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FAQ: What software tools do I use for writing and teaching?


With the development of my online teaching programs and the need to manage most of my professional work online, I regularly use many different software tools. I am often asked about what software I use and to recommend the best software for different writing and teaching tasks. However, I am hesitant to do so, without qualification, as there are many decisions behind software choice. These include price, ease of use, operating system, device type, experience of user and individual preference.

Sometimes I use a certain piece of software and would prefer something better but either haven’t found an alternative or haven’t yet looked for something new.

This blogpost explains what software tools I use and what influences my choice. By ‘software tools’ I am referring to online browser-based applications, desktop (downloadable) software, and smartphone apps. I do not mention current pricing of any software tools as they always change. Most of the software tools mentioned in this blogpost are hyperlinked to their websites.

The following is a brief overview of:

  • my understanding* about the broad types of software tools on offer.
  • how different pricing models influence my choice of tools.
  • a list of the current software tools I regularly use for writing, teaching and managing my training consultancy.
  • some tips to keep in mind when searching for the good software tools.

*Disclaimer:
- My comments about the software I use are my own opinion and are based upon my experience. I do not claim to be an expert on any of the software listed nor do my choices reflect a comprehensive list of what is needed for writing or teaching.
- I am not promoting any of these tools as ‘the best’ software tools nor do I necessarily recommend you use them but I think most are worth investigating.
- I receive no financial compensation for mentioning any software tools in this blogpost

Ease-of-use and Pricing
After I have decided what software tools meet my key needs, ease-of-use and price are my primary reasons for making an initial purchase. Even though I have regularly used a wide range of software, since personal computers were released, I now expect software tools to be user-friendly and if they aren’t, I will replace them when something better comes along.  

The existence and quality of support is crucial

Once I have purchased a product, having access to reliable, quick support is essential for me to remain a customer, especially if I am paying monthly subscription fees. Unfortunately, it seems that the larger the brand, the harder it is to get good support or to be able to talk with a human: take Microsoft for example, where many people now rely on google and forums for troubleshooting. At least their support section has improved considerably.

If I am paying monthly subscriptions, I will look for new software if support is poor or they cannot fix my issues. If I have lifetime access to a software tool, I will persevere with issues but this can be a trap as you may waste time hoping things will improve when it’s better to cut your losses and pay more for good quality software (e.g. see my comments about my webinar software experience below).

My main gripes about software support is when:

  • they switch to different staff during the time it takes to solve your problem and someone new jumps in, doesn’t thoroughly read the previous emails and then you have to explain your problem again (and again).
  • their first assumption is that the user is inexperienced, even when your description of the problem obviously shows you aren’t. This assumption leaves support asking you the equivalent of the IT Crowd’s “did you try turning it off and on again?” which wastes valuable time if your issue is pressing.
  • they are so thoroughly familiar with the software they do not appreciate what it’s like for a new user. A lack of test-driving software with new users is usually obvious which is why I respect the effort put into beta-testing a product.
  • you list 2-3 issues at once and they only resolve one, leaving you to contact them again.

Tips for dealing with software support teams:

  • Make sure you use the same email address that you used to subscribe or pay for your membership, otherwise the system might not recognise you as a member and never get back to you.
  • When initially explaining your issue, if you need to write more than one sentence, first write it and save it as a document in a dedicated issues folder. There is nothing more frustrating when you spend half an hour describing your issue into an online help or ‘contact us’ form only to have it completely disappear if you happen to hit the back arrow on your browser.
  • List your issues succinctly and in numbered bullet points, if there is more than one issue. Sometimes they will ask you to open separate tickets for separate issues.
  • Always try to attach screenshots of your issue and if it involves a process, take a screenshot video to help explain problems. There are plenty of free screen recorder software tools available.
  • If you regularly use a software tool, join the software’s dedicated Facebook group, if they have one. You can often  have your issue solved by other users or get answers directly from a support person.
  • Be polite. No matter how frustrated you are at your issue, support staff are just trying to do their job.

How different pricing models influence my choice

I generally prefer to buy lifetime (once-off purchase) software tools instead of paying for monthly memberships. There are pros and cons to both types.

