Friday, August 12, 2011

Technology and the Research Process Part 5: Writing

I write in Scrivener, which works very well for me because although I always produce a very linear product, I am a very non-linear writer.  Basically, I have an outline in my head (which I usually write down on paper at some point) and then I work on whichever part of that outline I feel like.  For this reason, I was always completely baffled in college when my friends would say things like "I've got 18 pages out of 25 for this paper, how many do you have?" First of all, I would have no idea, and secondly, the number of pages I had seemed completely irrelevant to whether or not I had an actual paper.  Writing in a regular word processor was always difficult because I would either have to save sections as separate documents or constantly be scrolling up and down.  For me, Scrivener solves this problem, as it seems to be designed for people like me who can't write first to last.

In the screen shot below, you can see that I have a research and a draft folder, and each one is divided into the same sections (and subsections that you can't see :-)*).  Thus, I can work on whatever section I feel like without scrolling all over the place.

As you can see, Scrivener allows you to split the screen, which makes it really easy to write directly from your notes.  Before I start writing though, I also organize my notes in Scrivener in the order I want to use.  In the screen shot, you can see on the right a little index card that has a summary of the note (I usually autogenerate this since my notes are short).  It also has a label, which will show up color-coded in the shots below.**

When I first import my notes from Slipbox, I organize them using the corkboard, which looks like little index cards and thus feels like my old method.  I can organize them in freeform mode, which lets me move them anywhere, as in the shot below:

Or I can organize them in a more structured mode, where they stay in rows, as in the shot below:

In either mode, you can stack them into groups, which is also very convenient.  The colors in the corner show you theThe only thing that I dislike about this is that I have a small laptop screen (13") so sometimes I have too many cards for my screen real estate.  Someday I hope to have a larger screen.

Once I have the notes organized, I get down to the actual writing, using the split screen.  For this, I put the cards in group mode, which you can see here in full screen:

When I am writing in the split screen mode as in the first screen shot, I just scroll down through the bottom screen of notes, while typing into the top screen of draft.  A particularly wonderful aspect of the integration between Bookend and Slipbox is that you can see that even when I import the slips to Scrivener, there is a link to the source.  When I need to add it in my draft, I click then link in my note, which transfers me to the source in Bookends.  I copy the source citation in Bookends and paste it into my draft text in Scrivener.

So, this is how I use technology to write.  I don't know of any other program like Scrivener, which is designed for the Mac but also has a Windows beta.  Scrivener can also do much, much more than I have described here.  So, if you are thinking this sounds cool, but I wish I could do X, Scrivener probably can do it, I just don't use it.

*Yes, this really is my dissertation, which even though you can't see much kind of makes me feel like I'm posing in my bikini on the internet, but it was too difficult to make a fake one

**This is probably unnecessary, but I have synesthesia, so color-coding makes me feel good.

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