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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Use TimelineJS for Writing and Research

This is a guest post from Beth Holland, Doctoral Candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Education

Last week, I found myself a bit flummoxed with my dissertation and needed a different way to look at the literature supporting my argument. After fussing around for a while trying to draw something logical, it dawned on me that it might be helpful to create a timeline so that I could examine overlapping chronological events. After asking for a suggestion via Twitter, Ben Sondgeroth recommended TimelineJS.

Usually, I struggle with timelines because they can get really complex, and it's hard to get the spacing correct between years. However, as Richard explains in the tutorial below, TimelineJS works with a Google Sheet. This means that I can add information in any order, and my timeline will automatically display the events in the correct places.


However, the ability to create a multilayered timeline really helped me out. This way, I could group events by topic. For my dissertation, I wanted to look at the evolution of history, policy, technology, and economics research.



After completing this exercise, I started thinking about how TimelineJS might support writing and research. As illustrated, it could be a great pre-writing tool to organize a paper chronologically. However, imagine if students in a history, social studies, or even literature course maintained a timeline throughout the year for every unit or book. By spring, they could scroll through and look for connections that might not otherwise have been obvious.

Since the timeline gets populated from a Google Sheet, it could also be used as a different way to visualize an annotated bibliography. Imagine if students could make notes in the spreadsheet and then use the timeline to view and analyze their information. Personally, I wish that I had used it last summer when studying for my comprehensive exams. It would have been a fantastic way to synthesize information across courses. 

Sometimes, we all need a different way to organize our thinking before writing. TimelineJS might offer one more opportunity to do so.