Ivory Tower Writing #24: Getting organised, part 2 – project organisation

One of the biggest problems with academics is that they can never say “no” when a new opportunity for research comes. Then, all of a sudden, there’s seven projects—two journal articles, two book chapters, two op-eds, and one conference paper—due next month.

Hopefully that scenario is fictional. But, in this part, I want to focus on project management, which is less about managing individual drafts and more about planning for the bigger picture. These are some of the processes and methods I follow to manage my workload (which never seems to go away).

Like the previous post, I will be mentioning third-party software (mostly Notion) which I am not getting paid to promote. That being said, you can always find alternatives that work for you.

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Ivory Tower Writing #23: Getting organized, part 1 – database and draft organization

While nobody likes to talk about their work process, especially writers, getting organized is perhaps one of the more underrated things that a writer (especially academics) has to do when starting or doing a writing project. For me, that means organizing my literature (books, journals, and even expert commentary), drafts (from rough drafts to pre-prints), and other stuff such as my notes, pictures, or graphs. Every now and then, I would sometimes have to stop writing halfway just to look up a reference. This constant moving back and forth from article to draft and vice-versa is tedious, although in my case, it helps me think better.

Surely, not all of my recommendations here might work for you. Since writing is a personal process, you should spend some time trying to find your own workflow. My advice here is mostly directed towards undergraduates, who often have to juggle different essays for different courses. In this post, I’ll show you how to organize your literature and drafts.

A quick disclaimer: throughout the post, you will see references to third-party software. I don’t get paid to advertise the software you see. I used them, in my personal capacity, and what you’re reading are my honest opinions of the software.

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Ivory Tower Writing #22: The writer’s practice

Were you expecting an instructional post? This time, I wanted to take a break from the instructionals and take a detour. I want to write a bit about the writer’s practice. 

Specifically, I want to discuss John Warner’s most recent book titled Why They Can’t Write. Among the books I’ve read this year, I feel like this is the most impactful book I’ve read. The reason being is that it forced me to reflect on both the way I approach writing and how I teach my students academic writing. 

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Ivory Tower Writing #21: Writing a theoretical framework

Most of the time, your professor will likely ask you to support your paper with a theoretical framework. What you think this means may be, 

“Oh, I just need to find a theory that fits my current problem,” 

Or maybe, 

“I just need to list every single theory which I think has the slightest relevance to the topic I’m writing about,”

However, this isn’t usually the case. So what is a theoretical framework and how should you go around to creating one? Don’t worry, this is what this post is about.

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Ivory Tower Writing #20: Composition – the five paragraph essay

In Ivory Tower Writing #10, I discussed some general guidelines on how to compose paragraphs, structure paragraphs, and some tips on how to create “flow” in your essay. In this post, I’ll discuss the classic five-paragraph essay and how it helps students grasp the basics of composition and coherence. I’ll also cover some problems of the five-paragraph essay and how it should ideally be used in instruction.

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Ivory Tower Writing #18: How many citations is enough?

This is a question I often get from my students, especially since I have a reputation for being a strict grader (to them, this is an understatement; I am known to be judicious (think Lawful Evil)).

Here’s the short answer to the question: it depends on what you’re writing, who you’re writing for, and your current skill level. It is a complicated blend of these three factors, and it’s not easy to discern the contribution of each.

No, seriously, ask anybody and they won’t give you a straight answer to this question. I had to find my own sweet spot, but my sweet spot is either too much or too few according to reviewers. What other people deem “normal” may be excessive or not excessive enough.

Now, the long elaboration. Note that this should not be interpreted as an absolute guide; instead, think of it as one of many voices out there trying to advise you. It all comes back to you and (mostly) your professor’s judgement.

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Ivory Tower Writing #17: Analytic memo-taking

This post covers a research-specific writing method known as analytic memo-taking, a skill useful for processing qualitative data.

For those who deal with a lot of qualitative data (e.g. from newspapers, interviews, speeches, and oral history), processing the vast amounts data into something readable requires a degree of skill and a lot of patience and perseverance. One of the ways to ease the burden is by writing analytic memos.

Analytic memos are basically short write-ups, often never exceeding one page (this, of course, is relative to your research), in which you as the researcher record your thoughts/impressions/interpretations. Analytic memos should not be confused with actually writing a draft or manuscript, but your draft will very likely use sentences or substance from your analytic memos.

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Ivory Tower Writing #15: The art of summarizing

This post covers a simple how-to in writing summaries.

So, it seems you’ve been asked to summarize a specific book or article, either at the request of your professor or (gasp!) own initiative. Being able to summarize effectively is an important skill you need to learn early on, especially if in your field of study, you deal with a lot of text and reading.

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Ivory Tower Writing #13: Knowing your enemy – types of papers and what to expect (part 2)

This post further explains the types of papers you may encounter during your university life and what to expect from them.

I’d like to continue on from where we left off at post #8 when I first discussed the types of papers that you may meet throughout your university life. This time, let’s focus on some of the more specific types of papers.

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