Pay-by-month or yearly subscription models: pros and cons

The key benefits to the pay-by-month subscription model that I see is that you will always have access to the latest version and it is within their interest to make sure you have quick, efficient support when you need it. Ensuring you have the most up to date features is also imperative for designers of the pay-by-month subscription model if they want to keep you as a customer.

The major con is the drain on the bank account if you subscribe to too much software. The pay-by-month subscription model is a big barrier in my choice of software for this reason. However, I have no qualms in paying reasonable prices for good, reliable pay-by-month software that is crucial for my needs, e.g., the Thinkific course platform.

Over the last few years, the move to monthly memberships fees is so common that it is difficult to find lifetime licences for any major brands. Nevertheless, this widespread move to monthly subscriptions presents opportunities for newcomers to capture new customers by offering inexpensive lifetime deals. AppSumo and StackSocial are examples of two distributors who commonly sell lifetime access products.

Lifetime-access licences for software tools: pros and cons

The benefit of lifetime-access software is that you only need to pay for it once usually at a far lower price than pay-by-month subscription software. However, downloadable, stand-alone software licences will often not include free updates. Whereas if you buy lifetime access to browser-based software you will automatically have access to the latest version.

AppSumo is a good place to find lifetime deals for software but most offers are time-limited. Although AppSumo’s target customers appear to be small business owners and marketing consultants, they regularly have good deals for a wide range of software tools. It is evident that a lot of these deals are for recently-created software, so some might not meet your expectations, but there is a generous refund period along with easy-to-operate refund procedures. Some of my favourite software has been purchased through AppSumo including GetStencil, Happy Scribe, PCloud, Missinglettr and Lumen5.

Free software: pros and cons

The main pro of free software is, of course, that it’s free. The major problem with free software is you may get limited functionality but sometimes that is all you need. I use the free version of tinypng to compress my images for my blogposts and marketing material.

Some software is advertised as ‘free’ but when you download it, you find it’s only a 7 day or 30-day trial. However, most reputable producers are clear about their offers and free trials are a perfect way to fully test something before you sign up for it.

If your budget is limited and you need to only choose free software, first look to see if there are any open-source software versions. Open-source software is free and is supported by an online community of developers that provide ongoing support through forums. For example, freemind software for mind-mapping and Gimp for photo editing, and Open Office as a replacement for Microsoft Office.

The software tools I regularly use

The following is a list of software tools I regularly use, in no particular order. I only store my data or information in software tools that have excellent security and allow data export to csv files in case I decide to switch to a new product. I always use multi-factor authorisation if a software tool offers it as a feature.

1. Voice-to-text

Voice to text software is particularly useful if you don’t want to type or need to turn a video or audio recording to text. I regularly use Happy Scribe to turn my lecture and webinar videos to text. Temi is also good and reasonably-priced. When away from my laptop, I use the microphone in the iphone keyboard (see image below) to transfer random thoughts to text via notes apps (e.g. Notes, Notion, Google Keep).

Use this button to convert voice to text.

2. Mind mapping

I find the quickest and easiest way to start mind mapping is to start with paper or a whiteboard so you can easily make a mess, then re-create the mind map electronically.

I use Simple mind both as an iphone app and a desktop application that sync with each other. The main issue that I have with a lot of mind mapping software is they only offer you one central node. As a refreshing break to this, Simple Mind now has a brainstorm feature that allows you to add new ideas without first having to worry about how they are connected.

3. Note-taking

I prefer note-taking apps that allow information to be stored in data trees or a structured hierarchy: similar to how files are stored in Windows File Explorer. I now use Notion which can be used for many different purposes in addition to note-taking and it easy to store webpages with the browser plugin.

4. Writing software

I use Microsoft Word for writing (typing) and Microsoft Notepad to quickly remove formatting from text. Scrivener is worth investigating. Originally pitched for fiction writers, it is also useful for non-fiction writers, PhD students and academics. The new version (3.0) has document templates for different academic journals.

5. Storing references and website links

I currently use Endnote and Papers (formerly ReadCube) for storing journal articles and books. When deciding which reference manager to choose, seek advice from your colleagues and your library if you are affiliated or work within a university. I use Pearltrees to store website pages that align with my teaching principles.

