Following on from my previous post on “getting ConnectedText,” here are my suggestions on how to get started with CT if you are brand new to it.
- Download and install the software. (If you have special needs for installing things in a particular folder or if you need to sync files with other computers, read the relevant sections (“Changing user data location” and “Project synchronization tips”) of the Help file first, which is available here [2.9MB], as you may need to do some things differently then. But these are fairly advanced issues. If you are not sure what these are about, just go with the standard installation process.)
- Read (or rather, work through – see point 5) the “First steps” section in the Welcome project (which is CT’s Help file). A ‘project’ is CT’s term for a database, within which ‘topics’ (documents) reside. Keep the Welcome project always open in a tab for easy access. You may even want to load it onto your smartphone or tablet (using a CHM reader app, so you can read it when you are out and about). The Welcome project has over 300 topics, so probably few users read it from “cover to cover,” but it’s there for you to search when you need specific help.
- Sign up to the CT Forum. Search it for issues for which CT’s Welcome project may not have an answer to. If you can’t find an answer, post your question, and you are likely to get a quick reply.
- Note that CT’s main window has two modes: an edit mode for creating content in a topic, and a view mode for viewing the content. Learn how to toggle between them (e.g. type ALT+E or click the Edit button).
- Create a new project (database) file, call it “Test”, and try out the various features as you are learning about them. Make sure to select “Auto Backup” for any new project you create in the Project wizard, otherwise you won’t be able to recover deleted topics. You can download a cheat sheet with the basic mark-up commands here [PDF]. Use the Welcome project to practice on how to navigate an existing fair-sized project.
- Go through all the menu items in the pull-down menus, to learn the main commands. Similarly, check out all the buttons in the toolbar, to become familiar with them. Also check the commands in the right-click context menu, e.g. when you select some text in the topic editor window.
- Read some of the existing tutorials online: Steve Zeoli on some of the basic features of CT and Prof. Manfred Kuehn on the basic mark-ups he uses in CT.
- Develop your preferred desktop configuration for the various panes. Go to “View” pull-down menu and try out the various options. The most important panes for me are the “Table of Contents,” “Topics,” “Categories,” “Outline,” “Notes,” and “Navigator.” As the Navigator allows you to view a map of your topic relationships, it’s best to use it undocked as a standalone window in a separate monitor (using Windows’ Extended Desktop feature). Make sure to save your favourite desktop configuration by going to View > Desktop > Save Desktop. You can save a variety of desktop configurations for different scenarios (such as reading, writing, annotating, outlining etc.).
- Practice docking the panes because it can get tricky and it can happen that you end up in a mess (with panes stuck where they shouldn’t be and there not being an obvious way to return to the previous state). That’s the time to go to your saved desktop and load it.
- If you have already messed up your desktop and need a fresh start (just like I did early on), download this desktop template [ZIP file] from the Forum, courtesy of one of the users. Here are his or her instructions: “Put it into your user settings folder, where you keep CT’s icon folder, dictionary folder etc. The First_Aid.lay should go on the same level where CT stores your bookmarks.xml, fulltext.xml, filters.xml etc. After you put the file there, call it up via View > Desktop > First_Aid.” Below is what the First_Aid desktop layout looks like, once called up. It’s the swiss army knife of CT desktop layouts. You can just close the panes that are not needed.
- My preferred desktop configuration (for the qualitative data analysis that I will discuss in future posts) is the following: view/edit window in the middle, Table of Contents and Outline docked on the left (as tabs in the same pane), and Topic List, Categories, and Notes docked on the right (as tabs in the same pane), with Navigator undocked in a separate monitor. If you don’t have a separate monitor, you can still have it undocked, but you will need to call it up by F7 or clicking on the Navigate button and then close it, otherwise it will cover your main CT window. Alternatively you can dock the Navigator on either the left pane (like in this YouTube video) or the right pane.
- Once you become comfortable with CT’s main features, make sure to install Python on your computer, so you can use some Python plugins that will help your work. Instructions for how to install Python are in the Welcome project. I use three Python scripts (all downloaded from the Forum) on a regular basis: one for doing word count in a topic, and the other two for creating bullet-point and numbered lists. There are also a lot of AutoHotKey scripts on the forum but I don’t use any at the moment. [Update (11/3/13): I do now…]
In my next post I will discuss my work flow regarding qualitative data analysis in CT.