Virtuosity 11.11

Where words become worlds…

Archive for the tag “writing”

Scrivener and Nonlinear Writing

I find that the beginning of any academic paper is an intimidating place to start writing. For some reason, blank screens constipate my mind, and the ideas stop flowing. I can barely get past the second word on my first sentence before I feel like blowing the whole thing up — except there’s nothing there to blow up to begin with!

To solve this rather peculiar problem, I write the findings first. It’s easier to write what has already been said, rather than (how I feel) making things up in the intro. Although programs like Word almost force you to write from the beginning, I’ve found that Scrivener’s nifty way of breaking each part of the paper down, so that you can start at any section, and go for it!

You can read more about how grad students can use Scrivener by checking out the DoctoralWriting SIG blog, which is chock full of helpful tips.

Happy Writing and Researching!



Writing and reciprocity

feedback_loopHaving peers and mentors read your work is incredibly valuable for developing your writing skills. However, finding people who match your workflow habits can take a bit of time. For example, LOTS of people have asked me to edit/proofread their work or co-write with them. However, the problem with this is that many times, I don’t get the same amount of feedback or help in return; or worse, I end up doing the bulk of the work.

It’s important as a grad student to delegate your time wisely, and to give back as much as you get from other classmates. I have strong relationships with a handful of writing partners because I know that they are just as invested in proofreading and editing my work as I do with theirs.

So, as invaluable as it is to have writing partners, remember that learning how to give good feedback is also as important as receiving it. Make sure your writing relationships are reciprocal, because I can tell you from personal experience that when you find the right people to work with, the benefits are greater than the amount of time that you’ve invested!

Write like no one’s reading

…and that includes you.

Set the timer for 10 minutes, and just write!

Write anything.

Write, “I don’t know what to write, so I’m writing.”

Write with reckless abandon!

img_0239Write about your breakfast.

Write about your first thought. Last night’s dream. Your research question.

Write about your first day, when they call you “DOCTOR.”


Then write some more.

At the end of ten minutes, file it.

Now…. go get coffee. You can edit it later.

Write Before Coffee

It took me nearly two years to cultivate a daily writing habit that worked. First, I went with word count, then I went with designating an amount of time for writing each day. Both of these goals were too overly ambitious, and they ended quickly.

Although I’ve written in far more detail about how to form a writing habit in a previous post, here, I will outline the two main tenants that helped me:

(1) Form new habits around the habits that you already have.
You will be more successful in creating a habit when it is associated with a habit you already have. For example, I write first, before I get my coffee. I’m a coffee addict, so there’s no way I’d forget to get my coffee. Thus, by forming a habit whereby I may not have my coffee until I’ve written, coffee becomes a reinforcing reward for the writing I’ve done.

(2) Your goal is not on productivity, you must focus on forming a habit, first.
Word count or writing for a set amount of time to move a project forward are very good goals for productivity. However, if you have not formed an addiction around writing first, achieving the productivity that you want can be difficult. Hence, the first thing you must do is form a writing habit that becomes an addiction. To do this, make your habit-forming goal reasonable and consistent. For example, I freewrite for 10 minutes every day. JUST 10. This means I know that every day, I will be writing. It doesn’t sound like much at all, but believe me, it’s not the amount of writing you do that you are trying to achieve. What you are trying to do, is accomplish the goal of getting the writing done. Every. Day.

So, for today’s writing prompt:

Think about your habits and addictions (e.g., brushing your teeth, getting coffee, taking lunch at a particular time), then schedule your writing before your normal habit. When will that be for you? Second, what’s a reasonable goal that you want to achieve in order to get this habit to work?

Need a push? Here’s some other posts I’ve written on the subject of writing sprints, journaling, and habit formation:

Grad student survival 101


We made it to March!!!!

Now that you have looked over your goals and are marching forward, I wanted to take this month to share some of the insights that I’ve gathered from my experiences as a grad student. For March, look for posts on grad student tips, time management, research, power point, and writing. Of course, these will be sprinkled with motivational quotes and reminders throughout.

This month, if you have not done so yet, I challenge you to cultivate your writing habit. For today, start with this:

The 10 minute freewrite challenge:
Starting today, write for 10 minutes. If you can’t think of something to write, then  write about why you got into grad school. Reflect on what you hope to accomplish, and maybe even (if it’s not too scary) what you see yourself doing when you get that PhD.

Happy Writing!

Finish strong

This is the end of the week. Finish strong!

Give yourself an extra push, and an added effort so that you can walk into the weekend saying, “Yes. I did that.”

