Harvard Educational Review
  1. FolioView 4.0 (Software Package)

    Developed by Folio Corporation

    Provo, UT: Folio Corporation, 1997. $89.00 (academic price); $149.00

    Every intellectual work begins by a moment of ecstasy; only in the second place does the talent of arrangement, the technique of transitions, connection of ideas, construction, come into play.
    — A. G. Sertillanges

    Writing a research paper or dissertation involves a series of demanding chores, not to mention emotional and intellectual stamina. Before embarking on a written enterprise, both novice and experienced researchers are often hampered by the daunting nature of the writing process. In addition to acquiring a knowledge of the subject matter, the writer engages in a recursive process of refining the topic of inquiry, and framing and reframing one's research questions. For those writing empirical studies, there are yet other issues: how to categorize the massive amount of data and materials gathered from reviewing and analyzing the literature; how to compile field notes or research notes, interview transcripts, summaries of results, and reflective and analytic memos written throughout the process of the investigation; and how to organize the bibliography and appendices. Finally, a good piece of writing cannot exist without rigorous revising and polishing. In short, good writing reflects the habit of how one manages one's mind.

    With this in mind, I highly recommend FolioView 4.0 to academic researchers. This innovative information organizing tool, though primarily designed for the organization and dissemination of information in business and corporate settings, is also valuable to the academic researcher.

    FolioView comes with a wide range of structures that can be reorganized throughout the writing process. Defining a tentative structure in advance, by using features such as "level," "group," or "field," is like channeling the flow of thought more naturally. As such, one can concentrate better. Take an empirical project focusing on an ethnographic study of the meanings of achievement in immigrant families, for example.

    One might begin by creating several levels of information, and as the project evolves, add more levels. I will tentatively order these levels hierarchically. I shall call the highest level in this example Part, referring to a part of the project. Subsumed under Part is Chapter, followed by Section, Subsection, and so on.

    As a level is created, all headings that one applies to this level appear automatically in the table of contents. Levels (Part, Chapter, or Section, and so on) are named for easy reference and help identify the type of headings that will appear in this research paper. Drawing on the ethnographic study mentioned above, let me further illustrate a way to structure the information base.

    Part I deals with the background of the study, and contains various chapters dealing with different theoretical, historical, and psychosocial concerns of immigration issues. Accordingly, Part II deals with the empirical process, within which there are various chapters dealing with research design and the research process, such as the methods of data collection. Part III deals with the interpretation of the results. Part IV will have several chapters discussing the results and their implications. Part V stores all the field notes, with different levels dealing with different categorizations of the notes, such as first, second, or third interview. Part VI, likewise, separately stores different interview transcripts. Part VII handles notes on reviewing and critiquing literature reviewed. Part VIII deals with all types of memos. This tentative example on structuring the information base illustrates how a structure gradually emerged, was added to, or as was the case with certain chapters or sections, was moved or removed. As one applies an existing level (be it Part, Chapter, or Section), an entry is automatically added to the Table of Contents, a helpful feature.

    The Table of Contents feature, conveniently located in a sizable panel along with many other featured icons in a menu on the screen, provides a holistic view of the information structure. In browsing the contents, one can expand the headings to see a broad view, or collapse a heading to deal with a particular section, enabling one to navigate hundreds of pages with ease. With a click, one can move from one place to another while maintaining an overview of one's evolving writing process. This feature surpasses the old method of storing and retrieving information in word processors, and although an outline mode is now a part of most high-power word processors, FolioView still excels in this aspect.

    FolioView is especially useful in navigating through massive amounts of information and avoiding the misplacement of arduously searched materials. For example, the Table of Contents and the Query features allow the user to move between data from a particular observation recorded in both field work and data analysis. Comparing this with the physical chore of sorting through hundreds of 4x6-inch cards manually, FolioView makes retrieval of information easy, while enhancing a smoother flow of ideas.

    Other features, such as "Data links" and "Popup links," allow the user to easily create links within an information base. With Data links one can link a document, for example, with another word processing file, spreadsheet file, or data set in a statistical software package. Popup links allow the user to store the contents of the popup, and one can use it many times without retyping or pasting any text. These Links, along with other features such as "Group" and "Field," have potential application for qualitative researchers in completing the tedious process of coding and categorizing their data. Taken together, these features allow one to categorize nonsequential (modular) information in a searchable structure.

    FolioView is also useful in personalizing and annotating an information base, using such tools as "Notes," "Highlighters," and "Bookmarks." Notes allows one to place comments on a paragraph or to highlight reminders in order to return later to fill out incomplete subsections. These Notes appear as small "sticky note" icons in the left margin; one can add as many new notes as required, while not disrupting the overall integrity of the information structure.

    Highlighters allow one to mark passages in the information base that one wants to remember. This feature has several distinct advantages. For example, one can use different colors to represent the different degrees of urgency of tasks to be tackled, such as which sections or chapters must meet certain deadlines. Bookmarks, on the other hand, allow one to pinpoint locations one may want to return to later. One may have as many Bookmarks as necessary. FolioView has other features that can be explored and applied by each user according to their needs.

    Though FolioView can be appreciated as a tool to help us proceed toward intelligent assimilation and orderly connection of ideas and materials, it should not be taken as a replacement for the serious thinking involved in actual writing. My aim in reviewing this organizing tool is to share its strengths so that we may benefit by developing better intellectual habits in dealing with information.

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    Book Notes