Academic Writing Process: Organizing a Digital Thought Process

Just off the top of my head, I can think of 5 sites that recommend tech tools for working academics ((profhacker.com)[http://www.profhacker.com] chief among them), so it doesn’t really do a lot of good for me to simply recommend tools. Nor should tools dictate the system you use; buying the tool for the tool’s sake without analyzing how it will/could/might work is a surefire way to collect useless tech.

What I can do is talk about how technology fits into the process that best supports my teaching, researching, and writing. And, let’s face it, my personal Web surfing, procrastinating and relaxing.

The first three categories fit clearly into the professional skillset of an academic, or at least how that skillset will be judged on paper. I include those latter three activities because, for me at least, managing them properly directly and positively contributes to my academic and professional life in two ways. First, I often find useful professional information when I’m surfing at random, which means I need a way to manage the integration of my personal and professional data so they don’t overlap. Second, and more important, I’m an absent-minded intellectual pack rat with a tendency to sort regularly (if infrequently). Having a system in place that allows me to save a lot of information in effective categories the instant I see it for later sorting and deeper analysis is an absolute necessity.

Tools, however, aren’t the focal point of or the organizing principle behind this list. The thing that’s important in this list is my process. Each tool contributes to a system that works with my organizational style. Figuring out how I worked and what I needed was the first, and hardest step, and everything else falls into one of the areas of need I identified (and continue to identify, because systems evolve and change).

  1. Information Gathering
    • Random information gathering: Evernote (read more)
    • Digital archiving: Canon camera plus Photoshop and Acrobat (read more)
    • Reading with annotation: Skim (read more)
  2. Information processing
    • Academic research/citation organization: Custom programming (plus Zotero) (read more)
    • Writing: Scrivener (read more)