Put yourself on an downhill ramp, so that on Monday, you’ll be ready to begin anew. Some examples for this are: (1) a writing prompt on Monday to get you started, (2) a “to do” list for Monday, or (3) a sticky note with your #1 Monday task. Give yourself something to jumpstart your next week.


Converting from one reference management software to another

During my comprehensive exams, I was not entirely happy with using Sente to manage my documents. Although the software is powerful, it seemed for me to be overly complex, and changing minor things, such as a classification as a journal proceeding to that of a conference proceeding (and the fields that corresponded) involved flipping through pages of a not-so-friendly manual to understand and do. Second, I didn’t trust it enough to build a mostly flaw-free bibliography for me, considering that it would involve about a hundred citations!

The University of Rochester offers free Refworks for its students, but because I had already had three years worth of literature in my Sente database, I held back on converting over. In fact, it wasn’t until after I finished my exams that I had considered using a new reference manager. My decision to use Mendeley came from a fellow colleague who used the program and raved about how easy it was to use – plus, it was free. The problem with using free software offered by the university is that after you graduate, you end up paying for the subscription. So… I converted over. Needless to say, it hasn’t been quite easy, and there are pros and cons to moving from one reference manager to another.


  • Mendeley offers more technical support and has a more active community. That means you can get help quickly without being slowed down.
  • The reference manager interface is far more intuitive, and so far, more flexible in allowing me to make changes, annotate, and tag things the way they need to be tagged.
  • The Word plugin interface is much easier to use, and I can now build a bibliography from it. The advantage to having software build your bibliography is that you can change between different styles quickly (e.g., from APA to MLA) without getting all confused about what goes where.
  • Mendeley is free and I can access it on my phone, iPad and computers



  • I have four years of material stored on Sente, and although I can import the citations into Mendeley, it does not easily import the actual documents. So, I either have to re-import the documents, or, at times, run both Sente and Mendeley to make sure I have the things I need. This is a BIG con.
  • You lose stuff. It’s inevitable, but when converting from one software to another, it’s inevitable that stuff gets lost. Just make sure the most important stuff is filed where you can find it (that’s why I have scads of hard copy, alphabetized papers in file folders).
  • There’s always a slight learning curve when going from one software to another – however, I find that I pick up Mendeley a lot easier than when I learned Sente

Ultimately, you have to find a reference manager that works well with your own personal style. That may not be easy, and unfortunately, we may have to make quick decisions and stick with them. However, there ARE points where moving from one to another is ideal. For me, the flexibility and ability to trust that Mendeley will make a fairly accurate biblio was enough for me to switch over. I still waited until after I finished comps to do so.

For those who are thinking of moving from one management software to another, take your time and check out all your options. If you are unhappy with your current software, don’t wait too long, though, otherwise, it will be harder to switch. I’d also advise making the switch AFTER a major project, so that starting over isn’t such a big impact for you. For example, when I switched from comprehensives to thesis, my literature also took a switch from general online learning theories to virtual worlds-specific learning theories. That gap meant that now I knew where to go when I needed certain references. Albeit, sometimes, you still have to have two software programs running. It’s a small price to pay, however, for the amount of trust I have to have in my software program!

Happy Referencing!





Why use reference management software

As I had mentioned in my last post, a good reference management software program is as important to a grad student as a computer. From the first day of class, you will be inundated with various articles, book excerpts, and links that are fundamental to your studies. During my comprehensive exams, I found myself going back to material from classes that I had taken in the first year of my program! However, if it were not for my reference manager, I would have (and still did, to some extent) had to search for those references again. Although my library is very good, some of those chapters may take a few days to obtain again, so it’s better to keep them on hand.

In hindsight, here’s my advice to those taking classes:

  1. From the first day of class, put your class syllabus into the reference manager program, and tag it with labels.
  2. Put all your electronic articles into your reference manager. Use tags so that you can find things again (they may be big tags, such as “theory building,” “qualitative methodology,” or “epistemology”).

Mendeley offers an annotation feature that I’ve found is more useful than Sente. Plus, you may use your Mendeley on moble devices – which I’ve found is useful.

However, I’ve also annotated using Evernote, because unlike Mendeley and Sente, Evernote’s OCR reader can search your own handwriting! Another useful annotation app for iPad is TopNotes, which allows you to make notebooks, doodle, and export to Evernote.

In any case, do not rely on paper copies alone! Unless you have an unusually keen photographic memory, sooner or later, you’re going to forget who said what, and a good reference manager is going to help you keep track and keep organized.

Happy Referencing!8186250124_3d35de02ed_b



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