* This is part two of a mini-series feature with the Bulletin on tips for research and writing. Part one can be found here.
Helen Mo: Being a very lateral/intuitive thinker, I’ve found that sketching thought-webs on coloured lined paper is great for getting around the fundamentally linear and sterile technology of word processing software. In the preliminary stages of writing, the physical act of doodling draws my ideas out into visual/spatial form. I then refine the ideas while typing them up in a Word document under colour-coded subheadings. Once they’re solidified into sentences and paragraphs I can tweak, drag around, and reorder them. Lord knows what I would have done in the age of typewriters. As for organization, I keep a meticulously organized system of folders on Google Drive, and have dedicated online documents (accessible by smartphone app) for spur-of-the-moment ideas or reading recommendations.
Karen de Vries: For writing, I love having a large whiteboard (actually I have 3) that I use to diagram or mindmap my ideas at the beginning of each writing session. Then when I come back to it the next day, I have a visual diagram of where I was and what I was thinking the day before. Sometimes it stays the same, but often I rework it. Also, write every day. Even if it’s for a small chunk of time. Writing is thinking. For keeping track of notes, articles, and keywords I use a somewhat ad-hoc filing system. Articles are all filed (digitally and paper) alphabetically by last name. Then I also have keyword files (again, digital and paper because I use both media) where I put the notes for whichever keywords or themes my current research project revolves around. When I write, I pull the most relevant files and notes into my writing realm.
Adam Miller: This may be a bit simplistic (and it may very well be something most people already do), but it is a habit I developed as an undergraduate and it has paid off so far. I always provide full bibliographic citations as I’m writing. More specifically, I provide full bibliographic citations each and every time I cite a source–even if I’ve already cited it above, even if I’m citing the same source a few times in a row.
For whatever reason, having my citations in order (and, when the writing gods aren’t being kind to me, getting them in order) helps me in a big-picture kind of way. It may not help the writing process, but it helps minimize stress caused by things that can easily be avoided.
Also… to minimize the stacks of books Kenneth and Craig mention (in part one), and also to help me put together thoughts, I sometimes find myself typing up notes that I’ve taken. That way I can later organize them in either a single word document or several by topic, how I plan to use the information, or whatever.
Tara Baldrick Morrone: One thing that I always do (or try to anyway) is to print any electronic articles because I find that I can read them more carefully and retain more information like that than if I read them on the computer. Recently, while studying for my first comprehensive exam, I started using different colored highlighters or post-it notes (for library books) for different pieces of information (historical data, the scholar’s argument, particular themes, etc.) in books or printouts. That way, when I go back to look through the readings, I could quickly pick out whatever topic I was looking for by looking for that particular colour.
Jeffrey Wheatley: To echo what Craig Martin said, I think spatial distinctions can be crucial, at least for some of us. Light reading in bed. Discussion prep, peer review, heavy reading at library. Administrative stuff, social media, CFPs, emails, etc. at coffee shops (or just in the morning as I drink coffee). Heavy research and writing in apartment office. The transition between these spaces (walking, commuting) serve as a nice break and an opportunity to shift gears.
Karen Zoppa: It’s very interesting that no one has mentioned housework, shopping, transportation, child care – in and out of the home – as if these necessities are not part of any life, including academic life – or are we all still living the ideal cloistered life? Not to mention caring for elderly and less able family, trying to maintain friendships, and even – gasp – “fun” ! Just sayin’ . . . That “said,” I have always banked my time preciously – because if I don’t have to clean it, cook for it, feed it, comfort it, or entertain it, I better actually engage with it for the few precious hours of solitude. Good rule – never take work home – work at your campus space – even on weekends. You tend to get a lot done.
Even if the focus is on “paid” work, it is still performed in the context of domestic necessities and I am bemused that this is not addressed in a discussion about “organizational strategies.” The elephant squats in our midst.