6. Reading and editing pdfs

I use Adobe Acrobat Reader for reading pdfs, Pdf Candy (Desktop and Web lifetime version) to edit, combine and split pdfs and PdfSam Enhanced to create text-fillable areas (forms) in pdfs.

7. Image, graphics video software

I use image and video editing software to create educational and marketing material. I use Microsoft PowerPoint to create brochures and teaching handouts, and slides for lecture videos, webinars and short-topic videos. Although I have access to the Adobe Suite, I prefer PowerPoint as it is quick and easy to use and surprisingly versatile: you can easily convert slides to images, pdfs and videos and they also have a free slide template library.

I use the following software to produce and edit the following material:

Brochures and teaching handouts – Microsoft PowerPoint and Excel,

Royalty-free images and simple graphic design – Get Stencil

Infographics and templates – Canva, Slideshop and Microsoft PowerPoint.

Video creation and editing – Camtasia (Techsmith) and Lumen5 to create videos for marketing.  

Screenshot images and screenshot videos – Snagit (Techsmith).

Image editing– Snagit Editor (Techsmith) for straightforward resizing and simple editing and GIMP for more complicated editing.

Image compression – tinypng

8. Website tools and services

I run a wordpress.com website and use VentraIP to host this site as they are wordpress specialists, owned and based in Australia and have good ratings and prices. I use the WordFence plugin for website security and virus protection and Thrive Architect to build my webpages and to design my blogposts.

9. Webinar and online course platforms

I purchased lifetime access to Webinar Ninja but it was very glitchy and unreliable and I had to eventually stop using it as support was unable to fix my issues nor accept that their software was to blame. I now use Webinar Jam which is seamless, easy to use and reasonably priced. When I first released my online course How to be an Efficient Writer, I used the online course platform Kajabi which has its benefits but I moved to Thinkific this year as you get more features for the same price and the layout is more compact making it much easier for students to move through the course material. However, the student dashboard in Kajabi has a much better layout.

10. Email server and distribution

I use Google Workspace (Formerly GSuite) for emailing students and storing educational material and Mailchimp for emailing my newsletter subscribers.

11. Surveys

There are a lot of excellent survey platforms (e.g., Zoho Survey, Survey Monkey). If you only have a small number of short surveys you want to manage, you can use their free versions that limit the number of questions and features you can use. I use the browser-based Sparkchart platform as I have a lifetime subscription but it is not user-friendly. I may switch to Google forms to create surveys in the future, once I work out how to use its grid question feature.

12. Spreadsheets and databases

For password-protected data storage and spreadsheet and database management I use Microsoft Excel and Airtable.

13. Cloud and Backup storage

I use Sync as my main backup and cloud storage tools as they are fast, reasonably-priced and use end-to-end 256-bit AES encryption. I also use PCloud and Dropbox to share and store files but PCloud charge extra to encrypt their data and privacy issues have been reported for Dropbox. I use SyncBack to create mirror backups for off-site storage. If you are interested in encrypting the files on your computer via Windows, investigate Bitlocker.

14. Anti-virus and Malware protection

I have used Webroot for nearly 20 years for virus and malware protection and to prevent unintentional opening of suspicious websites. It is very reliable and inexpensive.

15. Social Media

I host a Writing Clear Science Facebook page and a twitter account which I primarily use to post links to my blogposts and online courses. I use Missinglettr [this is not a spelling error] to automatically send posts to my social media accounts.

Some software researching tips

  • Before deciding whether to buy or even trial a new piece of software, search for “[software name] walkthrough video” in YouTube to quickly see how the software works or “[software name] versus [software competitor]” to see how a piece of software compares to a different brand. For example, “Notion versus Evernote.”
  • Remember that software review YouTube videos are often made by the software developers themselves or by their distributors or affiliates who probably won't mention any flaws or cons. However, these types of reviews are still useful to quickly learn how to use the software.
  • Reading blogposts of reputable software reviewers are a good idea e.g., G2 Crowd and Techradar. However, always check their recommendations on software according to price. Reviewers may overlook the fact that low prices for subscription software are often only offered to new customers with the price jumping up significantly in the second year of membership. This leads me to my next tip…
  • If a subscription-model software is offering steep discounts, always check what the regular monthly fee will be after you are no longer a new customer. This was my key reason for leaving SiteGround as my website host.
  • Read three-star customer reviews. These types of reviews are usually the most honest and list both the pros and cons.
  • Be cautious if you can’t find a help button or ‘contact us’ link on their website.
  • Read the software comparison websites. Not only will you find out how different types of software compare to each other in features and price etc, but you can also find out what other types of software are available.

