At the end of my sophomore year, I realized that I wanted to use tech to help me write more efficiently. When I took notes for my research, I didn’t have a system that helped me organize which quotations or information went with which source. My overall disorganization made transitioning from research to writing a bit of a pain. I could never cite quickly. That all changed when I found my dynamic duo: TheBrain and Zotero.
I find word choice to be one of the trickiest parts of academic writing. Even if I’ve used a dictionary or thesaurus to make sure that I’m using a word correctly, there’s still the chance that my reader will find it odd if I use a word that’s uncommon in academic writing or that has an implication I’m unaware of.
It was late one night in December, and, with what seemed like hundreds of other people, I was in the library. I had been working on a paper about the U.S. intelligence community for weeks—reading articles, finding book chapters, and typing page after page of notes—and my head was spinning.
Normally, the papers I write for class don’t require exhaustive research, so I can get by just keeping everything in my all-purpose Word document (or, as my roommate calls it, the “portal of chaos”). This spring, though, I was assigned a final paper that required me to sift through a lot of primary sources, and I was getting tired of scrolling. So, to keep everything organized, I turned to a program that I’d purchased a few years ago: Scrivener.
When I came back from Iraq in July 2010, I was eager to enter college. It wasn’t that I desired to learn all that I could but that I felt behind. Most of my high school classmates were starting their second year of college when the 747 that delivered me from Iraq to America landed in Gulfport, Mississippi. I wanted to get my college education started because part of me felt that, if I didn’t start soon, I would never go.
Over the years, I’ve developed a strong sense of myself as a writer and learner. When I compose information, I do so with my audience in mind, so the last step in my writing process is hearing my own work. Because I live alone—even though I do have my wonderful dog-daughter, Sam, she’s not the best reader—I love to have my computer read my work back to me. So, hearing how my work sounds, especially with my audience in mind, enables me to clarify and strengthen my ideas.
My brain already feels fried, and this is only my third paper of the semester. For my other writing assignments, I’ve always made an outline before I started writing. Outlines don’t always feel helpful, at least not for me. In any case, I’ve been trying to find a new method to jumpstart my writing. Imagine how surprised I was when I realized that PowerPoint–yes, PowerPoint–could be used for more than presentations. Dare I say, I’ve turned PowerPoint into a writing tool.
The Word and Phrase Tool is a resource that I use to answer questions about my language use. How is this word usually used in a sentence? Does this sound right? Is this formal enough? All of these come to mind as I write. While a dictionary or a thesaurus can help me research these questions, I sometimes want a collection of real examples of the way language is used in real sentences. That language resource exists: it’s called a corpus.