Writing Faculty

by Jessie L. Moore

January 3, 2014
by Jessie L. Moore
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Zotero: My Research Tool of Choice

I mentioned yesterday that I use Zotero to track and annotate project-related reading. Although I’ve used EverNote extensively in the past and my library offers access to RefWorks, here’s why I made the switch to Zotero:

Zotero is great for collaborative projects. In addition to maintaining collections of sources for each project or research topic, I can share items in my collections with my colleagues. Since I have several collaborative projects in the works, this feature makes life a lot easier throughout the research and writing process. If my colleagues find a source they think I should read, I can easily pull up the bibliographic information and their shared notes via our Zotero group library. Plus, if I’m connected to my university’s library databases, I usually can access the full-text version of the piece. Similarly, as we’re writing, we can use Zotero’s Word plug-in to automatically build our references list. We no longer have to track down who kept (or who can recreate) a citation for each source.

Even for solo projects, Zotero wins points for ease of use. If I’ve had a successful database search, one click lets me add a text to my open collection.

And the final winning feature is that Zotero is free to use on any computer. (You can upgrade to a paid account if you need more storage.) Since I work on both PCs and Macs on a daily basis, it’s immensely helpful to have a program that works seamlessly across platforms.

What research tools do you use?

January 2, 2014
by Jessie L. Moore
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An Action Plan for Writing

Even short, prioritized inventories of writing projects can become overwhelming if you don’t have an action plan for completing the projects. Enter Kanban, an agile strategy for visualizing your work and limiting the tasks in progress to a manageable work load…

Kanban board for writing project

Kanban board for writing project

I first learned about agile strategies from Rebecca Pope-Ruark (see, for example, her Center for Engaged learning post), and I’ve been using Kanban for my writing projects ever since. Jim Benson’s Personal Kanban site offers a more comprehensive introduction to the agile strategy, but here are the basics:

  1. Create a Kanban board: Kanban boards have three columns: Backlog/To-Do, Work-in-Progress, and Done/Completed Tasks. I usually use a big sticky note (easel pad size) on the back of my office door for my Kanban board. A file folder also works, though, if you need something more mobile.
  2. Develop your backlog: For one of your writing projects, list all the tasks you’ll need to complete in order to finish the project. Be as specific as possible. For instance, if you need to write a literature review, don’t simply list “write literature review.” Instead, list the specific areas you need to research (if you’re still exploring prior work on the topic) and all the steps you typically take to move from reading in the library stacks (or the virtual stacks of the library databases) to completing the literature review section of a text. Write your backlog tasks on sticky notes that you can move across your Kanban board. As an example, I have the following backlog tasks for a current project:
    • Search databases for new scholarship on undergraduate research as a high-impact practice.
    • Read and annotate the recently published texts.
    • Add annotations to my Zotero library and share them with my collaborators.
    • Create a synthesis grid to compare how the new texts – and other key texts that I’ve previously annotated – discuss the characteristics of undergraduate research as a high-impact practice. (Note: I’ve extended this description for the purpose of this post. On my Kanban sticky note, it simply reads, “Create a synthesis grid.”)
    • Add annotations for frequently cited publications and other key texts to Center for Engaged Learning website.
    • Use the synthesis grid to draft a Center for Engaged Learning blog post.
    • Revise, edit, and post the blog entry.
  3. Prioritize your backlog tasks and select your first tasks to complete: Limit your work-in-progress tasks. From the backlog list above, only the first three bullets are in my work-in-progress (WIP) column right now. Everything else stays in the backlog column until I’ve moved one or more WIP tasks to the Completed Task column. In essence, limiting the work-in-progress to a few tasks keeps the project from becoming overwhelming and allows you to focus on prioritized tasks.
  4. Routinely update your Kanban board to visualize your progress:  When  you finish a task, move it to the Completed Task column. Enjoy the psychological benefit of visually acknowledging that little win. 🙂 Then select the next task from your backlog to move to the WIP column. Each time you update the columns, you have an opportunity to reassess your priorities and to adjust the backlog tasks if needed.

Because I often have multiple writing projects in different stages of completion (e.g., one that’s still in a data analysis stage, one that’s drafted and waiting for writing group feedback, etc.), the Kanban on my office door typically has three or four writing projects listed – each with its own row on the board. Yet, I limit my work-in-progress tasks across projects to keep the tasks manageable.  In other words, I don’t assign myself 5 WIP tasks for each project; I assign myself no more than a combined total of 5 WIP tasks.

If you are new to Kanban, try it out with one project and see how it works for you. And if you’d like to learn more about this and other agile strategies and their relevance to the scholarship of teaching and learning, check out this Center for Engaged Learning Youtube playlist (featuring Rebecca Pope-Ruark).

January 1, 2014
by Jessie L. Moore
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Taking an Inventory

New years, whether calendar or academic, are a good time to take stock of writing projects.

Brainstorm

What’s on your writing to-do list? List every project that comes to mind. What’s in-progress, what’s on the horizon that you’ve already committed to, and what’s on your dream list (i.e., “I wish I had time for this project…”)?

Prioritize

What’s most pressing? Which projects have firm deadlines? Many writers have more ideas for writing projects than they have time to complete. Make the tough choices about which projects you can – or need to – complete in the short-term. Move the remaining projects to a long-term writing ideas list.

Then prioritize the short-term projects. Which project needs your attention first? Perhaps you have a project that would be easy to complete and would strengthen a tenure or promotion file. Perhaps you have data that will be less relevant if you wait to write about it. Or maybe you have a project that you just need to get out of your head so that you can move on to other things.

Take 30 minutes to determine your top priorities and to start a long-term project list. If the short-term list is still overly-optimistic in length, ask a friend to help you make the final cuts. Tomorrow, I’ll share some tips for turning that short-term list into an action plan for writing.