Please feel free to add your own tips and favourite software below.


© Dr Marina Hurley 2021 www.writingclearscience.com.au

Any suggestions or comments please email admin@writingclearscience.com.au 

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What is the difference between a good idea and a theory?

Some terms used to discuss and describe science are often used interchangeably which can cause confusion: for example, terms such as fact, hypothesis, theory, knowledge, information, results and findings. In this writing guide, I define some commonly-used terms used to describe science, while also explaining how science information is produced. 

I need to first acknowledge that numerous philosophers and have spent many years, even entire lifetimes, debating and discussing the precise meaning of some of these terms. So I encourage you to read some of the books by important science authors and philosophers including Thomas Kuhn, Karl Popper, Stephen Jay Gould and Stephen Hawking to develop a solid understanding of science philosophy and the current developments in science. Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything is also an excellent coverage of science suitable for a wide audience.

Knowledge versus information

The term knowledge is often used instead of information. However, science knowledge is what people gain or learn through absorbing science information or through doing their own research. Science information is a collection of facts that is based upon evidence which is the result of peer-reviewed or peer-verified research.

The degree to which science information is considered true and correct will vary according to when the research was published, how large or lengthy the study was and the amount of published evidence that supports this information. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of information that may be considered true but is yet to be scientifically tested; for example, some home remedies for illnesses.


Facts, assumptions and opinions

A scientific statement of fact is an explanation of a phenomenon or something that is generally held to be true and can be proved by evidence. Facts can later be disproved, as can hypotheses and theories. Communicating information as a judgement or a statement of fact, but without providing proof that it is true, is expressing an assumption, while believing that something is true based upon little or incomplete evidence is forming an opinion.

Scientific opinions are generated from science knowledge, and may or may not be true, but they are important for developing new ideas, new hypotheses and new science. Scientific opinions and ideas need to be developed into hypotheses or problems that can be tested and supported (or rejected) by research.

What should be cited

Strictly speaking, all science information that is not common knowledge should be cited; that is, the source of the information should be presented so that the reader can verify that the information is supported by evidence. Where relevant, opinions should also be acknowledged, otherwise, it may be difficult for a reader to understand the difference between a scientific opinion and an uncited statement of fact (common knowledge).

Common knowledge is what would be generally be accepted as being true without question by a large proportion of a group of people familiar with a certain topic. What is accepted as common knowledge of a topic will depend upon the background, knowledge and experience of the reader.

Results versus findings

The science information produced by a study and published in a research paper is also known as the study’s findings. Collectively, both the Results and the Discussion parts of a research paper represent the authors findings. The Results present the data or observations of the study and the Discussion presents the author’s interpretations that explain what these results mean in relation to the scientific problem under investigation.

Traditionally, the format of the research paper is to distinctly separate the Results and Discussion sections so that the bare measurements of the results are not mixed in with, and made indistinguishable from, the author’s discussion or interpretations of their results. As different people may interpret the same data differently, it was (and still is) considered important to allow the reader to clearly see the results in isolation.  However, it may be difficult to separate results and discussion with some types of projects and within some disciplines.

Scientific interpretations are based upon the author’s knowledge, which is gained through their experience, through their reading and through their analytical (inductive and deductive) skills. If these scientific interpretations are accepted by peer-review and published, they may then be considered scientific facts. If other authors disagree with the interpretations in a published paper, they are expected to publish their own papers accordingly and a scientific debate may ensue. Individual interpretations will develop into a scientific consensus when similar studies produce similar results and different authors develop similar conclusions.

