary entries into the journal software Day One. I don’t use Day One for research or work-related notes and ephemera; for this, I exclusively use Evernote.

The navy blue journal you see is for Research Notes. Research Notes includes ephemeral (fleeting) thoughts about my research, summarizes of my findings, and ideas for the future. The one with the blue spine is my Persian practice diary—I will write occasional pieces in Persian (usually in pencil) to practice my grammar and vocabulary. The taller, black notebook is my French practice diary. With this notebook, I write down interesting phrases, idioms, euphemisms, and complicated grammatical points in French.

In addition to these bounded journals, I always keep a few legal pads nearby. In my second post, I wrote

I take “fleeting notes” on yellow legal notepad paper. Scanning these notes into Evernote through Scannable, and having them become (if imperfectly) searchable through the application has been a real gift. Other times, I take notes directly in Evernote. I organize each course and topic in its own designated notebook. I don’t often make use of the software’s tagging system—but this could change in the future as my information architecture continues to evolve.

Workflows: “Welcome” to Graduate School by Keanu Heydari

Evernote has been a staple of my academic life since I was a student in high school. To that end, organizing an abundance of notebooks has proved to be somewhat challenging with the current options provided by the software.

It’s certainly an imperfect system. The “Archive” folder contains all of the Notebooks I’m no longer actively using, including class note from high school, university, and the first two years of my doctoral program. “General Notes” includes notes I haven’t yet sorted (receipts, scraps of information, addresses, phone numbers, etc.). The “Preliminary Examinations” folder contains my notes on the many books and articles I read during my third year. And so on. When I take a photograph of a fleeting note through Scannable, it goes directly into “General Notes,” at which point I sort the note (which includes the scan as a .PDF attachment) into the relevant folder.

Archival Research

My practice in the archives has served me so far. In all the literature I’ve read, the same refrain resounds: pick a method and stick with it for the duration of a process. Here’s what I do…

Photo by Pixabay on


There is method in the madness of archival research.

The steps listed below reflect a very brief review of the methods I use to keep track of the information harvested while conducting archival research. I intend to expand on these steps in detail elsewhere, but for the time being, this description will have to suffice.






My method is essentially informed by David Allen’s Getting Things Done. The first step essentially involves capturing data. If my second post was more about capturing thoughts and analysis about secondary literature, this method is more aligned to capturing information about primary sources.

Let’s take this image-object as an example:

This image is the logo that the UEIF (Union des Étudiants iraniens en France), the Union of Iranian Students in France, used while it was a functional organization. Let’s say that I captured this image with an iPhone at the La contemporaine archives in Nanterre. My first step includes uploading this file into my digital infrastructure. This brings us to step two.

Here, you’ll find that there are folders organized by archival location. Now see that each box has its own dedicated folder:

Let’s say that the image belonged to ARCH-0293-7. If an archival fond box includes folders, sub-folders, and even sub-sub-folders, the digital infrastructure you create should reflect this logic. Clearly, your archival investigations will yield more than one image-object. In my case, managing thousands of pictures used to be a tedious process before I discovered Permute on the Mac App Store. iPhones now save image files as .HEIC (High Efficiency Image File Format). With Permute, I can upload individual raw image files (see below) in the .HEIC format, and stitch them together as an exported .PDF document.

Once these images are stitched together as a .PDF, they can be stored accordingly, either as individual documents within a fond or as one large .PDF containing everything in a particular folder or sub-folder within an archival box. Keeping files in simple digital infrastructure and opening them using Preview or Adobe Acrobat is a fine solution, but not the procedure I use. This brings me to step three.

I recreate my digital infrastructure for archives in DevonThink. Avigail S. Oren, Ph.D. has created a course for historians, instructing researchers how to use DevonThink productively. I used this course to set up my software and I encourage all interested in archiving to do so.

The power of DevonThink is in its annotation apparatus, its search function, its OCR-conversion apparatus, among many other benefits.

I can create an annotation for this image, which captures detailed information about sourcing. Referring back to step one, my photo-taking is not haphazard. I use Evernote to keep track of the quantity of photos I’m taking (indexed to the number of pieces of paper attached to a particular folder), so that when I export the photos taken from my phone to my computer, I’m not lost as to which fond/box/archive they belong to.

Here’s an example of an annotation for one of my documents from this particular archival folder. Step four, analysis, begins with this process of annotation. I use both Bookends and EndNote to manage archival citations: I intend to write an article that discusses how to use a citation apparatus for archival documents, as I have not found one as of yet online.

In summary: capture, organize, process, analyze has served me well so far. I’d like to know what your research practices are. How do you manage archival information? How do you integrate citation apparatuses with research/database softwares?

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