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Liquid Information Environment for Literature Reviews

How the Pieces of the Liquid Information Environment Connects to the larger workflow for Literature Reviews

My single biggest surprise for how literature reviews are done is that there is no best practice or taught system and there is no digital ecosystem to support literature reviews. There are systems for reading and annotating PDFs (the primary substrate for academic knowledge transmission and storage which, in most cases, simply acts as ‘pictures’ or scans of documents, without even the meta-information of the title and authors’ attached to them) and for organising lists of them (citation management software such as Mendeley and EndNote) and nothing widely used to see how all the documents connect.

I have such a hard time working in this piecemeal environment that I feel I need to address this very basic act of research. After all, this is a Clear & Present Opportunity and as an Old Man Navigator I can’t see my soul has a choice. I therefore propose building the following:

Liquid | Author, Reader & View

A word processor which features a rich environment for adding citations as well as other rich interactions for the user and publishing the result as a Rich PDF (with complete meta-data, original document embedded as well as an XML file of information). This is of course what I am already doing with Liquid | Author.

A PDF Reader which will allow the user to read any PDFs and highlight text and then later choose to search based on all text, only highlighted text, annotations etc. (currently Citation Managers cannot search based on highlighted text). The user should also be able to write notes about the whole document and add tags. When it comes time to cite the document the user should be able to simply copy text from the document and paste it into a word processor which will then have the full citation information–the user should not have to go back and forth to manually create a connection–the digital environment should do that for the user. This is what I plan for Liquid | Reader, which will work on macOS and iOS.

A visual thinking space, ideally for large monitors, tablets and VR, where all the users literature review documents are available, visible in any way the user prefers, listing and laying out by keywords, highlighted text, citations, time, author etc. I call this the Liquid | View. I have collaborated with Christopher Gutteridge on a version of this, which he created and called a Webleau.

These components will allow the researcher (academic, business, government or any curios individual) to read and cite documents easily, while having a good overview of how they connect. I further want to support repositories so that the documents are actually findable easily by users searching by various criteria and I agree that we should support PDFs as a reality of the way the world is today but also ePubs and other, more flexible formats.

Open Ecosystem

‘Author’ should produce documents readable by any PDF reader. ‘Reader’ should be able to read and annotate any PDF documents created by any app and save with annotations for any other app to see. ‘View’ should be able to import any documents and save the views in ways accessible from inside apps.

These changes may seem incremental and not very exciting but I believe strongly that by making knowledge more liquid at every stage becomes something more than a sum of features, something it seems uses agree with, since Author is now the 21st most popular productivity app on the macOS App Store.

Who wants to join me in this process and how?

I want to collaborate with anyone who either produce or read any of the components along this workflow. What do you do and how can I integrate with your work?

I am in the process of compiling a list (a literature review of sorts!) of what components are our there and how this can integrate, such as Mendeley and EndNote but also citation visualisers, PDF readers and initiatives to improve or replace PDF. Please do not hesitate to tell me any which you think I may miss.

Published inNotes On...Thoughts

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