This weeks academic writing workshop concentrated on research tools and techniques. The workshop was divided between finding references, curating material, notetaking, and then writing. It was emphasised that the ‘research’ part was really the last bit, the writing, everything else was preparation for doing this research. (You can find all the references you like, make amazing extensive notes, have the best collection of readings ever, but until you write something, it remains a fancy.)
Pretty simple, how to use Google scholar, in particular putting in a key reference you already have to then see what cites it, and following those threads. Academia.edu where you can follow individual academics, as well as search thematically for material. The related books feature of amazon.com, useful if you already have a key text to then find more and new material. Subscribing to journal announcements, using RSS to aggregate information from multiple sources, and University of Pennsylvania’s call for paper service as a way to get a sense of current issues.
Academic life was once an economy of scarcity, not it is an economy of excess. So the skills now shift from finding a few things to collecting a lot and then being able to find items, and content in items, later. Evernote, Papers, and Zotero/Endnote/Mendeley/Bookends were all discussed in relation to curating.
Some people spend too long taking notes. Some don’t spend enough time. The trick is to find your own sweet spot between enough notes to not have to read a whole article or chapter again and to be able to find the key material later when you might need it, to having so many detailed notes that you might as well be reading the article again. The Cornell method seems to be as good as universally endorsed as a way to take notes. It’s advantage is that it relies on abstracting things out from the reading so forces you to be economical with your time and notetaking. Coding quotations was also shown, including using high end software (eg nVivo or Atlas.ti) as well as the more lightweight nvALT. The role of coding (tags) was emphasised.
Rebecca showed Ulysses, an impressive Mac/iOS writing program (I think it is certainly on a par with Scrivener and in many ways more elegant to use). Then we had a quick look at Scrivener. Both programs are writing programs (unlike Word which is a business writing application) so have lots of things to help writers write, including separating out design and layout to something that happens after the writing is done.
Seemed to be valuable to those who came, and it will probably be repeated later in the year. The thing to keep in mind is not to mirror someone else’s practice but that as you become adept you weave together bits and pieces that complement how you work. What is often missing for many though is not knowing what tools and things are available that let you weave the things together.