Tuesday, April 16, 2019

How to write papers more efficiently

Essay writing season has started here at University College Roosevelt, the small liberal arts college in the Netherlands where I teach.  In the course I teach this semester about Religious Ethics my students are researching topics to write about, pitching approaches, trying to find the arguments that they’ll be making in their papers. Some of them are even writing already. Not all of them – it’s early days yet. That means that some students are not writing or researching but – you guessed it - procrastinating. 😀 (If this sounds familiar, and like some of my students you’re also having trouble finding the drive to get started with that big scary paper, why not begin by reading my blog post on procrastination.)

But regardless of what kind of student you are – an early starter or a procrastinator who only starts at the last possible moment - there will come a time when you need to start doing some actual work. And chances are that you will have far less time than you’d like. That’s a fact of life when you’re a student – at some point the clock starts ticking, and you’ll be under some kind of time pressure. Even if you started early, there will come a time when you discover that you have less time to finish the paper than you’d hoped for. If that sounds familiar, then this blog post is for you. Here, in no particular order, are the top five tips I share with my students to help them cut corners and save time during the research process so that they can survive essay writing season and meet their deadlines. 

1. Use f.lux
When you’re under time pressure to finish a paper, almost all students fall back on that time-tested method to tackle deadlines: pulling an all-nighter. Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of research that shows that the blue light from LCD screens makes it harder to fall asleep if you’ve been exposed to it in the evening. I often tell my students that the best way to deal with that problem is ‘no screens in the evening’ – but no student can survive essay writing season if they adopt that rule, I think. 😀

Next best solution: install f.lux. F.lux is a real base-line tool – install it and forget about it. You can download it at justgetflux.com. In the evenings, f.lux will filter out the blue light from your computer screen. This means it should be easier to get to sleep if you’ve had to work in the evening. On Apple phones and tablets, the same service is called ‘night shift’. Turn it on and forget about it – it can make a big difference. 

2. Use digital sources
Being super efficient at using digital sources is one of the best ways to save time during research, I find. You can go from discovering an article or book to reading it in five minutes. Also, you can do keyword searches in digital sources – which is especially helpful if you’re dealing with brick-sized books. Yes, these usually have an index, but a keyword search often brings up passages that you wouldn’t have found through the index, and at a speed which is far higher. Of course none of this means you shouldn’t also go to the library – do check out what they have, it might just be that they have books relevant to your research project. But in the first instance, relying on digital sources can be a real life-saver.

3. Use Mendeley for your references
Mendeley is a real life-saver – it’s a database for all your references which you can also use to fully automatize your referencing in word or open office. At the end of your project, it can then make a bibliography automatically for you, in the output style of your choice (APA, MLA, etc). At Masters or PhD level, you’d be a fool note to use something like Mendeley – so why not start learning how to use it now, even if you’re only a Bachelor student. For a short video on how to install it and use it go here. 

(The best part of using Mendeley is its integration with Microsoft Word - for that to work, you'll need to install the  Word plugin which comes with Mendeley. Instructions for how to do that are in the video. If the plugin doesn't work with your version of Word, then it will always work with the version of  Open Office available as a free download at libreoffice.org. The text editor which comes with this suite of Open Office programs is just as good as Microsoft Office, works beautifully with Mendeley, and is free!)

4. Use Evernote for note-taking and storing documents.
Evernote is free and really great. It’s available for your smartphone and your computer, and you can use it to easily clip web pages, store and organize pdf documents, or brainstorm - the possibilities are endless. For a short video on how to use it go here.

One of the best things about Evernote is it’s free web clipper – a plugin for your browser which you can use to easily clip information you find online to Evernote. For more info on the web clipper go here.

Evernote is really popular with college students – many students also use it for note-taking during class. For a video on how to use Evernote as a college student go here.

5. Use Microsoft ToDo to stay organized.
Microsoft Todo is the app I use most of all. I use it to stay organized in general, to help me prepare my classes, and also to do my research.  For research it’s also a real life-saver: I create a project list for all my research papers, so I can keep track of brainwaves and things I still need to fix/improve. I’ve written a short book about how students can organize themselves optimally, in which I also include many tips on how I use Microsoft Todo. It also has many general research and time management tips in it that you may find helpful. The book is available as both an ebook and paperback on Amazon, Apple iBooks, bol.com, and various other sales platforms. You can find out more about the book at listsnotfists.com.

1 comment:


  1. Hi,
    I am Rebecca Antinozzi, i am a school teacher. Great post Thanks for sharing Nice and Informative Post. This post is really contains lot more information about This Topic.

    ReplyDelete