Writing. That daunting tasks that looms ahead of every student and professor. Most people don’t have time to “write a lot” or at least so they think. The 8–10,000 word article sits before us like brocolli sits before a child wanting to get up from the table to play with the other kids. The task has to be done but it is difficult to begin. The book How to Write a Lot by Paul Silvia provides many practical tips on how to write a lot or more accurately as he describes in his final chapter How to Write More Productively During the Normal Work Week With Less Anxiety and Guilt (130)." The first three chapters: 1) Introduction 2) Specious Barriers to Writing A Lot and 3) Motivational tools are extremely helpful. The final four chapters provide many helpful tidbits but overal are focus more specifally for writing for the sciences.
Writing is hard and not natural. The act of writing takes practice, determination, and a set plan. Far too often academics long for the days off, spring breaks, and summer vacations to “get writing done” but then complain afterwards because of how much they did not accomplish. Writing is a skill that needs developed not a talent that comes naturally (6). Silvia provides four “specious barriers” that inhibit the writing process:
(1)“I can’t find time to write” also known as “I would write more if I could just find big blocks of time (11).” This is a blatant lie. Don’t believe it. Productive writing comes in smaller scheduled chunks throughout the week. If you are trying to find time to write then you will never find time but will fall into the trap of “binge writing.” This means that you have one “successful” 6 hour writing period every couple weeks and it makes you feel good inside. Don’t believe the lie. Rather, allocate your time throughout the week to write and defend it as you would your teaching schedule, time with family, and other activities that are important to you.
(2) *“I need do to some more analyses first,” aka, “I need to read a few more articles* (18).” Use your scheduled writing time to do “prewriting” as well. If you need to review some more research then do it during your scheduled time. This is help not hinder your productive writing if you are on a schedule.
(3)“To write a lot, I need new computer (see also a ”laser printer,“ ”a nice chair,“ ”a better desk") (19). This is just a lame excuse!
(4)“I’m waiting until I feel like it,” aka “I write best when I’m inspired to write” (23). Waiting for “inspiration” does not work.
We all need motiviation to help us continue writing. The third chapter outlines several motivational methods for writing:
Setting specific goals
Setting project goals
Set concrete goals for each writing day
Goal setting is needed when it comes to writing constantly If you run out of specific goals then you are likely to become disinterested and forget why you are writing. Next, you need to write down specific project goals (journal article, thesis, book section, etc.). This allows you to track and prioratize your goals. Once you have completed steps one and two you need to write down concrete goals for the writing session (number of words, pages to research, articles to review, etc.) Everyday can’t be a certain amount of words because writing involves more than just writing it takes preperation, research, and revisision. Finally, you should monitor your progress so you can look back and see how well (or poorly!) you did. Oh, and writers block only happens to those who believe in writers block…writing begets writing so take up and write (38)!
As I said in the introduction the first three chapters are chocked full of wisdom and practical advice (along with a swift kick in the butt to get to writing!). The fourth chapter encourages you to form a writing group to help you with peoples individual goals. Chapter five examines writing helps specifically in the style of your writing. Silvia notably points out that the writing and editing process are not one in the same. Write then edit do not try to do both at the same time. Chapters 6–8 are specifically focused on writing for the sciences. Many of the same principles can be used for other fields of writing (such as theology) but practically they are aimed for a different audience.
Overall, I found this book a helpful motivator to begin writing more. I hope to take many of the principles—especially in scheduling and goal setting—in my academic career. Did I mention that it is also only 132 pages so it is an easy read for one session.
Flip open to many academic journals and you are greeted with dense and specialized prose, default structure, and a writing style that has been passed down from supervisor to student for many years. The stuffy academic prose hinders the reader from engaging, understanding, and yes, even enjoying the research and arguments that is taking place. Helen Sword, professor at the Centre for Academic Development at the University of Auckland, specializes in literature, teaching philosophy and academic writing. Stylish Academic Writing argues that “elegant ideas deserve elegant expression” and that even in the academic world writing can be engaging and imaginative while still keeping within the professionalism that the guild requires. The research behind the book engaged in many interviews with scholars, an analysis of thousands of journal articles, and further investigation into 100 recent books on academic writing.
By default most academics do not engage in “stylistic” writing. First, writers must be open to new ways of presenting their ideas and then discipline themselves to write in such a way that is not stuffy and filled with jargon from the profession. Sword argues that writers learn from (29):
memories of what our dissertation supervisor told us
examples in journals
Scholars tend to focus on styles that have been the norm within the writing they encounter rather than branching out and innovating new writing styles that are more engaging and enjoyable to the reader.
