18 January 2014

And the winner is . . .

As long-time readers of this blog may recall, I have been looking for an alternative to my trusty old database program, Idealist, for the past several years. Well, I have finally decided to switch to ConnectedText. The latter is in many respects a much more powerful data management tool than Idealist (see e.g. Dr Andus's blogs on using it for qualitative data analysis). For me, the main advantages of CT are its support for Unicode, its ability to display rich text formatting (via Markdown), its support for LaTeX commands (which makes it possible to include equations in notes), and the fact that it is supported by a very active developer and an enthusiastic community of users. Most importantly, with a bit of tweaking, it is possible to make CT import Idealist records from one of Idealist's export formats and treat them as CT topics with the same name.

This doesn’t mean that Idealist will disappear from my laptop any time soon. I have far too much material already in Idealist (nearly 20,000 research notes and 8,500 bibliographic references), so the switch will be have to be gradual, with all new notes going straight to CT and material being imported from Idealist as and when I need it.

For the benefit of Idealist users who might be contemplating a similar move, my export/import procedure is as follows:
  1. In Idealist, create a hit list consisting of the records to be exported.
  2. Export the hit list to an Idealist Natural file (a plain text file with tags to indicate the record and field divisions).
  3. Edit the Idealist Natural file as necessary. The crucial piece of editing is to replace the tags for the record head and the first field of the record with something CT will recognize as a topic separator (I use . At each occurrence of the separator, CT will create a new topic with the contents of the original record’s first field as its title (which works for me as the first field in my Idealist records is always either a subject, a date, or a Harvard reference).
  4. Import into CT and tidy up as necessary.

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