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I'm curious how folks in the community handle research for complex questions. Typically, I end up with 25 tabs and 3-4 open windows when a question asks something that requires digging across multiple sources. Often some of them get lost after reboot or the original question itself cannot be found, or entirely forgotten, which is not the most optimal way to go around answering. So I'm curious how others handle questions that are complex, the process of writing an answer or assembling the material for the answer.

  • Do you keep written notes ? Lists of articles/links ? Journal entries ?
  • Do you keep questions in a TODO list/app ?
  • Do you note what's missing in the answer and do you return to revise or research more about missing parts ?

My hope is that this can be a discussion that can help ourselves and new users produce better answers and improve flow of information. Share your tricks, tips, methods.

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    Related but not an answer: Depending on my current project, I can have upwards of 300 tabs open at one time. It doesn't really bother me and I'm currently hovering at 114 tabs according to a little script I wrote that tracks my tab habit. I know there are people out there who are tab hoarders and keep thousands of open tabs around. Firefox (Quantum) is the only web browser that can handle that particular brand of crazy. When Firefox introduced tab groups, it was to cater to that audience even though the feature never really took off and was ultimately removed. – CubicleSoft Mar 8 at 5:14
  • @CubicleSoft “[T]he only web browser that can handle that”? You should really have a look at Vivaldi offering not only tab grouping, but also tab hibernation, tab splitting, sessions, advanced searching and much more. – dessert Mar 8 at 7:06
  • @dessert - Okay, fine, not the only one. My main point is that I've got 100+ tabs open at the moment without issue. 25 tabs for a single round of research is pretty average for me. Firefox remembers my tabs between sessions unless I dump them into a Private Browsing session. – CubicleSoft Mar 8 at 14:35
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    Anywho, back on topic: Do you use middle click (i.e. press your scroll wheel down on links)? Middle click opens new tabs while staying on the same tab. I use it all the time to walk down a series of links and open a series of probably relevant tabs. Visiting a page, going back, visiting a different page, going back, and so on is tedious and likely to lose where I'm at if I want to see a bunch of different possible pages and I liked one page better than others then I possibly have to try to find it again. – CubicleSoft Mar 8 at 14:42
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    any new project gets its own text file I maintain on dropbox so any machine I happen to be working from has the latest version of this note keeping file – Scott Stensland Mar 11 at 21:10
  • @ScottStensland That's an interesting way. I used to do something similar: I'd open Issue with specific tag ( enhancement, bug, etc ) on github repository of my project. I still have some of them to fix. Usually people think of Issues as bug reports, but for a project where you are owner/maintainer I think it's sufficient to have an open Issue as sort of to do list. And there's also a bit of "public pressure" - you've set goals which other people might see, so there's motivation to work on them – Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy Mar 12 at 3:22
  • I cannot imagine how a question would require more than three open tabs or so. Do you have an example? – fkraiem Mar 12 at 7:37
  • @fkraiem Here's one example. I was digging through Nautilus source code across multiple files, plus API documentation, plus documentation to make the code examples. – Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy Mar 12 at 8:03
  • I see. It would never occur to me to go dig in source code to answer such a question; if I don't know, I just pass. Maybe I'm just lazy. :D – fkraiem Mar 12 at 11:15
  • @CubicleSoft Care to share the script? I also have many (not quite as many as you only around 20-30) tabs open occasionally, and I'd be curious to know the actual number. – Ploni Mar 12 at 22:28
  • @Ploni - pastebin.com/DaKZvvxm It's in PHP, but it can be rewritten easily in any language. – CubicleSoft Mar 13 at 1:21
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I use Firefox, which has 2 features that really help with those issues, one of which most browsers have:

  • Reopen tabs on restart (This is what most browsers have)
  • Awesome Bar (i.e. where we input the URL). This is a very underrated feature of Firefox in my opinion as you can specifically search certain parts of Firefox for URLs. For example, search only in history, search only in bookmarks, etc.

    However, the most important functionality, in my opinion, is the ability to search open tabs only and switch to them. So when I end up with a big quantity of tabs, this comes really handy. All I need is to remember a couple of keywords in the title or the URL of a page.

    To do that, start by typing the percentage (%) character, followed by a space and then you can type whatever you want. This will search in all open tabs in all open windows, except for private windows.

Switch to Tab in Firefox Sorry for Mac, but I'm not currently on personal desktop :p

This only covers the part about losing tabs, but I still sometimes forget that I was answering a question altogether. And I have no solution for that, maybe someone else does.

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The more complex the question the more likely I am to keep notes. Although for me, that's once I've exceeded around a dozen tabs. I do not keep questions in a TODO list/app but I've been known to favorite a question to facilitate finding it again. If I know something is missing from an answer I'll typically note that it's a work in progress in the answer itself and return to expand it later. If I'm not aware of something that's missing, the community has been exceptional at drawing my attention to answers that are unclear and therefore need further attention. Some of my more popular answers I try to revisit when a new release comes out in an attempt to keep them up to date. This is what I do, but I have no doubt that there are other more effective approaches.

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    I've been using favorites feature as well, and it actually helps finding questions that are recent, but on a long enough scale it can become problematic. There's a lot of questions I wanted to work on and I've ended up with list of like 1500 favorites by this point. – Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy Mar 12 at 17:22
  • Wow. That's a lot of favorites. Perhaps I lack ambition or time... – Elder Geek Mar 12 at 17:27
  • @SergiyKolodyazhnyy I don't use the favourite feature for that (and I wish that feature were a lot more flexible) but if I did, I would keep a pinned tab for favourites and start it on the oldest page and work forward in time, answering or discarding or skipping until later and occasionally going back to the oldest page again. That's what I in theory (lately I'm a complete slacker) do with my comments (to see if they are obsolete). – Zanna Mar 13 at 14:33
  • @Zanna I used to pin tabs, but I don't like the fact that they sometimes just disappear. Favourites featue at least allows for neutral place to save stuff. But I completely agree - it could be a lot more flexible and "functional" – Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy Mar 16 at 2:55

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