June 25, at 3: What was good for Einstein is most probably not good for anybody else.
Afterwards a surprisingly large number of people wrote to me wanting to become faster writers, or questioning whether learning to write faster was possible.
I was a bit taken aback by the questions as I assumed there was enough published advice out there already, including on this blog, but maybe I was wrong. Writing faster is, to a large degree, a practice effect: Significant gains in writing productivity can be gained by a combination of the right kind of practice and the right kind of tools.
Take Word processors as just one example. You must move back and forth over the text to achieve flow and make sure everything is in the right place.
If you can move around your documents more easily your writing speed will increase.
Unfortunately the industry default, MS Word, does not, out of the box, perform this task well. Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will know this is the key reason I am a huge Scrivener fan. Although I prefer to use Scrivener, it is not always possible, or desirable, to use it end to end in a given writing project.
I often find myself collaborating with other MS Word users ie: Luckily translating my text from Scrivener to Word and back again is very easy. Since the productivity boost from Scrivener is in the drafting process, I stay there as long as I can before switching to MS Word.
I overcome some of the problems of MS Word by creating subheadings and assigning styles to them. Then I make a table of contents so these subheadings become clickable links at the start of my document.
Database yourself up Setting yourself up to write is a bit like setting yourself up to cook a stew. If the vegetables are all cut up in advance you can put the thing together much quicker. All writing will rely on some data, analysis and thinking to be done in advance and organised in a useful way.
Papers2 is the place where I store journal articles. I use Evernote for everything else: By having all my reference material in databases I can do searches using keywords.
The computer does all the heavy lifting and displays the relevant material in a list, which I can review to see if it meets my needs. To organise my notes for writing a literature review I often use a matrix, which can be thought of as an adhoc, home made database.
A literature review matrix is simply a fancy grid use Excel or a google spreadsheet where the columns contain notes from the papers you have been reading and the rows are assigned to various themes. You can use the same basic principle to build a data analysis grid with variables in the rows and observations in the columns.
Let go of perfectionist tendencies My top speed is about good, publishable words an hour. I base this on the length of time it takes me to write a blog post which is clear in my head before I start. A page of a journal paper full of complex and subtle ideas might take me three times that long.
Getting fast required me to get rid of — or at least surpress — my perfectionist tendencies. My perfectionism plagued me when I was at design school as an undergraduate. I found myself frequently stuck on one idea, unable to move on.
One technique that did help was to work fast through many design possibilities, using sketches on yellow trace paper. Good writing is a process of iteration. You have to get the ideas out of your head so you can start fixing them.
So the cure for perfectionist writers is … writing. Instead, try using the Manchester academic phrase bank. By forcing you to articulate the gaps or uncertainties, these sentence scaffolds help you to confront your doubts about your work in a piecemeal fashion.
There are some writing exercises that can help loosen up your writing muscles. These ask you to practice writing in different ways and for different purposes. I hope these suggestions and tools are helpful to you. But I wonder — do you have any suggestions or techniques that worked for you?
What helps you write faster?For the most complete information, check your campus library or writing center for the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 8th ed. Sample Dissertation / Thesis Example.
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