I will be continuing on in my series about my workflow as a graduate student (overview in Part 1). Last week, in Part 5, I talked about free writing. This week I will discuss the next step in the writing process for me: memos.
For me, memos look a lot like my free writing. They are mostly unformatted text (I will throw in an occasional header for sanity reasons). The big difference is memos are focused. They usually start with a question or idea that I want to expand upon. Maybe I am working through collected data or some literature I have just read. Perhaps I am asking the 10 questions about my research (https://depts.washington.edu/csclab/2009/11/the-10-questions/). Memos are a great way to start thinking through without worrying about the consequences (no grammar check, no worry about formatting, or if there’s a point).
Another difference between free writing and memos is the likelihood someone else might read a memo. My free writing I don’t share with anyone. However, my memos might get shared with co-authors or my advisor – especially memos that I have iterated on and are in a little better shape after a couple of drafts.
Really rough memos I do in Evernote. One nice thing about Evernote is you can link notes to each other. So as I am writing I can paste in links to other relevant notes (which would include other notes I’ve written, pdfs I’ve saved, or media I’ve clipped from the web).
If my memos make it to the stage where I am doing multiple iterations or drafts, I switch to Word. This is mostly so I can save versions as needed to Dropbox and so I can share easily with co-authors and my advisor.
Memoing is an important step in between free writing and starting drafts of academic papers. This is where the big thinking happens. Granted, you are thinking your way through the whole writing process, but this stage is where the questions get asked, the connections get made, and the literature starts to make sense. I have found it makes the next step, which I will talk about next week, much, much easier.
This week I will be writing about free writing. This is the fifth part of my series about my workflow as a graduate student (you can find Part 1 here). Last week, in Part 4, I gave an overview of my various steps in my writing process. Now I will break the first step down for you.
This is something I strive to do every (work) day. I carve out 35-45 minutes and sit down and write. My goal is 1500 (any kind of) words. Some days I don’t quite make it to my 1500 goal because I am tired or things get too hectic for my full writing session, but I do the best I can.
I do my free writes in OmmWriter and then transfer the text over to Evernote for safe keeping.
The great thing about this program is it is simple and quiet. I can plug in my headphones and hear ocean waves and the happy click-clack of keystrokes.
With a quick swipe of the mouse, I can check in on my word count if I’m feeling particularly anxious. For the most part, however, I just write.
When I’m done with my 1500 words, a quick copy and paste from OmmWriter to Evernote (filed under my notebook title “Free Writes”) saves my writing. I do this quick switch for one primary reason – searchability. My goal at the end of the day is to have all my research notes, memos, writing, etc. all in one place that is easily parsed and searchable. That way, when I get to later steps in my writing (“Now where did I put that one idea about a conference paper…..”) I can throw some keywords into my Evernote and find what I need. Work done now, upfront, is work saved later when energy levels may be low, cognitive function may be impaired, and deadlines are getting anxiously near.
I find this free write process to be very freeing (haha). First, it gets rid of one reason for writer’s block – the blank page. My later writings can now have snippets of free write pasted in to get them started – no more blank page! I also find this process really helps jumpstart and solidify my thought process. I am thinking through my writing. As I go through my day, do my readings, maybe work on various projects, my brain is making all sorts of connections I might not be aware of. These free writes are one place where I find myself actually articulating for the first time and iterating on these connections.
As mentioned in Part 1, I am discussing my various workflow tools in order to have a more pleasant and efficient grad school experience. Last week, in Part 2, I discussed my general task management. This week I will be talking about reading and citations.
Readings and Citations
One of my jobs as a graduate student is to read. A lot. And when I am reading, I am synthesizing the information in order to use it in my own research. Some of the tasks involved in the reading process include: finding articles, reading (like the actual work of reading the documents), summarizes the work and creating an annotated bibliography, and citing sources in my own work. I will go through this process step by step.
To be fair, this step is a whole blog post in its own right and I really don’t have the time/space to do it here. Suffice to say, there are lots of ways to find the literature you need and determine if its right for you, etc. For the sake of this blog post, I will just use one of my own articles as found on Google Scholar.
I download and import into Zotero the first article listed under the Google Scholar results for “Ringland Minecraft.”
Reading the Article
I’m going to be honest here. At this point, if I’m seriously reading this article then I’m probably printing out a hardcopy and handwriting my notes in. If it’s not a deep read, then I might just be jotting down some notes by hand in my notebook or in Evernote. I just absorb better when I’m handwriting my initial notes.
Ever since having to write an extensive literature review as part of my PhD Milestones for my program, I’ve become a huge fan of the annotated bibliography. However, it has taken me almost an entire YEAR to come up with a workflow for creating these annotated bibs. Follows is what I’m finally happy with. It took a bit to set up, but it’s smooth sailing now that I’ve got it.
Read the article, take notes.
Summarize main points of the article in 3-4 sentences. May also use keywords or anything else that will help you find the article again later.
Add this summary to the “abstract” section of the article information in Zotero. Do NOT just copy and paste the abstract of the article – that will not help you find it later!
Use Zotero to create an “annotated bibliography” from the article. The style I use, APA annotated bib style, uses the abstract section to create the annotated part of the reference.
I then go to my Todoist Reading list where I probably had something like “Ringland safety paper” listed. I paste over the top of that the citation I just copied from Zotero.
Having labeled the task item in Todoist @reading triggers an IFTTT recipe that I created.
The IFTTT recipe looks for any Todoist tasks labeled @reading. It then takes the completed Todoist item and appends it to a note titled “Completed Readings” in my Evernote.
I can now search all the readings I have read and summarized this way in one Evernote list.
I also have the information in Zotero. So anytime I want to create an annotated bibliography with multiple items, I can pull the citations from my Zotero library. This way if I want to make a themed bibliography for a specific lit review, I can pull all the sources I need without having to dig through many different lit list files to find them. The other great thing about Zotero and Evernote is that they are searchable, so if I just remember some keywords about a paper – like “parent safety” – then I can pop those into my Evernote to get the full citation.
The final step in going through literature is to then cite it in your own work. I do this when I am working in Word. I use the Zotero Word plugin and just pop the cites directly into my document. The plugin also auto-generates the reference list, so that I don’t have to write it by hand. It is a huge time saver.
Hope some of that is useful to you as you go about designing your own workflow. Next week I will start talking about the writing process!
I was recently incapacitated by whatever illness was going around campus and when the fog finally lifted I finally appreciated how productive I am on a daily basis. It was time to triage my to do list and I knew some things were just not going to get done when I wanted them to be. However, since my maternity leave 6 months ago, I have been spending quite a bit of time working on my workflow, so things weren’t as dire as they could have been.
What do I mean by workflow? I mean the tools and procedures I have put in place to make sure that my project gets done in a timely, efficient manner. My project in this case is my PhD. And seeing as ‘project PhD’ is HUGE, I knew I wanted to get these things in place before I really start working on my proposal this summer and dissertation shortly thereafter. What this means is I do the following things (and what’s not on this list is be Mom to an energetic, mobile-enough 6-month-old):
reading (a lot of reading)
research, including, but not limited to:
observations (both in the physical world and virtually)
collecting lots and lots of data
service such as reviewing other papers, mentoring students, and helping with the graduate student association
writing (a lot of writing)
So, in order to stay sane and get everything done, I’ve been devising a way to automate some of my to do list and task and streamlining everything as much as possible. Some of the tools I use are: Google Calendar, Evernote, Dropbox, NVivo, Todoist, Slack, IFTTT, and Scrivener. I will be going over how I use each of these in detail over the next several blogs. They will be roughly in the following order (to be updated with links as they are posted):