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The Scholar's Toolbox

Navigating the academic landscape is often challenging, but the right tools can make the journey smoother.

In case you're new here, I am a full time academic editor with a PhD in human geography and a Masters in anthropology. The following list reviews the tools (quite broadly defined) that I personally use and am happy to recommend to all faculty and graduate students (or anyone else who does a lot of reading and writing).

Fair Warning: I am a strong advocate for digital texts--I'm definitely not a "paper person."

Some of the tools listed here have an affiliate link (i.e., if you purchase through my link, I get a small kickback). Importantly, I sought out links for products I already use and can confidently recommend.

Reading

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Writing

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More coming soon!

Reading Tools

PDF Program

I'd bet that social science scholars--especially graduate students--spend more time in their PDF reader than any other program, so why shouldn't it be a beautiful, well-designed app? After all, even the most stringent advocates of physical books likely have hundreds, if not thousands, of articles and reports in their knowledge database.

My recommendation is a native Mac app (sorry, Windows users) that has both subscription and one-time licenses. It even comes with a 50% educator discount for anyone with a .edu email.

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PDF Expert

https://pdfexpert.com

Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link. Making a purchase through this link directly supports me and my work.

Early in my Masters, I realized that free PDF readers wouldn't cut it. The scanned book chapters from inter-library loan and seemingly ancient digital course materials (often little more than photos of a book) required text recognition if I was going to properly take notes and actively read.

My first paid PDF reader was an Adobe product that is no longer sold. I somewhat unwittingly bought it from the university bookstore right before the company stopped selling anything that didn't require an expensive subscription. It worked well but, goodness, the program was ugly, clunky, and overpowered as an academic reading app. I finally decided to take the plunge on a new program in the lead-up to my PhD comprehensive exams (which demanded about 8 hours of daily reading for 45 days).

PDF Expert met all my objectives! It is a beautifully designed Mac app that nails note-taking and retrieval. It also has PDF editing features, which can be useful when completing scanned forms. PDF Expert also benefits from continuous development, and I've found the team open to suggestions. They recently introduced a major overhaul that brought OCR/text recognition and the ability to match digital document pages with paginated numbers.

PDF Expert is sold as a yearly subscription or a one-time purchase. They offer a 50% educator/student discount. Using the link above directly supports my work (and doesn't cost you anything extra).

Book Scanning

I prefer to read books digitally! I know I've just lost a whole host of people who swear by paper, but let me make my case:

  • Digital books allow for easier searching--you can quickly summon all the keywords, place names, and author references, even if it's been years since you last read the text

  • Digital books are easier to splice up when assigning chapters for your undergraduates

  • Your library won't be subjected to earthly wear and tear. It's also much more difficult to misplace a digital text (just make sure your computer is backed up!)

  • I like to write in coffee shops, which means I can't turn to a physical library for inspiration. However, I can do a quick skim of my digital books while writing. This same problem of physical space is exacerbated during fieldwork--how was I supposed to write my dissertation chapters or publications if my library is in another country?

  • Similarly, many academics now regularly move cities or countries on temporary and part-time contracts. Before my biggest move between my Masters in Canada and PhD in Hawaii, I scanned dozens of books that I wanted to keep in my collection.

  • Lastly, many scholars around the world don't have access to the physical books they need to advance their work. While they can easily buy the books online, international shipping is often impractical. A PDF is the best option.

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Book Scan.US

 https://bookscan.us

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with BookScan.US.

After deciding to use a digital library, you need to actually collect digital texts for your project. Some will be easy to find--you can often buy (or otherwise locate) PDFs of classics and new releases. However, many older niche monographs and edited collections were never made into e-books nor scanned by enthusiast readers. Fortunately, such books can often be purchased on Amazon or other online bookstores relatively cheaply.

These books can then be sent to BookScan.US (located in the American Southwest), where they will be turned into high-quality PDFs in a week or so. The best part is that this is totally legal! You're simply swapping a physical copy that you bought for a digital copy that can go wherever life takes you. I've used BookScan numerous times and am happy to recommend their services to all. 

Writing Tools

Citation Management

Citation management programs serve two functions: 1) automating referencing/bibliographies and 2) acting as a knowledge database for all the academic texts you've read. There are a number of paid programs, but my recommendation is free for both Windows and Mac.

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Zotero

https://www.zotero.org

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Zotero.

I learned about Zotero in the second-year methods course of my PhD and immediately recognized it as the purpose-built academic tool I had been searching for. For years, I had been compiling every bibliography by hand and inevitably making human mistakes. Furthermore, I spent hours adjusting biblios when I needed to switch citation styles (e.g., when resubmitting to a new journal).  My knowledge database and reading notes were jammed into an overstuffed Excel sheet (and, later, OneNote folders). This system didn't allow me to quickly scan through my entire library or easily surface an article from years ago. Furthermore, I couldn't quickly skim all the titles I'd read on a certain topic. Zotero solved this problem.

Zotero fundamentally changed how I wrote and engaged with sources. It took a few full days of data entry to move all my reading summaries and PDFs over (I did it during the winter holidays). However, my information retention dramatically improved going forward.

Problem: I remember reading a potentially useful article during my Masters but can't recall the author's name or the title. I only remember that the case study was based on fieldwork in Kenya.

Solution: All my Zotero entries are assigned a location tag so I can swiftly pull up all the Kenya-based research and locate the article.

Problem: I'm writing a paper on slum tourism and feminist theory and would like to review the titles I've read on these topics to be sure I'm citing appropriately or to find a new angle.

Solution: I have a Zotero folder for slum tourism, allowing me to quickly skim the titles and my reading notes for each. I can use my theory tag to further reduce the list to only those papers dealing in feminist theory to find my closest fellow travellers (and ensure I do not forget anybody's contribution).

What I Love:

  • It is a free, open-source, non-profit program--a refreshing change for corporatized academia.

  • MS Word/Google Docs plug-ins automate in-text citations and can compile a complete and correctly formatted bibliography in seconds.

  • Lightweight and intuitive

  • The "Magic Wand" feature uses article DOIs to auto-import reference data (sometimes it needs a little cleaning, but is generally quite good).

  • One-click to open PDFs stored locally on your device

  • Free cloud backup for your database and notes

Take Note:

  • It looks like a free, open-source program. It's perfectly functional but not beautiful.

  • No Scrivener plug-in

  • If you're absolutely sure you won't use the automated citations and biblios, Notion will be a more powerful readings database and notebook.

  • The MS Word plug-in can be a little glitchy

Editing Services

Okay, so this one is a little cheeky.

If you're looking for social science scholarly editing services, Revise & Resubmit is here to help. I provide affordable line editing, editorial notes, formatting assistance, and word reduction. I am proud to offer significant discounts for graduate students and precarious scholars.

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Even if you're not looking for an editor right now, you may be interested in a Revise & Resubmit voucher/gift card. All vouchers are valid for two years from the date of issue.
 
Use up your grant money: Don't let your expiring grant money go to waste! Revise & Resubmit is happy to provide vouchers that can be used long after your grant has lapsed. I will provide documentation to meet institutional and grantor specifications and help you make the best use of any remaining funds.

Give the gift of language: Get in touch if you'd like to gift editing services to your colleague or grad student.

Lock in today's prices: Revise & Resubmit's prices don't change very often. However, I do occasionally make small adjustments to keep up with inflation. You're welcome to purchase a voucher to secure the best rates.

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