How I Write: Research, Collaboration, and Communication using online tools

How I Write: Research, Collaboration, and Communication using online tools

While at the Literacy Researchers Association conference in San Diego I once again had the privilege of presenting in our digital texts and tools study group. The focus of my session on the last day of the conference looked at using online tools to promote collaboration while writing. That led me to think about the process and tools I use as I write.

I shared with the participants in my session that the first thing needed is an examination…and reconfiguring of your work process. We’ve been trained that as soon as we need to write, we open up Microsoft Word…and attack away at that blank page. That might have been necessary when I needed to submit dissertation drafts to my advisor…but now…that system doesn’t work for me anymore.

When starting on a research and writing project, I first need to consider who is working on the project…and what is the ultimate output. For most of my writing, thinking, research, curation, etc….I use Evernote. I’ve detailed my use of Evernote in previous posts here. I use Evernote on my phone, iPad, and MacBook Pro in writing up blog posts, drafting out initial ideas, etc. I find that Evernote is a great tool for this because I can quickly get to a note I’ve been brainstorming about. I can pull up my phone and review, add to, or edit a note when that spark of creativity pops up. Additionally, I can bookmark sites, copy/paste text and annotate, or just keep sections of my notes together while working on a project. Over the past month I’ve used Evernote as I’ve researched how to replace the bumper on my Wife’s car…whether or not to buy an Apple TV, Roku, or Raspberry Pi….and what skills are involved in online content construction. As you can see, these notes and drafts are all for the most part focused on my use, and don’t go much further.

If I have to write something collaboratively with others, or will need to submit in a Word doc at some point…I use Google Docs. I’m currently working on two chapters for a book on writing and technology. One of these I’m writing by myself, but I will send it off to colleagues at some point to have them review before I send it out. The second chapter is being worked on with two other colleagues. Housing this work in Google Docs allows me to quickly share a link and allow others to edit without emailing Word docs back and forth. I still will need to make final edits and formats in Word before sending off…but it is less of a hassle in the writing process. As my work process evolves…and Google Docs gets better…I could foresee myself not using Word at all…but I’m not yet at that point.

As you can see my work flow and process is built around the cloud, and having access to my work from any one of the tools that I use daily. As time progresses, I may investigate moving the writing portion of my work in Evernote over to Google Docs…but trying to organize all of those “dead end” written pieces that will go no where would drive me nuts.

7 Comments How I Write: Research, Collaboration, and Communication using online tools

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  2. Kristy

    Hi Ian,

    It is interesting that you mentioned writing your chapters using Google Docs. I am going to make a BIG assumption and think that maybe those chapters were for the Writing and Tech edited books. Rick and I actually created both books in Google Docs. It allowed us to be super organized because we could house chapters, images, spreadsheets (etc) in one place that we could both easily access. We actually submitted it to the publisher by “sharing” the folders with them. Just thought you might be interested in how we used it to edit the books.

    Kristy

    Reply
    1. wiobyrne

      Hi Kristy, thanks for commenting. Yes, you’re absolutely correct in the assumption that the chapters were for your Writing and Tech books. Truth be told, I’ve been using Evernote and Google Docs for most of my writing for some time. I like the way that it allows me to write from anywhere…and it’s backed up. Now that my dissertation is finished…I’m wondering if I’ll go back to Word again. Most of what would send me back to Word is fine-tuning drafts to send to editors and publishers.

      Do you think we could get to the day when we could submit manuscripts using online tools like Google Docs?

      Thanks again for the insight.

      Reply
  3. Kristy

    Hi Ian,

    I also do almost all my writing in Google Docs. Like you noted it is especially convenient when collaborating with colleagues. I was excited to learn that we didn’t have to submit the book in word – that they were willing to use Google Docs to access the book materials.

    In some ways, using a tool like Google Docs could actually change not only the way we submit manuscripts but also how we receive feedback from reviewers. But would that somehow change the idea of having anonymous peer-review? Is would it be more difficult to maintain that level of anonymity with Google Docs?

    Kristy

    Reply
    1. wiobyrne

      Hi Kristy,

      It is interesting that they didn’t have a problem with Google Docs to submit the book. One of the kickbacks that I usually get from people when I try to turn them on to gDocs is that “Google then owns my materials.” Given that this publisher was not concerned about this, hopefully it’ll help build a case for just using the text…and not holding on to fears about ownership.

      One of challenges in writing using these tools (and conducting peer reviews) if that tools like gDocs don’t work like Word in many ways. Philosophically, you need to “wash your hands” of making sure that only your ideas make it into the paper. Writing becomes more a editing and revising process in which the goal is the best copy of the draft. You can’t waste your time holding on to individual sentences and ideas…unless you’re the last editor 😉

      In terms of keeping it all anonymous for reviewers, perhaps you could share the blinded doc in gDocs and allow the reviewers to only comment on the doc. They could also download the draft in whatever format, but it would primarily be an access tool. It might actually work well. The biggest challenge will be educating and scaffolding the reviewers.

      Ian

      Reply
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