Thesis: Research Process

At the end of the Capstone project, we need to write a paper which talks a bit about the process of creating this project, so I figure the easiest way to do that is to document well as I go.

I’m entering the phase of research where things are starting to gel. I begin most creative projects with a concept that immediately gets put into a giant lobster pot and put on the back corner of my brain’s stove to slowly get warm. Every so often I throw something into the pot to let it simmer, and every so often I give it a taste to see how things are coming together. (Unlike cooking, I can and often do remove items or ideas added in). I let my brain keep things going on a low simmer because if you try and rush things, they come out feeling rushed. But then again, there’s a point of no return with waiting, and eventually you just gotta get Nike on the project and Just Do It. Luckily I’ve got a good handle on what that sweet spot feels like, and we’re approaching it.

So instead of just letting ideas percolate and randomly surfing, I now find myself moving through my research more systematically. I’m now in hunter/gatherer mode. I start with a general goal, and then begin to get into methodical explorations, branching out along the network. And I use Zotero, so now I’m beginning to take notes.

Pictures, Too

One of the difficulties with the topic of Mount Rushmore is that there’s lots of pictures of the monument, but with history it can get difficult sourcing images to use. Actually, there are many images, but the trouble comes from trying to source them -legally-. So at this stage in the game what I’m doing is trolling through the Creative Commons looking for good quality images that I can repurpose. It’s a great site.

Creative Commons Search

Creative Commons Search

The Creative Commons search gives you a simultaneous search of Google, Yahoo!, Flickr,,OWL Music Search, and SpinXpress. You can check the boxes to filter so that it includes Commercial use or ability to modify, adapt, or build upon. I keep that one checked because I know that I’ll be repurposing these graphics quite a bit before I’m done.

Documentation for Photographs

At this point I’m going through the photos and doing two things. One, I’m saving them to my hard drive in folders which give the name of the site they came from and the name of the account owner who posted them originally. Look below for a sample:

Sample directory

Sample directory

Once the website and then the account name are in the directory, I then rename the photo I’m downloading with a file naming convention.

  • cc = Creative Commons
  • att = Attribution
  • noc = Non-Commercial only
  • sa = Share Alike

The ‘cc’ makes it clear that I got it off of Creative Commons, so I have at least partial rights to use the images without needing to open dialogue with the original owner. Then after that I need to pay attention to how they want it used. Most want attribution, so if I use the image I need to give them attribution somehow on the site that the visual was from. ‘Non-Commercial’ isn’t a problem for this project since it’s for academic credit. And ‘Share Alike’ means that anything that I make through these need to be kept within the Creative Commons domain.

Dotting i’s and Crossing t’s

While this sounds sufficient for tracking, I’m a bit paranoid because I know that by the time it comes for me to assemble my citations, I end up with the best of intentions and the worst of a paper trail. So I’m taking the additional steps of working within Zotero to further keep things straight. If you use the Right-click on an image in a browser where you have Zotero installed, it will give you the option to ‘Save Image As Zotero Snapshot’.

Zotero Instructions

Zotero Instructions

(The photo is of the bust of Gutzon Borglum, and was posted to Flickr by Imabaker3. Licensed under the Creative Commons. Attribution, non-commercial only, and share alike.)

When you save the image as a Zotero Snapshot, Zotero will generate a link to where the image lives on the web, take a snapshot/screenshot and save it in the Zotero directories, and it also gives you some additional options which make the tool worthwhile.

It’s those tools which are going to save my butt later much in the project process. For example, I’m generating tags for each of the image links which describe which Creative Commons rights are attached to them. That way, I’ll be able to access all of the information fairly straightforwardly. (It does slow things down a bit now, but I’ll trade a bit of precaution to save some sanity at the back end.)

Zotero's Image Snapshot panel


So you can see, it collects all sorts of information on the image for me. Since I told Zotero to take a snapshot, I’ve actually got two versions of the file to work from… one that I downloaded into the file directory structures manually, and the other that’s taken directly by Zotero and stored.

In both instances I can now work offline on the items.

My one complaint, though, is that I’m not sure yet how to share between the Zotero files on my home computer and the Zotero files on my laptop.

Well, I’ll figure it out sooner or later. There’s always the hard way of reproducing the relevant research or marrying the two automatic bibliographies by hand.

And now, back to getting images and doing research.


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