Similarly, a theory is supported by consensus. A theory describes the behaviour or activity of a phenomenon or phenomena. It is a statement supported by accepted hypotheses and empirical evidence. A hypothesis is a statement that describes the properties or behaviour of an object or phenomena. A hypothesis is either supported or rejected based upon the evidence developed from testing the hypothesis. A specific, simple hypothesis or null hypothesis is one designed to be easily tested; it can be either accepted or rejected or upheld or discarded. If repeated tests under different circumstances support the hypothesis, then the hypothesis can be developed into a theory. From this theory further hypotheses can be generated. A theory can be supported, validated, reframed, modified or rejected according to evidence. A theory that has been refuted must be discarded and is no longer referred to as a theory.

© Dr Marina Hurley 2021 www.writingclearscience.com.au

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How to write from home

If you need to write from home or in a new or unfamiliar environment, you might find it challenging to stay focused. This guide suggests ways to help you maintain focus and improve your productivity when writing at home. In this guide I refer to ‘writing sessions’. These are activities planned in advance, last for a certain period of time and during which you only write, rewrite or edit. 

1. Create a Zone of Silence

The principles of creating a Zone of Silence at home are similar to creating a zone of silence in your workplace. The rules of the Zone of Silence are that you:

  • work in an area that is devoted to writing.
  • only work on one project at a time.
  • only have access to the writing and reading materials needed for your current project.
  • turn off your access to the internet and telephone.
  • limit any unnecessary interruptions and distractions.

Although these conditions may be hard to meet at home, the following suggestions may also help you follow these rules:

  • Complete all internet-based research before you start your writing sessions.
  • Wear headphones and listen to background or instrumental music while writing.
  • Choose times to write when your house or apartment is empty or quiet.
  • If you normally write with a desktop computer, occasionally try switching to writing with a laptop; you may then find it easier to confine yourself to smaller writing-devoted areas.

2. Turn writing into a habit

When you regularly repeat a task, it takes gradually takes less motivation to start and complete this task.

Try setting up a writing routine by planning regular writing sessions, either daily or every second day. However, don’t be too optimistic when setting time limits for your writing sessions. It can be difficult to turn writing into a habit if you think you need to set aside large blocks of time before you can write (e.g. a full day or 2-3 days in a row), so establish a writing routine by starting small. Shorter tasks are easier to complete and are less likely to be put off.

First allocate short writing sessions, e.g. 15-minute duration. As you develop your routine, gradually increase your time limit to 60-minutes per writing session. Allocate longer sessions if appropriate or if working to a deadline.

Don’t be too harsh on yourself if you skip some days while developing your routine. Don't let the fact that you’ve skipped a few days be an excuse for avoiding further attempts to establish a routine.

3. Get started by reviewing your previous draft

Getting started is a common problem no matter where you write. One suggestion is to routinely begin each writing session by first reviewing what you wrote during your last writing session. Refreshing your thinking about what you were working on previously may make it easier to start writing. But first print out your previous draft instead of just viewing it on screen, then edit it with a pen. Periodically printing out your document makes it easy to view your draft in its entirety which is difficult to do via a computer screen. When you finish each writing session, print out your final version, so you have physical evidence of your writing progress and are ready for your next session.

4. Find a writing buddy

A writing buddy is someone you might work or study with who also needs to write regularly. A writing buddy is someone who reads your writing and gives you feedback and in return you read their writing and give them feedback. You can email documents to each other and critique each other's work for clarity or complete general editing or proofreading.

You might find that committing to swap editing and feedback will help you be more productive and to create regular writing routines. You might also want to schedule regular catch-ups to discuss your work, either face-to-face or through online meeting platforms.

Remember…

Avoid creating unrealistic expectations on how much writing you can do in an unfamiliar environment. It is unrealistic to expect that we can be super-productive writing machines that can write anything, anywhere and at any time. Aim to write in intensive pre-organised, short blocks of time in an environment that is as comfortable and distraction-free as possible.

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Handwriting notes and to-do lists is still a good idea

Writing to-do lists on paper might seem a waste of time if you already prepare to-do lists with software. Project management software such as Asana and Trello are effective and powerful tools and I am not suggesting we stop using them and go back to paper. My concern is that relying on software might cause a lack of spontaneity when doing research and in capturing ideas when working on other tasks. Well-designed paper lists and organised note-taking can still play an important role in project management and be used in conjunction with software. 

