January 17, 2014
by Jessie L. Moore
Sometimes when my students are apprehensive about how much they know about a topic or how to jump into a new writing project, I ask them to free-write for 5 minutes. But I throw in a twist. Once they’ve opened Word (or their word processor of choice), I tell them to turn off their monitor. Suddenly, whatever they write is (temporarily) hidden.
We write for 5 minutes, non-stop. If the tapping slows to a trickle or stops, I remind students to write whatever comes to mind, even if it doesn’t seem related.
Granted, this hidden free-writing adds some anxiety. Students worry about unseen typos and spelling errors. Yet, if their monitors were on, they’d stop to fix those sentence-level errors rather than focusing on writing more content. As a result, many of my students end up typing more in a hidden free-write than they would during other five-minute-writes. Granted, what they write does not resemble a final product, but the rawness of the hidden free-write adds to its value. Students know they’ll have to revise, and they are willing to make significant revisions because they aren’t wedded to the rough drafts they see when they turn their monitors back on.
While I’ve learned other strategies to focus on recording my ideas before worrying about the stylistic choices I make in individual sentences, I still return to the hidden free-write in my own writing. When I find myself getting bogged down and what to capture the ideas circling in my head before they disappear, I take a leap of faith, turn off my monitor, and simply type.
January 7, 2014
by Jessie L. Moore
Ever have one of those days where organizing your office, washing dishes, and folding laundry all seem more appealing than sitting down to write? I often struggle to start writing, not because those other projects really need my attention at that very moment. Rather, starting to write means trying to commit the ideas swirling in my head to screen or paper – an act that requires a leap of faith. (Probably more than one!)
To make that leap less intimidating, I frequently use focus booster, a free download. Focus booster uses the Pomodoro Technique to manage time on tasks. Essentially, it provides a digital timer to encourage you to stay on task for a set amount of time before taking a short break. The timer is adjustable, but the default time is 25 minutes on task, followed by a 5 minute break.
I typically use the default settings and power through 25 minutes of writing before taking a break. On days when I can set aside extended time to write, I often am tempted to skip the breaks as I get deeper into a project. Yet the reminder to get up and stretch my legs improves the quality of my work when I return to my writing task. I work through a complex concept in my head while I’m sorting papers or I simply see a passage with fresh eyes when I return from a break and realize what needs revised.
Equally as important, focus booster reminds me to stay focused on one task, rather than trying to multi-task, leading to higher quality products for each discrete task.
[Like the concept, but not focus booster specifically? Here’s a listing of similar applications.]
January 6, 2014
by Jessie L. Moore
In my Kanban example, I mentioned creating a synthesis grid as a process step (or task) towards completing a literature review. A synthesis grid provides a way to compare sources. My students often find it helpful, whether they are learning to use sources in first-year writing or conducting advanced literature reviews for capstone projects, and I frequently use the tool in my own writing.
In brief, the synthesis grid is formatted as a table. The header row contains concepts or ideas that seem central to the overall topic or that reoccur across sources. The first column lists the various texts the writer has read on the topic. If a source addresses a sub-topic listed in the header row, the writer summarizes the source’s take and lists relevant page numbers in the corresponding cell. Sometimes the writer also includes quotations.
Not every cell will have content. Yet, as the writer adds new rows (and new sources), she can visually see which sources address the same sub-topic. When the writer moves on to synthesizing the prior literature, she can read down a column to isolate the prior conversations about each sub-topic, making it easier to focus on one discrete sub-topic (across sources) rather than on one discrete source.
What strategies do you use and/or teach to students for organizing your field’s prior conversations about a research topic?