August Blogroll: Writer’s Toolkit Edition

Dear readers:

It has been a busy summer full of travel: I’ve been to Kansas City to grade AP literature exams, to Champaign to walk in commencement with my cohort, and we just got back from Bowen Island off the coast of Vancouver for a brief birthday vacation as I look down the barrel at 30. I have a couple of brief weeks to buckle down on some research and writing projects before family from Boston come for a visit, and then I take off for professional gigs in Montreal and London for August. As I fully re-engaged with a full-time scholarly posture, I am reminded of the tools that keep me plugged in to my practice when I am balancing teaching in the mix.

So this month, here is a list of some scholarly tools I live by on a day-to-day basis that makes reconnecting with the muscles needed for full-time scholarly work much more streamlined.

On an iPhone, your organization pane pops up on the left, where you can select only the kinds of entries you wish to read. This then disappears to leave you with a minimalist reading pane.
Feedly

This is basically just a well-integrated RSS feed program that is easy to read anywhere (phone, tablet) and really easy to organize into folders. I also use Pocket to save web articles, and this is integrated effectively into Feedly. Mostly, however, I use this to regularly check all of the CFP aggregators for conference, chapter, and other professional writing calls. It puts them all in one place, easy to stream through. When I see something of interest, I can easily email it from the app to a friend who might be interested or to my own email to follow up with later. How to get started:

  1. Set-up your account at Feedly.com via a Google email address.
  2. Add the following CFP lists, checking for your relevant field of interest, to your account:
    1. CFP List
    2. UPenn’s Call for Papers
    3. H-Net’s reviews and announcements
  3. Once you’ve done that, include any other websites or blogs you like to regularly read that have to do with writing or research. (Or other things. I include petite fashion bloggers, for example.) One of my favorites on academic writing is Pat Thomson’s Patter blog.
  4. Make scrolling through Feedly a part of your regular social media habits. You know, a thing you check when you are doing your morning scroll-through of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
The newest version of Zotero has a specific category built-in for your own publications, that I think will help sync your materials with research identifiers like ORCiD.
Zotero

Of the many citation managers out there, I am still a fan of Zotero—which was given a major upgrade this week, in fact. I’ve written about its benefits in detail elsewhere, and continue to find that this is something I return to regularly and easily. It is a great way to keep track of the research you have done, particularly into secondary criticism scheduled for reading. It is also useful for keeping track of bibliographies of required reading for your courses.

Additionally, I am slowly learning ways of using the program to build public, shared working bibliographies with other scholars. For example in response to a blog post on theatre history, I built a group library that others are members of and can contribute to on attribution and collaboration studies. Other institutions are starting to get in on it, like ASTR’s Digital Research and Scholarship bibliography. Many institutions, mine included, tend to use RefWorks subscriptions for their faculty and students, but I do not find it nearly as intuitive.

A sampling of completed research notebooks.
Research notebook

This one is evergreen and yet I rarely actually see it in the wild. Every book I’ve read on effective writing practices in the profession (including these and these) recommends a research notebook. The reasons vary. After a frustrating period early on in my dissertation process, I started keeping research journals and it skyrocketed me forward. I’ve never looked back. I include a couple kinds of entires:

  • lists of goals to accomplish for the week, and the goals I managed to accomplish at week’s end.
  • entries for tasks completed for each day.
  • reflections on my process, particularly what was frustrating me, identifying its source, and then positing some ways to address that frustration.
  • notes taken live at conference presentations, campus talks, performances, et cetera.
  • outlines, webbing, and other pre-writing tactics for articles-in-progress or possible future writing projects.
  • an index at the front (I save several blank pages to fill in when the notebook is complete), so I can easily find those pre-writing and outline notes.
  • beautiful quotations, poems, snippets, and advice in the tradition of the English commonplace book.

Like this blog, a research notebook works best is you understand it as “an archive of activity and of thinking” (Patter), as well as something that is mostly full of stuff you won’t reference again. Going back, however, you can also use it as an archive to generate a list of stuff you did accomplish. I also find the task of paginating the notebook myself soothing. While I am usually a Moleskien dévote, I have this three-pack from Thames & Hudson from Powell’s, featuring the Book of Kells, which I’m excited to try this month.

I’m off to Montréal right about now for a fellowship with the Early Modern Conversions crew I’ve been looking forward to for months. Look for more posts on productivity and Shakespeare from the St. Lawrence rather than Columbia River shores!

All best,
Elizabeth

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