Sword addresses a variety of writing situations that create this dense prose that exists within the academy. She begins with the impersonable way in which many writers present their work. Why do writers try to engage the reader in the third person? This creates a distance between you the writer and the reader. If we write to change the mind of the reader then writing in the third person is contrary to this goal (44). Another way to become more engaging in the writing process is to use concrete language for abstract concepts. Much of our research (especially in my context of theology and biblical studies) is in the abstract but we as writers can give a concreteness to our language by taking abstract thoughts and making them more concrete. Academic prose is often filled with “to be” and passive verbs. Try changing many of your “to be” and passive verbs with “active and unusual verbs” (60).
Movies, fictional novels, and short stories generally are experts at captivating the audiences attention from the start. Writers do this in two ways: the title of the work and the introductory paragraph or scene of the piece. Sword challenges writers to come up with catchy titles that are also descriptive of the work. This is most often seen in the two-part title: Catchy Title: Descriptive Title. Sword also challenges the way in which many writers introduce their work. Too often academic article follow the same dull “4 step process” with the CARS method (77):
Establish the research is significant
Summarize previous research
Present the gaps in the research
Answer the gaps
The article needs a “hook” which engages the reader. She says, “an effective first paragraph need not be flashy, gimmicky, or even provocative. It must, however, make the reader want to keep reading” (84). She notes that in many of the journals that she examined generally one or two of the articles supplied a “hook” for the reader. Begin the work with a question, anecdote, conversation, or other methods in “hooking” the reader to keep reading the article.
In order to stray away from the abstract writing scholars should employ a variety of literary techniques in the writing such as using exmaples, anecdotes, case studies, figurative devices, allusions, and analogies (101–102). This will “revive the readers attention” (100). She provides a helpful paradigm for practicing integrating this into your writing (110–111):
Choose a bland sentence of your writing
Find the subject and come up with concrete similes
Transform the noun into one of the figurative devices
Push the limits
Rework it into your sentence.
Overall, this books provides many helpful ways into making you into a better and more engaging writer. The book is filled with actual examples from academic journals and books and Sword carefully analyzes these examples and provides alternative ways of writing for each one. The end of each chapter provides a “Things to try” section that shows you how to actually improve your writing. Rather than staying in the abstract and theoretical she guides you into transforming your writing with specific steps. After reading this book I have noticed many areas in my own writing in need of improvement and will be implementing many of the suggestions noted in this short but helpful book.
Welcome back to the Evernote for Academics series. Today we are going to briefly cover searching within Evernote. I am going to do this post slightly different. Honestly, I really only use a couple different search options. Not because the others are difficult or anything but I can normally find my stuff quickly by simple searches. So hears the deal: Watch this short video of me showing a couple different useful searches then follow the links for more advanced searching.
Recently Evernote came out with “Descriptive Search” on the Mac. This just means that you can use natural language syntax for search. For example, to search for the word “gospel” in a notebook called Biblical Studies you can just type in “notebook biblical studies gospel” instead of typing notebook:”biblical studies: gospel, which you need that exact syntax. I find this extremely helpful because using natural language is much easier to remember because you actually don’t really have to remember anything. You just type what seems natural to find what you want.
Evernote’s slogan is “remember everything”. They mean it. You can literally store (basically) anything you want into Evernote. In fact you can store almost anything and access it on almost any device (Apple, Windows, Android, Amazon, web browser, etc). The fact that you can do this makes it either a powerful tool or just an application that sits there unused. Imagine the library when you first began your academic career. It was (or is!) overwelming. You know there are thousands of resources at your fingertips ready to assist your research. But there is so much there and you don’t know where to begin. That feeling is similar to getting started with a tool like Evernote. As a student you either asked for guidance and received help in navigating the library and making it work for you or you pushed through and tried to figure it out yourself, which probably involved much more trial and error than seeking assistance. In the same way I hope this Evernote series provides you with the assitance to make Evernote work for you. It is a powerful tool that can transform you academic life as a student or a teacher. This series will provide the basics to using Evernote that are especially pertinent in the academic realm. Once you know the basics you can begins to piece together workflows that will improve your productivity in your career.
To stretch the library metaphor a bit longer, the library probably offered many tools and services that no one ever told you about. Sure, you know the library has books and journals. But did you know there were more powerful ways of researching rather than picking all the books off the shelf that had your topic in the title? Maybe you learned that the library can obtain books that they don’t have. Or you realized that there is more to searching for journal articles online than just typing in a couple keywords. Or maybe there are vast resources that you didn’t even know existed! Well, Evernote works in the same way. You know that it can “remember everything” but what all can you do with it? That is the second part that I hope to accomplish with this series. Along the way I will give practical uses that either I use or know of others that use Evernote in different ways. It is my hope that this will inspire you to either adopt some of these practices and/or create your own unique uses. I want Evernote to work for you in whatever situation you are in.
What will this series cover?
Here is the tentative outline for the series. If you have any topics that you would like me to cover please leave a comment, tweet me (@renshaw330), or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Each section will include both a written post and video tutorial(s).