There are important benefits to hand-written note-taking that we might overlook if we decide to only write electronically:

1.  It’s quick and easy to jot down short tasks and simple ideas on paper

When we are in the middle of a task and come up with a good idea or something we need to remember, it may be easier and less distracting to just jot these thoughts down on paper. Having to open up software, allocate an idea or task to a project description, describe the task, decide who is responsible for a task and when it should be completed is time-consuming.

2. Not everything we write needs to be kept

 Not everything we write down will be worthy of further consideration. Occasionally, ideas or tasks will become inconsequential or lose attraction if they are left for a period of time. If paper lists are reviewed every 1-2 days, items or ideas that are no longer relevant can simply be crossed off or ignored. While improved technology may allow us to collect more information, it can contribute to information overload. Using electronic tools to capture everything we have to do or every idea we come up with might mean we end up with huge lists of items that will all need to be reviewed at some point.


3. A paper list is easy to refer to and doesn’t need batteries

Using paper lists to record tasks and ideas is easy to refer to. Even with multiple computer screens it is difficult to keep more than 2 or 3 pages of anything open at the same time. You can also take a quick snap of your paper list with your smartphone if you need a quick backup or want to share it.

4. Handwriting can force you to summarise effectively

Note-taking helps to focus attention on more important items and reviewing notes is also beneficial for recall (Kiewra 1985, Kiewra et al. 1991). While note-taking by typing or vocal recording is effective and easy with software, what you record still requires effective classification for easy retrieval. If you tend to take too many notes indiscriminately, it may be difficult to later decide what is important. As the act of handwriting is usually slower than typing, we are forced to highlight what is most important. Therefore, compiling paper lists may help you to summarise important information quickly. Ideas and tasks that remain after reviewing paper lists can then be transferred to software.

What are the features of a well-designed to-do list?

Ultimately what works best for you will depend upon how you work and organise your time. I have developed the Daily Task & Ideas Workbook and offer it here free of charge (and no email signup). This workbook is designed to be printed out and used to capture ideas and tasks on paper, while simultaneously allocating the priority and stage of completion of different tasks. This workbook can also be used to help you identifying new tasks and projects. The workbook has two pages (Page 1 - Daily Task List and Page 2 - Ideas & Brain Dump) with the following sections:

Page 1 – Daily Task List.

ROCKS (Must do today); PEBBLES (Must do soon); SAND (Short, discrete tasks)

The three sections in the first column are used to record tasks of different priorities. I use the ROCKS/PEBBLES/SAND analogy where the difference in sizes between ROCKS, PEBBLES and SAND mostly relates to the priority of the task. The general idea is that you can only fit in a certain number of large ROCKS in a container but the container is not yet full as you can still fit in smaller PEBBLES. After you have placed in all the pebbles that will fit into the container, you can still pour in SAND.  I have adapted this idea so that ROCKS are the tasks that must be completed today, PEBBLES are tasks that must be completed soon while SAND tasks are the short, important tasks that can be completed in between other tasks or when you lack energy or time to complete larger tasks.  When your list is reviewed, invariably, PEBBLES and SAND will become ROCKS if they are left incomplete and grow increasingly important.

The three sections in the second column are used to record tasks that are COMPLETED; STARTED/ONGOING; and OVERDUE/SCRUB TICKS.  Personally, I like to highlight tasks that have been COMPLETED during the day as this gives me a visual reminder of what I have achieved and helps me to feel productive.

Page 2 – Ideas & Brain Dump

This page is designed to capture brand new ideas and to identify new projects, sub-projects and tasks. It also includes a section to record topics that need research and projects that need updating.

My recommendation is to use the Daily Task & Ideas Workbook it for 1-2 days then review the content. Items that haven’t been crossed out or completed can be either moved to a fresh workbook or to project management software. The Daily Task & Ideas Workbook can be downloaded here: version 1 or version 2. You can also download an example workbook that includes hypothetical tasks and ideas. 

