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Project Planning

1. What Is the Big Idea?

Take a moment to think about a new digital project you are developing. If you are not ready to do that, think about creating a personal digital portfolio:

  • What do you want to accomplish with this digital project? Describe your project idea in two sentences.
  • What are the goals of the project? (Does it solve a problem, meet an institutional need, address an interest, or put existing resources to new use?)

2. Environmental Scans

Now that you have improved your Google Foo and are saving sources in Zotero, it’s time to think about doing an environmental scan. On day one, you summarized your big idea in two sentences. Next, it is time to do some research and see if anyone else is working to solve that problem, address that topic, or test out the same methodology. This is important when seeking external funding and when pitching any new piece of digital scholarship. You may find that your university offers small grants that can pay for this research process.

Many of you are probably already familiar with this process for your field. As you consider applying for a grant, you may want to see what is happening in other fields. This resource sheet offers some guidance on finding existing or newly funded digital projects.

Create a new Zotero library for the project and collect relevant research, tools, and publications in this collection.

3. Audiences

It is always important to identify the key audiences for your project. These audiences might be your peers, students, journalists, and/or specific groups outside of the academy.

  • What is the need for this project, and who are the people who need or want this?
    • The “general public” is not a reasonable answer. You must drill down to think very carefully and specifically about audiences outside of academia, and what specific groups you are designing and writing for in your digital project.
    • If this is a pedagogical project, for use with your students or others within a classroom setting, focus on tailoring a project to students.
  • What are the technical constraints, resources, and abilities of those you identify as primary users of the project?
    • For example, if you want your project to be incorporated into undergraduate-level courses, how are those students most likely to access the web? Is it with a laptop, tablet, or smartphone? What constraints come with those devices that might affect the accessibility and usability of the project?
  • As you consider who and how to reach those audiences, who else might you want to involve in designing and creating this project?

If you want to pursue a project for audiences outside of academia, it is important to carefully identify audiences, talk to them, design for and with them, and communicate.

Make copies of these Google docs and save them to your Drive to work on now or later. These are lengthy exercises, but it is important to read through them to understand good practice for planning, implementing, and maintaining a successful digital public project.

  1. Identify audiences and constituencies (worksheet): the “general public” is not an audience. Be specific when identifying potential collaborators and community and institutional stakeholders for your digital public project.
  2. Conduct user research and craft personas (worksheet): audience research is critical, and the process outlined in this worksheet may take multiple weeks to complete. Also included are links to some good readings from user experience designers that are worth your time.
  3. Create an evaluation strategy of your digital public project’s content (worksheet): identify goals and what assets of the project are involved, how do you plan to achieve the goal and measure its success?
  4. Design a social media strategy (worksheet)

4. Picking a Platform

Let the goals and audiences for your project guide your decision about selecting the appropriate platform for your project: https://labs.ssrc.org/dds/articles/picking-a-platform.

5. Data Preparation

If the primary asset of your digital project is a data set, take some time to review the state of your data.

  • Have you accounted for all of the variations in your existing data set?
  • Is your data “machine-readable” (e.g., in plain text (TXT) for notes documents, or as a comma-separated value files (CSV) for tabulated data)? These formats are preferable to the proprietary formats (i.e., only readable if you use a specific operating system or software package).
  • Is your data tidy by Wickham‘s definition?
    1. Is each observation in a row?
    2. Is each variable in a column?
    3. Does each value have its own cell?
  • Consider creating one master data sheet of tidy data. Then save different versions of the master if you need to reformat or limit the scope and size of data for use in a specific digital program or tool.

6. Preparation for Building Visualizations

  • What questions do you wish to ask with your data that a visualization might help answer? (These may not necessarily be large theoretical questions, but may relate to the accuracy and completeness of your data set.)
  • Draw on paper the type of the visualization you want to build.
  • Is this type of visualization appropriate for the data you have?
  • If there are missing pieces of data, is it possible to find them (in existing sets, for example) easily, or do you need to do additional research?
  • Consider what tool might work best for creating your data visualization.

7. Preparation for Mapping

What data do you have that might benefit from a spatial representation? This might be geographic or conceptual data (refer to the White reading in module 8).

  • What are the specific data points you need to represent for a spatial analysis?
  • Think through your objectives for this research project to determine what type of mapping tools or software will meet your needs: How would a spatial or geographic representation of data answer, and raise, new questions for your work? What errors and uncertainties would you need to acknowledge or represent?
  • “I’ve heard about ArcGIS—do I need to use and learn ArcGIS in order to begin a mapping projects?” Probably not.
    • If your institution pays for an ArcGIS software licenses, you should be able to access it at a GIS lab in your campus library. If your institution does not have a subscription, using ArcGIS will come at a high price that may not benefit you in your research. Cartographers tend to use ArcGIS because it is very powerful and supports their work specifically. QGIS is an alternative, because it is open source and designed for scholarly research and teaching. QGIS can run locally on any computer, regardless of operating system, and doesn’t require working in a lab. To learn more about the basics of QGIS, see Lincoln Mullen’s Introduction to QGIS, http://lincolnmullen.com/projects/spatial-workshop/qgis.html.

8. Preparing for Text Analysis

If you plan to try text analysis on your own corpora, how do you prepare it? If you have one large text, you may not need to do much to it, other than saving it as a .txt file. But, if you are interested in scraping content from digital collections and combining them, you cannot do this very simply in a web interface such as Voyant Tools or Bookworm.

One place to start is with Duke University Libraries’s useful guide for data cleaning and preparation, http://guides.library.duke.edu/c.php?g=289707&p=1930855. Another is to teach yourself how to use Python by following the Introduction to Python tutorials in Programming Historian.

Below are a few other lessons to help you think through finding and creating machine-readable data:

9. Proposing a Digital Publication with a University Press

Are you interested in working with a university press on a digital project? American Association of University Presses offers a list of new initiatives and collaborative offerings at different presses: http://www.aaupnet.org/aaup-members/news-from-the-membership/collaborative-publishing-initiatives.

When approaching a publishing house with a digital project proposal, the precis should combine elements from project planning segments available in earlier modules:

  • Intellectual goals and questions driving the project
  • Environmental scan, and how this makes an intervention in your field with content, methodologies, and presentation
  • Audience
  • Platform and technical requirements
  • Project components, assets, structure, and final published format
  • Collaborative team required to complete all elements of the project
  • Outreach, publicity
Updated on July 31, 2018

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