Your Evernote philosophy (tagging vs. notebooks)
Getting your stuff into Evernote
Searching within Evernote
Use as a student
Academic research workflows
Following my posts I will have some guest posts of current users of Evernote explaining how they make Evernote work for them. If you are interested in writing a guest post on how you use Evernote please either comment or send me an email.
I am excited for this series. I know many people who like the “idea” of Evernote but don’t know where to get started. There are others who “use” it but not to its full capabilities. Then there are others of you that are advanced users who could probably teach me a few things! Whatever level you are at I hope that this series will be beneficial for you.
Watch this short overview from Evernote below:
Intergrating it in your whole life is great too but this series will primarily focus on the academic side. ↩
Logos Bible Software is great for study and research but reading for long periods at a time on a backlit screen gets to be hard on my eyes. When there is a book or longer articles in Logos that I would like to read I often times export them to my Kindle to read.
I created a tutorial showing the process of how to do this. The first video creates a Kindle document with a working table of contents. This is useful if you are wanting to read a collection of articles or a book where navigation is needed. The second video is a quicker way to send Logos books to your Kindle. This way does not create a working table of contents but the book is still in the Kindle format.
This is a slight step back from my normal posts on biblical studies and theology but it is still related. I love technology, productivity, and academics. I spend a lot of time thinking the best way to integrate technology into my every day life to help me be more productive without distraction. I am often asked by fellow students and friends what I use on my Mac for school. I thought I would provide a series of blog post explaining what I use and how I use it. First on the docket, TextExpander (Mac and iOS only).
I had trouble figuring out what I wanted to talk about first. So much of what I do is integrated with each other it was hard to choose what to do first. I decided to begin with Text Expand because it is at the core of what I do and how I function on my Mac and iOS devices.
TextExpander is one of my all-time favorite Mac apps. It makes typing repetitious items and words a breeze. As part of this academic workflow series I want to highlight how I use Text Expander to increase my productivity in my studies.
First, a description of what the app is. At the core text expander follows your keystrokes on your Mac and will expand certain combinations of letters and characters into a predefine format. In addition to this you can have it paste from your clipboard, format dates however you want, and insert your cursor wherever you want. For example, one of my most used snippets is a date stamp. I use this so I have a systematic way of typing the date every time (and it is more efficient). To do this all I have to type is “.ds” and it will produce the current date in my specified format: 2013–04–26.
Or another common expansion that I use is an email snippet. I type “xgm” and it expands to email@example.com. I also have many other peoples email in different snippets so I don’t have to worry about looking up their email. As you can see I have a couple different methods for creating my snippets. The goal is to create a shortcut that you would not type in any other scenario. This is the very basics of what Text Expander does.
It also has the ability to do form fields. Form fields bring up a dialog box where you can either enter in certain information or choose different templates you have predefined. For example, one way I use the form field is to form vocabulary lists on Accordance. I often times forget the syntax (or don’t want to type it in) so I created a form field snippet to do this. For this I type “crx” and it brings up this dialog box:
All I have to do is type in the frequency that I want and then the range of verses that I want it to search and it is done. I don’t have to remember which search words to use and whatnot but just the Text Expander snippet.
Optional Selection Form Field
Another dialog box is the optional section. This comes in handy if you do something that is very similar but may require different responses. For example, email signatures. I have different email signatures depending on who I am writing to. Yes, you can input them all into the Mail app or Gmail but this allows for one central location where you can change your signatures and it is easy. I just type “esig;” and it brings up this optional dialog box:
I just click which email signature I would like to add and it inserts it into whatever email client I am using.
This is also very helpful in blogging. One aspect that is extremely helpful is providing the correct HTML code for Greek and Hebrew text so my site correctly renders them in the correct font. For example, any text in Greek needs the code
What is great about Text Expander is that I can actually have this snippet and then tell Text Expander do insert either my cursor or copied Greek text (from Logos or Accordance) into the correct location and then place my cursor at the end of the HTML code. That way if I copy a verse out of Accordance I then come to my text editor and type “,,pg” and it will expand to
One more use is for commonly misspelled words and capitalizations. All you do is add different snippets on how you typically misspell a word. For example, I am terrible at misspelling the word “tongue.” Almost every time I type the word I spell it “tounge”. So I added a snippet that if I type “tounge” it automatically changes it to “tongue”. I also have a list of common miscapitalizations such as iPhone. If I type in iphone or Iphone or any other odd combination it will expand correctly to iPhone.
This is just the basics of TextExpander. In the following posts on my academic workflows I will show different Text Expander snippets that improve my efficiency in the app that I am using. There is no limit to the use that Text Expander to improve your productivity.
The app is $34.95 and can be purchased here. It is well worth the investment. Here is the link to other videos of how TextExpander works. I encourage you to at least try out the free trial and I think you will become a believer too.
If you have any questions or want to know more how I use it feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.