REFERENCES 

Kiewra, K. A. (1985). Investigating notetaking and review. A depth of processing alternative. Educational Psychologist, 20, 23-32

Kiewra, K., Mayer, R., Christensen, M., Kim, S., & Risch, N. (1991). Effects of repetition on recall and note-taking: Strategies for learning from lectures. Journal of Educational Psychology., 83(1), 120-123.

© Dr Marina Hurley 2021 www.writingclearscience.com.au

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How to build and maintain confidence as a writer

Why is it crucial to develop confidence?

If writing is central to your profession, it is crucial to build and maintain confidence in yourself as a writer. Being confident about your writing is being able to:

  • rely on yourself to regularly produce high-quality material
  • concentrate on creating and developing new ideas and solutions to new and existing problems, instead of worrying about whether your writing is good enough
  • consider writing as a tool rather than a chore
  • find writing enjoyable and rewarding

If you are committed to improving your writing, then your self-confidence will build as your writing improves. No matter how you feel about your current level of skill, commit to continual self-improvement and aim to feel satisfied with what you have achieved so far. This is what I do.

Realise that writing consists of separate tasks

Rather than considering writing as one discrete task, identify the different activities associated with writing and review how proficient you are at each one. Then work on improving each task separately. For example:

  • Getting started
  • Conceiving and developing ideas
  • Word choice: Choosing the right words to say what you mean
  • Phrase construction: Choosing the right group of words to say what you mean
  • Clause and sentence construction: Expressing ideas concisely, logically and coherently
  • Paragraph construction: Linking ideas in a logical order and developing a stand-alone story
  • Developing an argument: Identifying different viewpoints and effectively stating your case
  • Forming unique conclusions: Outlining your contribution to your discipline

Be kind to yourself

It is important to critique your writing and identify what can be improved, but avoid harshly criticising yourself.

(Everyone knows this but…) Be realistic about the time it takes to write

The time needed to complete a document is always underestimated. You need to allocate sufficient time to write regularly. Be realistic when working out how much time is needed to write. Make sure you plan your writing before you start. Avoid work procrastination.

Never compare yourself to others

Only compare your current level of skill to your past level of skill. Regularly look back at your past work and identify how your skills have improved. Observe how far your skills has progressed and allow yourself to feel satisfied with any improvement, no matter how small. Identify areas that need further improvement and allow yourself to gain confidence from your ability to identify what needs improving. An important part of skill development is getting better at recognising what needs improvement.

There are many ways to improve your writing

Identify the ways you can learn to improve your writing; for example, resources, books, blogs, writing workshops, online courses or one-on-one coaching assistance.

Get regular feedback

Always ask colleagues for feedback. Always. But make sure that you critique the feedback you receive, as not all of it may be useful or correct. Avoid taking any constructive criticism personally and avoid seeking feedback from those who regularly deliver overly-harsh criticism or tend to only give you praise.

Find a mentor or a colleague who can regularly give you constructive feedback. Join a writing group and share drafts with each other for peer-feedback and community support.

Blog

Set up a blog. Even if it is on a topic unrelated to science writing. Find a type of writing or topic that you really enjoy. Any type of writing will help improve your science writing skills, especially if you blog regularly.

Break through writer’s block

Use the tools that help break through writer’s block. Regularly having problems getting started may add to a lack of confidence. One quick and easy way of getting your thoughts down for a first draft is to record yourself speaking about your topic. Most smart phones and tablets have voice recognition software that can easily record or transcribe your speech.

Keep a portfolio (or library) of everything you complete

Keep a record of everything you produce. Create hard-copy portfolios of all your documents and include a table of contents with dates and titles. These portfolios can serve as a physical reminder of your productivity. Write one-page summaries of all completed projects in plain English with an eye-catching photo or diagram, and a good title. These one-page project summaries can be used to promote yourself and can also be prepared as a portfolio to show prospective employers.

Build confidence from your ability to learn

Remember that writing is like any other task with obstacles to overcome. Although it takes time for to become proficient at any skill, you can still be confident about your ability to learn.

Keep going

Keep writing, keep putting your work in front of an audience and keep getting feedback.

© Dr Marina Hurley 2018 www.writingclearscience.com.au

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